Dilfer: Kaepernick might have highest ceiling in the draft

Colin Kaepernick is a project. He might have a bigger upside than No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton. And, oh my goodness, wait until you see the 49ers’ second-round pick throw lasers while rolling to his left.

At least that’s the opinion of former Niners quarterback Trent Dilfer, who appeared on the Murph & Mac Show on KNBR (click here and scroll down) today two days after wrapping up his duties as an ESPN draft analyst.

Among other topics, Dilfer discussed Kaepernick’s biggest challenge as he develops in the NFL and the relationship he could share with Alex Smith. Speaking of Smith, he offered his opinion on what Jim Harbaugh sees in the former No. 1 overall pick who was Dilfer’s teammate for two years in San Francisco.

Here we go:

• Dilfer said he preferred TCU’s Andy Dalton to Kaepernick, but the Niners didn’t share that view. The Bengals drafted Dalton with the 35th overall pick and the Niners traded up to get Kaepernick at No. 36.

“I do know, knowing enough about the 49ers, that Kaepernick is the guy that they loved,” Dilfer said. “The high ceiling that he had and the time he spent with him. They are very excited about it.”

• Dilfer, who has a place in Lake Tahoe, watched plenty of Kaepernick’s games at Nevada. But he didn’t form a concrete opinion on his NFL potential until he broke down film in preparation for the draft.

“When I was done with my study there were a few things I wrote down,” Dilfer said. “One, he’s a project. It’s going to take a couple years to get him right. To get him completely comfortable playing in a traditional offense. Number two … (he has) maybe the highest ceiling of the draft. I think his ceiling for success may be higher than Cam Newton’s. He might be a better athlete than Cam Newton when you look at it. He’s got quicker feet. He’s got better pocket instincts and when he hits full stride, when he gets unleashed and he’s running full stride, it’s pretty amazing to see.”

• Dilfer said Kaepernick was “incredibly accurate” when he got his body in the proper position. He said Kaepernick has the proverbial “cannon for an arm,” but can also change speeds – that is, he has good touch.

Dilfer said Kaepernick was most impressive when throwing out of the pocket.

“He throws the ball to the left, when he’s rolling to the left, better than any quarterback I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dilfer said.

• Dilfer believes Kaepernick will need to develop for at least a year, but he shouldn’t be surgically attached to a clipboard while he learns. Why waste those wheels?

“I think you’ll see him as a package player early on for the 49ers, a guy that comes in and creates a threat from the quarterback position, especially on third down,” Dilfer said.

Jim Harbaugh didn’t get into specifics — putting Kaepernick in the Wildcat as a rookie, for example — but he said Friday he planned to take advantage of his running ability.

• So why, exactly, is Kaepernick a project? Dilfer said Kaepernick, like most quarterbacks who play in a spread or Pistol offense, will need to learn to make quicker decisions and tougher reads in the NFL after years spent dinking an dunking.

“The one thing he’s able to do in the Pistol was … most of their quick-decision passes were to the perimeter,” Dilfer said. “I call them pick-and-stick throws. Isolation throws on the outside where you know you have a one-on-one, you catch, set, throw to the outside.

“A lot of the quicker decisions you have to make in the NFL are in-between the numbers. And on the inside of the field there are a lot more bodies. So it’s a lot different information to digest. That’s the hardest thing for young quarterbacks is making the quick decisions in the middle of the field because they’re not asked to do a lot of it in college.”

• Why is Jim Harbaugh such a fan of Alex Smith? Dilfer said that former quarterbacks are sympathetic to those in the fraternity who have drawn the short straw on “situation and training.”

An example of a good situation: Dilfer with Jamal Lewis in the backfield and the Ravens’ defense on the sideline. An example of good training: Joe Montana with Bill Walsh.

“A quarterback, no matter how talented he is, is only as good as the situation he’s put in and the training he receives,” Dilfer said. “And Jim believes in both of those things. And they’re going to give Alex as good a training as any quarterback in this league will get and they’re going to put him in an ideal situation.

“They look for certain qualities that they respect and Alex has all those. They’re going to do the things he does best and they’re going to provide an infrastructure and an environment where he can be successful. So I believe Jim sees the diamond in the rough in both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.”

• Would Alex Smith turn impolite when pushed by a hotshot rookie for a starting job? Dilfer can’t see it. He thinks Smith would be a willing mentor to Kaepernick.

“Alex Smith’s as good a human being and as much of a professional as you’ll find in this league at the quarterback position,” Dilfer said. “And, yeah, he wants to be a great player, he’ll continue to grind out and be the best he can be, but he’ll be more than happy to mentor and help a young kid along as well.”

By the way, Smith, who will be entering his seventh NFL season, will turn 27 on Saturday. He is only three-and-half years older than Kaepernick, 23, who was born on Nov. 3, 1987.

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