The San Francisco 49ers have received high marks for their tight ends, offensive line, running backs and defensive line. For the offense, only one position remains, and it's going to be a controversial one, to be sure. We're next going to take a look at the quarterback position, led by Alex Smith, with backup Colin Kaepernick and third-stringer Scott Tolzien. Let's just get right into the grades.
Alex Smith had a very solid season by anybody's standards, which wasn't altogether unexpected. Smith has generally been that quarterback that doesn't make mistakes, but who can't necessarily win you a football game on his own. Up until this season, he's fallen short of every expectation had of him, and has been labeled a huge bust, despite solid numbers the past few seasons. Still, even with the positive signs, there wasn't much expectation for Smith heading into this season by realists.
As it turns out, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman were able to do exactly what they said they were going to: maximize his skill-set and use him the best way they possibly can. They did that, with Smith completing the fewest turnovers by all quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers, and coming just short of setting a franchise record for passing attempts without an interception at the end of the season. Smith rallied the 49ers to six fourth-quarter comebacks and led them on two huge 85-yard drives to beat the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.
Of course, there's a lot he can improve upon. His awareness is not totally there, and if it his, he's still reluctant to pull the trigger. Smith threw some very pretty passes this season, but he often waited far too long and never threw his receivers open. There were plenty of times when Smith had a receiver open enough to pull the trigger and he hesitated or went underneath. It's an issue that he needs to correct. Maybe Jim Harbaugh can work with him on that.
In all, Smith had a very good season, his best to date, and earned the starting role heading into next season. He's not a leash-less franchise quarterback who can throw together four or five bad games and expect to be secure in his job in 2012, but he's the guy who should get the full amount of work in the offseason and start in week one, barring some huge setbacks. B+
Colin Kaepernick is progressing, but didn't see the field more than a couple times this past season. He was drafted early and might be the quarterback of the future, but we won't know much about him or what the 49ers really have in him until he gets a full offseason of work with Harbaugh and all of the coaching staff. Expect Kaepernick to not officially compete with Smith in training camp and preseason, but the best thing he can do is show the coaches that he can compete, and be ready in the event of a Smith injury or slip-up.
Scott Tolzien did not dress, but was chosen over Josh McCown to be the third-string quarterback. He had a solid preseason with the San Diego Chargers and will have a full offseason with the 49ers to show his stuff. There's actually quite a bit of upside there.
Overall: B+ Since there's only one quarterback to really go by, it has to be a B+