Most mock drafts have the 49ers selecting QB Blaine Gabbert with the number seven pick in tonight’s 2011 NFL Draft. Most 49er fans aren’t thrilled with this mock scenario, preferring the team goes defense with its first pick.
If this draft were entirely Trent Baalke’s call, Gabbert might be the likely choice. It would resoundingly signal the end of the Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan/Alex Smith era, and the beginning of Baalke’s very own era. But, while most of the draft belongs entirely to Baalke, choosing a QB does not. That belongs to Jim Harbaugh.
It’s not known which of the current crop of draftable QBs Harbaugh favors. If Gabbert is selected tonight, it would mean Harbaugh is really sold on him. Otherwise, Harbaugh would advise Baalke to go defense first, QB later. Though the mocks all think SF will go with Gabbert, none of the mockers have a clue what Harbaugh thinks.
The fan attitude against picking Gabbert is a bit strange. For the past few years, many fans have been clamoring to get rid of Alex Smith. Nothing would more strongly intimate that Smith was history, and would stay history, than picking Gabbert tonight. But fans seem more content with dumping Smith than caring who exactly will replace him. Like picking up some second or third round QB talent is perfectly fine, whether he’s an improvement or not. These are the same fans who point out endlessly that the QB is the most important position on the team. Yet in this draft, the attitude seems to be that a CB or OLB pass rusher is most important, and the QB is a secondary concern.
Part of the explanation for this puzzler is Harbaugh, himself. He’s viewed as a sort of QB miracle worker, who can take any sort of huddle conductor and turn him into a champion. Any sort but Alex Smith, that is. It would be ironic if Gabbert were chosen and the first reaction he hears from the Niner fan base is a chorus of boos. Somewhere a certain probably-ex-49er would be muttering ruefully, “Welcome to the Niners, Blaine. Bring your alligator skin.”
Factoring into the puzzlement are the unknown plans the team has regarding Free Agents (like Nnamdi Asomugha) or trades (like Josh Johnson, who currently wears #11 for Tampa Bay and that number is available here, too — perhaps). We won’t know about those plans until the NFL decides to comply with Judge Jensen’s recent ruling ending the lockout. If indeed the NFL complies. Presumably, any trade agreements are already in place and could happen quite quickly upon this anticipated compliance, shedding more light on whatever actions we see occur in the draft room over the next three days.
At any rate, the first non-legal action of the 2011 off season is at last upon us. And the first indication of the direction of the Baalke/Harbaugh era and the makeup of this year’s team will occur tonight. It’s a long awaited moment.