The scouting combine begins next week, and the 49ers will be busy. They are projected to have a league-high 12 draft picks and could use help at just about every position. Over the next week and a half, we’ll look at every spot on the team as well as which college prospects might fit with the 49ers.
Need level: Moderate to high
Under contract for 2016: Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Dylan Thompson
At every opportunity, the 49ers have said they’d like Kaepernick back for 2016 and have dismissed the April 1 deadline – when Kaepernick’s $11.9 million base salary becomes guaranteed – as inconsequential.
The situation has been described as Chip Kelly’s call, and presumably the new coach has been busy reviewing game film and assessing his options. But Kaepernick, not Kelly, is the one with the leverage. If he wants a fresh start, the 49ers are not going to force him to stay. He would be a distraction – and an expensive one. Gabbert was a pleasant surprise and has many of the same traits Kaepernick possesses.
The combine is interesting not only because it offers close looks at the draft’s best quarterbacks but because it will give the 49ers a clearer indication of the quarterback market. They leave for Indianapolis with the following questions: Is Kaepernick trade-able? If so, how much would it cost to sign a free-agent? If there’s no free agent, are any of the college quarterbacks worth drafting at No. 7 overall?
THE 2016 CLASS
1. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State: He has the combination of size, arm strength and athleticism teams covet and, unlike the next two quarterbacks on the list, he even took some snaps from center. But Wentz hasn’t been a starter very long and he didn’t play against the highest-caliber teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
2. Jared Goff, Cal: He’s the best pure passer in the draft, and accuracy is Kelly’s top quarterback criterion. Still, the Novato native worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun, and his lanky physique pales in comparison to the other players on this list. That should be a concern for the 49ers, who allowed an NFC-worst 53 sacks in 2015.
3. Paxton Lynch, Memphis: Lynch’s athleticism likely will test well at the combine and because of that he has the potential to soar up draft boards more than another quarterback. And it won’t hurt that he’s 6-7 and 245 pounds. While Goff shined in his final game in college, Lynch struggled in his bowl loss to Auburn.
4. Connor Cook, Michigan State: Cook has received far less publicity than the top three on this list, in part because he declined to take part in the Senior Bowl at which Wentz received so much attention. (Goff and Lynch are juniors). Cook has the best/quickest release of the group, has excellent size and faced by far the toughest competition. He also worked in a traditional, pro-style offense, which may or may not appeal to Kelly.
5. Other: Who is the fifth-best quarterback in the draft? There are differing opinions, with USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen and Oregon’s Vernon Adams appealing to different teams. The question is how highly the 49ers rate one of these second-tier quarterbacks.