SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – The pressure was on the San Francisco 49ers to find a quarterback this offseason to fill the team’s greatest need.
They landed one Friday night.
Another might soon be on the way.
In the first major move of the Jim Harbaugh Era, the 49ers traded up in the second round to take Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the 36th overall pick in the NFL draft. They gave Denver their second-round (45th overall), fourth-round (108th) and fifth-round (141st) picks to move up.
The 49ers pegged Kaepernick from the start.
Harbaugh even participated in a competition against the young quarterback, with general manager Trent Baalke designated as the pass-rusher during the private workout last month. Kaepernick’s strong arm was unmistakable.
“You know it when you see it,” said Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback. “A quarterback knows a tight spiral when you see one.”
Baalke and Harbaugh have spent most of the offseason doing their homework on quarterbacks. While there’s a growing sentiment that Alex Smith will re-sign with San Francisco, there’s nothing from his past play that suggests he could be the franchise’s long-term solution.
Kaepernick was watching the draft unfold with family in Turlock, Calif., and will easily be a more popular pick because of his Northern California ties, strong throwing arm and quick feet—and because he represents change. Kaepernick was so excited he made the two-hour drive to the team’s headquarters with his parents immediately.
“That just makes it that much easier for my family, friends to come and see me,” said Kaepernick, who was the sixth quarterback taken in the draft. “I know everybody in Reno was hoping I went to the 49ers as well. For me, it was the perfect pick.”
The 49ers also traded back in the third round to take South Carolina defensive back Chris Culliver. The Jacksonville Jaguars received San Francisco’s 76th overall pick in exchange for the 80th pick to take Culliver and a sixth-round selection (182nd overall).
The Kaepernick selection wasn’t the only move the 49ers made to secure a quarterback Friday.
Smith was among about 15 players at the team’s facility working out and he met with Harbaugh, who has made it known he would like the team to reunite with the 2005 No. 1 overall pick—but Harbaugh said there will be a wide-open quarterback competition whenever football resumes. Smith is a free agent and his possible return could allow Kaepernick the time needed to develop into an NFL quarterback.
Kaepernick threw for 3,022 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Wolfpack last season—and had 59 rushing touchdowns in four years — but has been dinged for his elongated throwing motion, perhaps the biggest reason he slipped into the second round. He believes his private workout with Harbaugh in Reno last month ended any doubts the team had about his throwing motion.
“I think it’s a little bit more abbreviated, but at the same time, I haven’t had a coach tell me they had a problem with it,” Kaepernick said. “Coach Harbaugh was actually the first coach to tell me that it looked good. I think he was worried about whether I got the ball out quickly or not. And when he told me that, I was very excited about it.”
Although he probably won’t be the immediate starter, Kaepernick will be part of a new regime charged with restoring the storied franchise to prominence.
The 49ers followed up a perfect preseason last year by losing their first five games, finished 6-10 in the league’s worst division and coach Mike Singletary was fired with one game left. San Francisco’s brass hired away Harbaugh from just down the road in Stanford, handing him the reins to a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2002.
And inconsistency at quarterback might be the biggest reason why.
“He’s got great gifts from mom, dad, God. He comes with the energy and the ability to think his way to success,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “So all those things and more are why we liked him.”
The 49ers also showed signs they were headed toward a reunion with Smith when they bypassed quarterback prospects that could’ve made a more immediate impact. Instead, they took Missouri’s Aldon Smith with the No. 7 overall pick in the first round to be a pass-rushing outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.
Aldon Smith was formally introduced at the team’s practice facility earlier Friday, meeting with coaches and the few players in the building. He was set to fly back to New York immediately, then Missouri before returning to the Bay Area.
Smith made enough of an impression at Missouri’s pro day because the 49ers flew him out for a private workout before the draft. He had dinner with Harbaugh and was even given a 50-question test that included everything from football history to field dimensions.
Apparently, he passed.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Five hours of sleep. Ever since my name got called I’ve been busy. I’m enjoying every bit of it.”
(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)