In retrospect, it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was unseated by a second-year player.

Colin Kaepernick supplanted Smith as the starter -- OK, so Kaepernick is just one of coach Jim Harbaugh's two starters -- three games ago and became the 10th quarterback selected in 2011 or '12 to start multiple games this season.

It's all part of a trend, several current and former front-office workers say, where teams now are more likely to turn toward the draft for a quarterback than free agency.

"A lot of it is, guys are coming in better prepared, better coached," said Jon Kingdon, a Raiders scout for more than three decades. "More and more, colleges are like a minor-league system for the NFL."

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill learned in Mike Sherman's pro-style offense at Texas A&M. Hence, there was a small learning curve for Tannehill when he arrived in Miami as the No. 8 pick in this year's NFL draft. (It didn't hurt that Sherman now is the Dolphins offensive coordinator.)

Still, Sherman said he is surprised at how well Tannehill is doing in a league famous for chewing up young quarterbacks.

"He's doing things now you expect in the fifth or sixth year for a quarterback," Sherman said.

The same can be said of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton and more.

All started for their respective teams from the outset of their NFL careers and paid immediate dividends.


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Former Raiders coach John Madden said when he coached in the '70s that the common thinking was that quarterbacks weren't deemed ready to play for five, six or seven years.

That changed when coaches at all levels started mimicking the NFL.

"They're playing the same football in high school," Madden said. "You go to high school (games), you'll see these same formations. Then, the colleges are playing the same. ... I remember when there were only two or three (college) teams that threw the ball."

Kingdon said the switch to pass-heavy attacks in high school and college makes quarterbacks better prepared for the NFL. Teaching methods also are more advanced.

Kaepernick, like Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, spent his rookie season as an understudy. That's something few high-profile quarterbacks do these days.

Still, when called upon, Kaepernick has had little difficulty adjusting to the speed of the NFL, the intricacies of a pro offense and the myriad looks posed by defenses.

Coincidentally, the proliferation of quarterbacks making a seamless transition from college to the NFL has the potential to have a direct impact on the free-agent market.

Which brings us back to Smith.

The Seattle Seahawks are paying Matt Flynn $8 million this season to stand on the sideline because of Wilson's meteoric rise from third-round draft pick to immediate starter.

Contrast that to the $3 million Wilson is slated to earn in his first four seasons.

Flynn was the prize quarterback of this year's free-agent class. Smith just might wind up with that label this offseason.

Is any team going to pony up anything near the $8 million or so Smith earned this season, when promising youngsters such as Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, Geno Smith, Aaron Murray and Landry Jones are ready to hit the NFL next season?

  • In a short time, first-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano already is doing more to shape the way football is played than most coaches do in a career.

    Schiano brought with him from Rutgers the mindset that end-of-game kneel-downs by the quarterback aren't uncontested plays. That rubbed New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin the wrong way, when the Buccaneers crashed the so-called "victory formation" in an attempt to get at Eli Manning and force a fumble.

    Now, a Schiano proposal that would eliminate kickoffs -- a cause close to his heart after Eric LeGrand was paralyzed on a kickoff play at Rutgers in 2010.

    Schiano's idea, which is actually being considered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, calls for a team to retain possession of the football after scoring a touchdown or field goal, setting up at their own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation. Teams would then choose to either punt or gamble on converting the fourth-down play.

    In essence, kickoffs would become punts -- statistically a safer play.

    "I understand traditionalists don't agree, but there used to not be the forward pass, too, and the game would be pretty boring without it, so ... ," Schiano told reporters in Tampa Bay. "I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying you've got to be able to think outside the box and whatever is best for the players, because at the end of the day these guys are the ones that are putting it on the line."