49ers examine using pick on Clausen

Constructing a mock draft is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces have to fit. I’m having a difficult time with one player in particular: Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.


Before the trade that shipped Donovan McNabb to Washington, I had Clausen going to Mike Shanahan with the No. 4 pick. Conceivably, he could go to any of four teams that choose from sixth to ninth (Seattle, Cleveland, Oakland and Buffalo).


And what if he still hasn’t found a place to begin his NFL career after the first dozen selections? Would the 49ers be interested?

“We’re not going to rule out anything at this point,” 49ers draft chief Trent Baalke said. “I want to reiterate, Alex Smith is our quarterback. And we have total confidence in his ability to get the job done. And we’re looking forward to going into the season with him. But we’re not ruling out picks. We’re not going to do that at this point. But I want to make it clear: He is our quarterback.”


Regardless of what the 49ers do during the draft, nothing is likely to change that. Alex Smith would be the 49ers’ quarterback in 2010. But, if the 49ers were to take Clausen at No. 13, Smith would not seem to have any future with the 49ers after his current contract expires.


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The 49ers have unquestionably considered all the scenarios involved with taking Clausen — or any other quarterback within the first couple rounds.


If the 49ers believe Clausen will be a better quarterback than Smith in a couple years, they must make that call. The 49ers are set up to win the NFC West now, but they can’t be so short-sighted that they take a pass on a quarterback they believe is destined for stardom.


In speaking with one scout who is familiar with the inner-workings of the 49ers, he thought the 49ers would be wise to take Clausen because the 49ers are on a year-to-year basis at quarterback, he said. He went so far as to say he thought the 49ers would select Clausen. (This is consistent with what an NFL source told Tim Kawakami last week.)


The scout pointed out: Smith is signed for 2010; David Carr is in the first year of a two-year contract; and Nate Davis was a fifth-round pick is hoping (but not expecting) will develop into a player.


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This morning, I talked with my former colleague, Neil Hayes, who watched every game of Clausen’s career while covering Notre Dame for the Chicago Sun-Times.


“He’s got all the tools,” Hayes said. “He has an incredible arm, and he’s pretty darn accurate. But the questions about his intangibles are legitimate. Can he stick his head in the huddle and command respect of 28 year olds?”


There were glimpses of the questions about Clausen during the segment in the film room with Jon Gruden last week on ESPN. When asked about taking repeated timeouts (was it four or five?) in a game against Michigan, Clausen said it was because he received the plays too late. When he threw an interception, he placed the blame on the wide receiver who failed to make the proper adjustment.


I asked the scout about whether it’s a concern that a young quarterback would be so quick to point the finger. The scout’s reaction: “That’s what John Elway would’ve done, too. It’s not that big of a deal.”


You can’t argue with Clausen’s production. He averaged 310.2 yards passing for Notre Dame during his final season. He led some late comeback victories early last season. He made all the throws and still completed 68 percent of his passes. (But he also had the luxury of throwing to two fantastic college wideouts: Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.)


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All this is just speculation. I haven’t heard from anyone inside the 49ers say they will or won’t select Clausen. Either way, it certainly does no harm to have people around the league at least thinking they’d grab him.


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