Who is Harbaugh’s Joe Montana?

If Alex Smith is Jim Harbaugh’s Steve Deberg, then who is his Joe Montana – Colin Kaepernick or Josh Johnson?

I have an opinion, but before I give it I’ll make a case for both guys, as our friendly commenter DS94everXev suggested I do. That way, the Kaeper-nicks and Johnsonites feel I’m being fair.


  • The Niners traded up in the second round to draft Kaepernick. Johnson was only a fifth round pick.
  • Kaepernick has ideal height/weight/speed/arm-strength/intelligence for the position. Johnson is on the light side – 200 lbs.
  • Kaepernick will get three seasons to sit on the bench and learn his craft, most likely. That’s the same amount of time Aaron Rodgers got on the Packers behind Brett Favre. This learning phase is important for Kaepernick because he’s got so much to learn. He ran a high school offense in college (the pistol), so he has to learn all the complex footwork of dropping back from center. He also has a long delivery which he must shorten. Last preseason he was indecisive and he threw every pass as hard as he could. In practices he struggled leading receivers on routes breaking to the left. These are things he must fix before he can become a franchise quarterback. With Harbaugh as his tutor, Kaepernick probably will fix all these things, but that process could take a couple more seasons.


  • While he can’t throw quite as hard as Kaepernick, he’s got touch and he’s much more accurate. He completed 68 percent of his passes in three years as the starting QB at the University of San Diego. Kaepernick completed 58 percent of his passes in his career at the University of Nevada.
  • Johnson’s got much more experience in Harbaugh’s system – three years at University of San Diego. Harbaugh left USD for Stanford before Johnson’s senior season, but Johnson’s play didn’t suffer at all. He actually had his best season ever – 2,976 passing yards, 674 rushing yards, 44 TDs (42 passing), 1 INT, 197.2 QB rating.
  • Johnson’s got superior throwing mechanics and footwork than Kaepernick. Johnson’s feet are quick and precise and so is his throwing motion.
  • Johnson’s more ready to take advantage of an opportunity than Kaepernick is. If Alex Smith falters or gets hurt this season, Johnson will get the first chance to control his 49ers fate, not Kaepernick. Johnson will prove in training camp he’s a better QB than Kaepernick right now, so Johnson will be the main backup in 2012, not Kaepernick.

I think Johnson will get his shot to play in a regular season game either next  season or the season after that, and when he does he will crush it. He’ll be just as efficient as he was in college, he’ll protect the ball just as well as he did in college (only 15 INTs), and he’ll pass for lots of TDs just like he did in college (108 TDs). Why? Because he’s got his college coaches back and he’s got a ton of talent around him.

He’s set up to succeed, and he is Harbaugh’s Montana – that’s what I think.

What do you think?

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