Julie Cousins just had a baby and loves the Washington, D.C., area. Her husband, Kirk, says he prefers to spend his career on one team. And his coach, Jay Gruden, thinks Cousins, 29, still is in the nascent stage of his career and only will improve in coming years.
No, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers may not get a shot at the Washington quarterback in free agency, and even if they did it might take the heftiest contract in NFL history to land him.
But Cousins isn’t the only quarterback in the sea. Draft experts are nearly unanimous in saying 2018 will be the best in recent memory for passers with perhaps three being selected among the top 10 picks and five or six going in the first round.
Who among them will get Kyle Shanahan’s heart thumping like Cousins does? From what we saw and heard from Shanahan in the most recent draft, we know he likes:
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▪ Guts. He wants a quarterback who will make throws with pressure in his face.
▪ Pocket presence. He wants someone who will be able to maneuver in, and make throws out of, the pocket.
▪ Pro-style systems. Shanahan’s offense requires the quarterback to run a huddle and take snaps from center. “One thing that helps is being able to see guys play the way you’re going to ask them to play,” Shanahan said after using a third-round pick on C.J. Beathard, who played in Iowa’s pro-style attack. Of course, he also said his top-rated quarterback in the 2017 draft was Mitch Trubisky, who took the vast majority of his college snaps out of the shotgun but who showed the ability and willingness to work inside a pocket.
With all of that in mind, I asked NFL Draft Scout’s Rob Rang which of the college quarterbacks would fit best. He thought the first two on the list below would be options if the 49ers – currently positioned at pick No. 3 – were choosing at the top of the round, the other two a little later in the round. San Francisco also has two picks in the second, third and seventh rounds.
Sam Darnold, USC. Darnold already has nine interceptions this season and was outplayed last month by Washington State’s Luke Falk. But he remains at the top of most draft gurus’ lists with one draft expert telling The Bee Darnold is the second coming of Troy Aikman. Darnold played in a pro-style system last year but has moved to a more shotgun-based, spread-style attack this year, perhaps to compensate for a young USC offensive line. Rang noted that Darnold is dealing with a double-whammy this year: still-developing talent around him and high expectations of fans. “He’d certainly be getting those things if he was drafted by the Jets or the Giants or the 49ers with their passionate fan bases, so it’s a good test of his intangibles,” he said. Next: vs. Utah on Saturday.
Josh Rosen, UCLA. He operates the most pro-style offense of any of the top college quarterbacks and has thrown for at least 325 yards in every game this season. Rang wonders, however, how general manager John Lynch will look at Rosen’s decision making. “He can make the prettiest throw but often will do some bone-headed things,” Rang said. “I have a hard time imagining (Lynch) is going to want to go with a guy who throws the ball up as often as Rosen does.” Next: at Arizona on Saturday.
Luke Falk, Washington State. While Darnold and Rosen are underclassmen, Falk is a senior and has been impressive for the undefeated Cougars. He runs Mike Leach’s wide-open Air Raid offense, which will give evaluators pause. His arm strength also has been questioned, although Rang thinks it’s better than advertised. Said Rang: “I’m incredibly impressed by his grit, his toughness, his leadership. I think that’s something Shanahan has prioritized. It makes a lot of sense when you consider the defenses they go against in that division.” Falk has drawn comparisons to Matt Hasselbeck and, significantly, to Cousins and Beathard. Next: at Cal on Friday.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State. Like Falk, Rudolph stayed for his senior season and the decision seems to be paying off. He, too, takes his snaps out of the shotgun and certainly does not play in a pro-style system. Said Rang: “He’ll look at his first progression and then can get a little bit squirrely. He’s got a stronger arm, he’s a bigger, thicker guy. So I can see how that can be intriguing.” Next: vs. Baylor on Saturday.
The others whom Rang considers first-round passers are Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, but they perhaps wouldn’t be fits for the 49ers. Other evaluators think Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield also will be included in first-round discussions.
49ers’ 2018 draft picks
1st: own pick
2nd: own pick
3rd: own pick
6th: own pick
7th: own pick