Bill Walsh thought that every NFL team should strongly consider drafting a quarterback every year. He wasn't joking. The man knew the breed.
The quarterback position, Walsh believed, was just too valuable compared with the other spots on the field. So if a team even mildly loved any college quarterbacking prospect, anywhere, in a high round or low round, the team should pick the guy.
Why is this relevant in the year 2014?
Because this spring, the Raiders should probably draft not one but two or three quarterbacks. And the 49ers should certainly pick one during the May 8-10 draft.
Yes, I am as serious about that as Walsh was. As the 49ers coach in 1979, he made their most famous third-round pick in history by selecting Joe Montana. But Walsh also drafted quarterbacks during each of his first four years as 49ers coach -- and in five of his first seven seasons.
Montana was the only one who stuck, of course. The others all fell by the wayside, from Dan Hartwig (ninth round, 1980) to Scott Barry (sixth round, 1985) and the others in between. That was OK by Walsh. He figured the risk was worth it, in case he found a diamond.
The Raiders should adopt the same approach in May. Their quarterback depth chart right now is both vague and unexceptional -- with Matt McGloin, Terrelle Pryor and Trent Edwards lining up in some sort of order. General manager Reggie McKenzie has signed up a bushel of free agents over the past week. But so far, no veteran free-agent quarterback has come aboard.
That seems likely to happen. But either way, the Raiders still should choose one or two quarterbacks in the top three or four rounds, after proper evaluation.
The Raiders need so much help at so many positions that it will be difficult to justify a first-round quarterback selection, unless they consider Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel to be the next Andrew Luck. (Hint: They shouldn't. Because they aren't.) But the other day, McKenzie was spotted at the Pro Day workout of San Jose State quarterback David Fales. This sighting may or may not mean anything, although Fales is projected to go in the third round or so. But it shows McKenzie was in the right place.
The 49ers are in a different situation, more solid at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick as the entrenched starter and veteran Blaine Gabbert as the presumptive backup after a recent trade with Jacksonville. Holdover third-stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson is also on the roster. But to follow the Walsh Principle, the 49ers should also look for quarterback value at some point on draft weekend, if general manager Trent Baalke gets any sort of positive spidey-sense vibes about a prospect.
And that's where we get to the tricky part.
You know what's funny? In this day and age, quarterbacks are more exposed and evaluated and trained and analyzed than ever.
Still, even after that exhausting analysis, NFL teams make mistakes and whiff on their selections. There is no 100 percent foolproof way -- or even a 70 percent foolproof way -- to gauge how a college quarterback will make the transition to the pro level.
Even the smartest people in the business will admit this is the case. Terry Shea, the former San Jose State head coach and an offensive coach for four NFL teams, is working with Fales in his run-up to the draft. Shea performed the same role for Robert Griffin III before the 2012 draft and Matthew Stafford in 2009, among others.
"Each year, I get to be with a guy for eight to 10 weeks," Shea said. "To me, you really cannot predict a quarterback's skill level until you're there with him, hip to hip, over the course of several weeks. The other 25 positions, film will do it. You can't do that with a quarterback."
Even so, Shea says, no one can guarantee that a great pre-draft quarterback performance means anything definitive.
"It's the toughest position to play in sports," Shea said. "And as much as I work with these guys, I don't see them go into a huddle in an 11-on-11 situation, to see how their eyes work, to see how they take a team to the line, how they respond to what they'll face in the NFL. How do you find the next Drew Brees, who is able to see the field so well and make decisions so well?"
The answer: You take an educated guess. And that's what the Raiders and 49ers need to do. The Walsh Principle demands it.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.