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Niners gamble long-term on Nevada QB Kaepernick

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted April 29, 2011 @ 7:52 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

After bypassing Missouri's Blaine Gabbert on the first day of the draft, the stars were aligned for the Niners to travel the QB route in Round Two. Wasting no time, Jim Harbaugh moved up nine spots (from the 45th to to the 36th position), cutting a deal with the Broncos to select Nevada CB Colin Kaepernick, the likely Niners QB of the future.

It's highly unlikely, though, that Kaepernick will start right away. He remains in dire need of seasoning, which he will get 24/7 from Harbaugh, a former first-round quarterback who stuck around for 15 seasons at the pro level.

Although it's hardly a given, it seems a lot more likely the Niners' starting QB in 2011 will either be free agent Alex Smith, a former No. 1 pick overall who Harbaugh continues to insist has a legitimate shot at retaining the starting role, or another veteran via free agency or trade — at whatever point personnel moves involving vets get underway.

The whole Smith scenario seems a bit fishy, with him being run through the ringer in the court of public opinion. According to Niners insiders who know him well, Smith is ready for a chance of scenery. But I suspect Harbaugh could be a pretty convincing arm-twister.

I also could see the Niners in play for a veteran free agent.

In the meantime, Kaepernick, who might have better overall athleticism than Broncos second-year QB Tim Tebow — the Nevada QB also starred in basketball and was a dominant pitcher — is an intriguing project that Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman should enjoy developing very much.

Kaepernick opened plenty of eyes this past season, passing for over 3,000 yards with 21 TDs while rushing for just over 1,200 yards and scoring 20 TDs on the ground (7.0 ypc). He is the only player in NCAA history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards in his college career.

The numbers don't lie.

He's got decent size (6-4 5/8, 233) and a real swagger, but he struggled against top-flight competition and needs to beef up and develop a bit more compact throwing delivery.

In short, he's the ultimate work in progress, but one with tremendous potential. With his mobility and atheticism, he ultimately should be tailor-made for a revamped Niners offense with lots of room for creativity despite its power run-oriented emphasis.

Kaepernick is a long-term keeper with no real short-term expectations, unless, of course, injuries come into play.

A few years down the road, though, it will be his show in San Francisco, choreographed with meticulous attention to detail by a head coach who has developed a great track record for developing quarterbacks.

Clearly, Harbaugh likes what he sees in Kaepernick. Moving up nine spots in the second round to snatch him away is the proof in the pudding.

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