Colin Kaepernick was drafted to be the 49ers' quarterback of the future Friday. But first, he had to outthrow an NFL quarterback of the distant past.
It happened March 18 in Reno, site of Kaepernick's predraft workout, when new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh challenged him to a passing competition. There was a perfect spiral contest, an accuracy segment involving goal posts. Everything but ...
"We didn't have a deep ball competition," Kaepernick said.
Strong call by Harbaugh, because the retired quarterback wouldn't have stood a chance with the Nevada quarterback, who has long throws to go with his long legs. The 49ers wanted Kaepernick so bad after that workout, they traded up nine spots to the fourth pick of the second round to take him Friday, giving their second-, fourth- and fifth-round picks to Denver.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound chunk of clay with a powerful arm is all Harbaugh's to mold in the coming years.
"I love the way he competes," said Harbaugh, who said he split the spiral competition but lost the between-the-posts aiming contest. "When I hit the field, I like to have fun and he has the same mind-set."
In drafting Kaepernick, the 49ers addressed the most significant hole in their roster - but they aren't done yet. David Carr is under contract, and Kaepernick will be once the off-again, back-on-again lockout ends.
As for re-signing former quarterback of the future Alex Smith, an unrestricted free agent?
"The plan for Alex is unchanged," Harbaugh said. "He has the ability and license to be the starting quarterback and so does Colin. We want to get the best players on our roster, throw the balls out there and let them compete."
Kaepernick showed he could do that at Nevada, impressing Harbaugh with his ability to win from behind. He did it again at his pro day workout when Harbaugh threw one scenario after another at him, just to see how he could adapt and respond.
General manager Trent Baalke was there - he was the designated pass rusher during the drills. He liked what he saw, too, enough so to make Kaepernick the franchise's highest-drafted quarterback since they took Smith with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft.
"Jim asked him to change a lot of things, his footwork, different things like that, just to see how he responded," Baalke said. "He showed the ability to process everything and make those changes very quickly."
That, Harbaugh said, is what the quarterback position is all about - processing information and making the right decision before an outside linebacker slams you in the back.
At Nevada, Kaepernick had the decisiveness to pick his read, the arm strength to get the ball out fast and the accuracy to hit his target - all with a 1.89 percent career interception rate, the lowest in the WAC in a decade.
He also has the legs and speed to break free and make plays on the go. Together, Kaepernick's skill set made him the only college quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in his career.
Harbaugh's job is to make all that fit into his West Coast offense. At Nevada, Kaepernick played in the Pistol offense, a hybrid shotgun formation with the quarterback lined up 3 1/2 yards behind the center to retain a running game. At Pitman High in Turlock, Kaepernick ran a Wing-T run game.
"I fit coach Harbaugh's offense well," Kaepernick said. "He likes a mobile quarterback who can do a lot of things."
Harbaugh has been developing quarterbacks his entire coaching career. He doesn't view Kaepernick as a long-term project, even if his long throwing motion isn't a traditional way to throw.
"You throw how you throw," Harbaugh said. "It matters what the ball does when you throw it, not how you do it."
Drafted: Second round, fourth pick
Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 230
College: University of Nevada
High school: Pitman High (Turlock, Stanislaus County)
Of note: Only NCAA player to ever throw for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000 yards. ... Turned down multiple baseball scholarship offers - he pitched two no-hitters as a senior - to accept the only college football offer on the table. ... Grew up a Packers fan from his early years in Wisconsin before his adoptive family moved to Turlock. ... Quick feet and agility to go with his long, lean frame.
Drafted: Third round, 16th pick
Ht., Wt.: 6-0, 199
College: South Carolina
High school: Garner (N.C.) High
Of note: The converted wide receiver played cornerback and free safety for the Gamecocks. ... His 4.40-second time in 40 yards was tied for eighth best at the NFL combine. ... Injury history includes both shoulders and last year's season-ending torn pectoral muscle. ... Owns school career record in kick return yards.
Kaepernick's stats at Nevada
|PASSING ||RUSHING |
Picks: 115 (Round 4), 174 (Round 6), 182 (Round 6), 190 (Round 6), 211 (Round 7), 231 (Round 7), 239 (Round 7), 250 (Round 7)
Outlook: The 49ers filled their three big needs. Now it's on to backup plans, starting with a nose tackle because Aubrayo Franklin is an unrestricted free agent. ... Antioch's Taiwan Jones (Eastern Washington) is an intriguing option as a backup to Frank Gore, who keeps getting hurt. ... Speed at wide receiver wouldn't hurt, either.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle