This is my column for Wednesday.
The 49ers need a new quarterback.
This is not to say the 49ers should give up on Colin Kaepernick — with the right coaching he may still have a future. But they shouldn’t go all in with him, either. The 49ers should hedge their bets, draft a quarterback who could back up Kaepernick as a rookie and could eventually take over as the starter like Joe Montana took over from Steve DeBerg. They should draft someone in the third or fourth round. Create competition.
I have someone in mind, but before I get to him, let me tell you why the Niners need a new quarterback.
First, Kaepernick has not improved as a pocket passer.
Every Super-Bowl-winning quarterback has won it from the pocket. Check it out. Kaepernick will be 27 next season and he still is raw talent — has speed and arm strength. His three years in the NFL, he has not improved his accuracy, footwork or ability to see the whole field from the pocket. That reflects poorly on him and the 49ers’ offensive coaches — Jim Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
Second, Kaepernick chokes under pressure.
He choked at the end of the Super Bowl, forced three straight passes to Michael Crabtree at the goal line and hoped he caught one of them. Matt McGloin could do that.
Since losing the Super Bowl, Kaepernick has gotten worse under pressure. This season, his passer rating in the fourth quarter was 61 and his passer rating while losing was 72. Alarming.
Just a few days ago in the NFC championship game against the Seahawks, Kaepernick produced one of the worst individual fourth-quarter performances in playoff history. The 49ers had three possessions in the fourth quarter. They ended with a fumble by Kaepernick and two interceptions. If the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, Kaepernick’s last interception of the game — the one Richard Sherman tapped to Malcolm Smith in the end zone — will go down as an iconic moment in Seahawks franchise history, what “The Catch” by Dwight Clark means to the 49ers.
And Kaepernick is responsible. He handed that moment to the Seahawks, the division rival.
The 49ers should not draft another Kaepernick, another runner/thrower. They already have one of those. They need something different.
Montana wasn’t a runner/thrower. He was an accurate passer who could move his feet brilliantly in the pocket, something Kaepernick has not learned to do. Montana had no cannon. Accuracy was his best quality, accuracy and poise under pressure. Not running. And Steve Young did not become a great quarterback until he learned to pass form the pocket. Running was not enough. He’s the classic case of runner turning into passer.
The 49ers didn’t run Kaepernick much this season, anyway. Just one or two read-options per game. Nine times out of 10, they asked him to be a traditional, drop-back quarterback, like Montana. Something Kaepernick is not.
The 49ers need a traditional quarterback. They need a pocket passer first, a runner second. And I know which one.
He plays in the 49ers’ back yard. One of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football. In 2009, he was Kaepernick’s backup at the University of Nevada before transferring to Monterey Peninsula College in 2010, and then to San Jose State two years later.
The envelope, please.
From Salinas. David Fales.
“He can knock a bird off a fence,” said quarterback guru Terry Shea over the phone. Shea trained Fales in Phoenix over the summer and last week. Shea also trained Robert Griffin III and Sam Bradford before they got drafted. Shea has been a quarterbacks coach for the Chiefs, Dolphins and Rams, and an offensive coordinator for the Bears. Shea was Bill Walsh’s offensive coordinator at Stanford in the early 1990s. Before that, Shea was the head coach at San Jose State. When Shea speaks, he’s talking Quarterback Gospel.
“I think a lot of Fales,” Shea said. “He has to get in with a coaching staff that doesn’t change every year, but he might be the best pure passer in the draft.”
Can he become an elite quarterback in the NFL?
“I think so,” said Shea. “Over the summer, Fales and a few other quarterbacks — Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd — were counselors at the Elite 11 high school football camp. The counselors had a throwing competition, and Fales won it.
“When you talk about Fales, you have to start with his exceptional accuracy. He can make the ball end up exactly where it needs to end up. He can coordinate the alignment between his hip, feet and shoulder, plus he has that extra something to be able to place the ball one foot in front of the numbers of the receiver.
“He has strengthened his arm, too. He can throw the 25-yard post route just where it needs to be placed. He ropes it. And he throws the deep ball with air under it. He has nice touch when he needs it.”
Other than roping the post route, none of those compliments applies to Kaepernick.
Fales excels where Kaepernick fails. He is the anti-Kaepernick.
But what if Fales is not available in the third round? What if a team, say, the Raiders, falls in love with him and drafts him in the first or second round?
In that case, there are four other good quarterback prospects the 49ers could draft after the second round — the 49ers have too many needs to draft one before the third round. The candidates are: Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois, Brett Smith from Wyoming, Zach Mettenberger from LSU and Jeff Mathews from Cornell. Accurate, poised, mobile, experienced pocket passers — like Fales.
The 49ers must draft one of those guys. Do not anoint Kaepernick just yet. He hasn’t earned it.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.