San Francisco 49ers

Starting from scratch? College QBs for 49ers to consider

Brigham Young linebacker Bronson Kaufusi, center, and defensive lineman Tomasi Laulile, right, attempt to tackle Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) during the second half of the in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl football game, Monday, Dec. 22, 2014 in Miami. Memphis defeated Brigham Young 55-48 in double overtime.
Brigham Young linebacker Bronson Kaufusi, center, and defensive lineman Tomasi Laulile, right, attempt to tackle Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) during the second half of the in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl football game, Monday, Dec. 22, 2014 in Miami. Memphis defeated Brigham Young 55-48 in double overtime. AP

Is it 2004 all over again? According to ESPN's football power index, the 49ers are now projected to finish with the league's worst record and thus will get the No. 1 pick in the draft, just as they did in 2005. The 49ers selected quarterback Alex Smith, guard David Baas and running back Frank Gore with their first three picks, and the team could be looking at a similar pattern in May.

Here is a quick look/rundown of what are expected to be the top quarterbacks in the draft. The rankings are mine and likely will change over the next six months.

Paxton Lynch, Memphis

Plus: He has excellent size at 6-6 but isn't ungainly. In fact, he's surprisingly athletic and light on his feet, and his long strides allow him to get down field in a hurry. Lynch has a strong arm, isn't afraid to throw down field and his accurate. He's completed 70.2 percent of his passes so far and has an 18-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Memphis doesn't have the best talent in the nation, but the Tigers are undefeated and upset Ole Miss in a game in which Lynch had 384 passing yards and three touchdowns.

Minus: Like most college quarterbacks, he takes the vast majority of his snaps out of the shotgun, so his experience working out of the pocket is practically nil. The Tigers’ offensive system pumps up his completion rate.

Connor Cook, Michigan State

Plus: He's got the best and quickest release of all the top college passers and he has the stout build (6-4, 220) of an NFL quarterback. Unlike his competitors, Cook also works out of an NFL-like system (sometimes there's even a fullback on the field!) and came up big in Michigan State's biggest game this year at Michigan (328 yards, no interceptions). He's a three-year starter who's already played in a number of big games in a major conference.

Minus: He's never completed better than 59 percent of his passes. He's not as creative when pressured as most of his competitors and isn't much threat to run.

Jared Goff, Cal

Plus: He's accurate, has great timing and puts nice zip on all of his passes. He takes nearly all of his snaps out of the shotgun, but Goff's feet are always moving and he seems to have a good sense of the pass rush, which bodes well for when he is asked to take snaps from center in the NFL and throw out of a pocket.

Minus: He's thrown 11 interceptions this year and sometimes tries to force the ball into windows that just aren't there. He's 6-4 but has a thinner frame (check out his arms) than his competitors and already has been sacked 77 times at Cal. Many of his passes are one-read looks and a lot of his yardage comes from short tosses to running backs or screens to receivers.

Cardale Jones, Ohio State

Plus: He's got NFL-caliber size at 6-5, 250 pounds and a powerful arm that he's able to regulate. That is, he doesn't throw at one speed and is able to take something of his passes when the situation calls for touch. He's strong like Carolina's Cam Newton and presumably would be able to root out the same tough yards that Newton routinely gains. He'd be a good fit in a strong, play-action style offense. He's played -- and played very well -- in college football's biggest games.

Minus: He's barely above 60 percent accuracy for his career and his mechanics get sloppy, especially when he's under pressure. He's more powerful than fast on the hoof. He lost -- briefly -- his starting job this season.

Carson Wentz, North Dakota State

Plus: He's the dark-horse candidate this year. Like Lynch he's got excellent size at 6-5, 231 pounds. And while he doesn't quite have Lynch's athleticism, he's no slouch having rushed for 642 yards and six touchdowns last season, his first as the Bison's full-time starter. Wentz has a very good arm (look at his throws to the far sideline) and has a rugged, blue-collar, Brett-Favre-ish element to him that would play well in an NFL offense and in an NFL locker room.

Minus: North Dakota State's level of competition is an obvious concern. Wentz also broke the wrist on his throwing arm and is unlikely to play again this season (although he should be ready for the combine and other pre-draft events). His accuracy is good but not great, and he often throws late or behind receivers on crossing patterns perhaps because he doesn’t set his feet. The Bison have won both their games since Wentz's injury and his freshman replacement has played well, suggesting that their offensive system makes their quarterbacks look good.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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