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Every once in awhile, a rare talent comes along who has the ability to change the fortunes of a franchise. Although they're few and far between, we've seen quarterbacks like John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck be touted by many as "can't miss" prospects. In that scenario, it's easy to see why a team would become enamored and pay a hefty price to land such a player, as the risk is perceived to be minimal.
If you're not dealing with an Elway, Manning or Luck though, it might be best not to bet the farm on something that basically amounts to a crapshoot. The NFL graveyard is littered with the names of first-round quarterback busts who've set their respective teams back for years, and cost general managers their jobs. Even having the top overall pick doesn't guarantee you anything, just ask the brain trusts who settled on Tim Couch, David Carr and JaMarcus Russell.
With these cautionary tales in the front and center of my mind, I have to commend the San Francisco 49ers for standing pat at number seven, and not mortgaging the farm to get either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz.
First and foremost, neither Goff or Wentz are anywhere close to a sure thing behind center. Some would say they're not even one of the top five players available. However, this is a quarterback driven league, and apparently it causes some teams to do crazy things. Just take a look at what the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles gave up to move to the number one and two spots (respectively) in this year's draft.
The Rams sent the Tennessee Titans their first-round pick in 2016 (No. 15 overall), two second-round selections (Nos. 43 and 45), a third (No. 76 overall), plus a first and third rounder in 2017 for this year's number one overall pick as well as a fourth (No. 113) and a sixth (No. 177).
Philly gave the Cleveland Browns their 2016 first-round pick (No. 8 overall), a third (No. 77), a fourth (No. 100), next year's first and a second in 2018. In return the Eagles got the second pick in 2016 and a fourth rounder next year. Philadelphia did this despite having already guaranteed $34 million combined to quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. And do they know who the Rams are picking, or are they just kind of cool with either guy? I'm starting to understand why Chip Kelly had such an issue with Howie Roseman.
Anyway, those are both crazy packages for two unproven, possibly hit-or-miss prospects.
Now despite me commending them for their willpower, do I believe the 49ers still desperately need a quarterback? Yes, they absolutely do and I'd argue that in today's NFL it's impossible to sustain success without a good one. Even still, the cost to move up would have been too much to pay for what they'd get in return, especially considering the amount of holes San Francisco has on it's roster.
General manager Trent Baalke has now given himself the opportunity to sit back, as he's all but guaranteed an elite prospect will fall into his lap at seven (although it most likely won't be a quarterback). The top of the draft is loaded with defensive talent, as well as options at offensive tackle. While OT Laremy Tunsil and CS/S Jalen Ramsey will probably be gone, the Niners have a legitimate shot at landing DE Joey Bosa, DE DeForest Buckner, ILB Myles Jack, CB Vernon Hargreaves, or OT Ronnie Stanley. Bosa, Buckner, Jack, Hargreaves and Stanley are all potential franchise cornerstones who can also come in and make and immediate impact in an area of need.
While there isn't a quarterback worth taking at that point, the 49ers have the ammunition (12 total picks) to maneuver around if need be, and target someone like Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook. There have been rumors that the team is very high on Cook, and he could be the guy they're looking at. Although, they'll almost certainly need to trade up to get him.
Another option could have San Francisco actually trading down from number seven into the middle of the first round, gaining another pick or two in the process (although for me, it would be hard to pass up on someone like Buckner or Jack if he's fully healthy). In this scenario, think prospects like WR Laquon Treadwell, DE Shaq Lawson, OLB Darren Lee, or even OT Jack Conklin.
With options abound, Baalke and the Niners look to be in a very favorable position as the draft draws closer. The franchise made the right decision by not being overly aggressive, but now they have to execute a solid draft plan that nets impact players who can be centerpieces for years to come.
Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49