Healthy discourse, or toxic discord? The San Francisco 49ers reportedly traded up to third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Mac Jones, but Trey Lance closed the gap so much that the organization was still legitimately arguing over who to take as late as this past weekend.
The latest NFL rumors from ESPN insider Adam Schefter casts the 49ers in a light that’s certain to draw criticism from the fan base and other outsiders alike, as San Francisco became smitten with Lance in the pre-draft process:
While Schefter acknowledges that it appears as though the 49ers have come to a consensus on who to take, and that head coach Kyle Shanahan will have the final say, it’s unclear which direction the franchise is going with this era-defining decision.
Shanahan is believed to be the biggest advocate for Jones, whereas other prominent voices in the organization have advocated for Lance due to his superior athleticism and upside.
Whatever direction the 49ers go in, it’s on Shanahan to make it work. It’s believed to be a strong QB class, but if history tells us anything, it’s that hitting on a high draft pick at the most important position on the field is extremely difficult.
Breaking down recent 49ers QB personnel decisions
The fact that Ohio State’s Justin Fields isn’t involved in this debate is mind-boggling, but that’s neither here nor there. Of course, it could be that Jones and Lance are all smokescreens and the Niners are going to wind up with Fields, but chances are, that’s probably not the case.
Shanahan is believed to be a QB guru. General manager John Lynch has said since his head coach is also the genius architect of the offense, he’ll defer to Shanahan when it comes to who succeeds Jimmy Garoppolo.
Here’s the thing, though: If Shanahan’s offense could work with anyone, it would have. Instead, he’s struggled with the likes of Nick Mullens and a hand-picked draft choice in CJ Beathard in recent years when Jimmy G has been injured.
Crestfallen prior to Garoppolo’s arrival about being unable to land Kirk Cousins, remember too that the 49ers passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the draft for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
That isn’t the best track record. If it is true that Shanahan has the last word, he hasn’t done a great job thus far. In fact, the player he initially didn’t want, Garoppolo, is the only one who’s worked thus far, leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl berth after a phenomenal 2019 campaign.
Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance: Can 49ers really go wrong?
Jones is coming off an FBS-record 77.4% completion rate season in which he led Alabama to the national championship. The year before that, Lance led FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to a national title and displayed similar, remarkable proficiency, throwing 28 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
Both players hail from a pro-style offense, which should expedite their transition to the NFL level, and they’ve started 17 games apiece. Jones has been labeled extremely smart, and Schefter actually labeled Lance as the draft’s smartest QB on Wednesday.
Right now, there’s no question that Jones is the more mechanically sound, accurate passer. He’s also turning 23 in September, though, and Lance is only going to be 21 in May. Lance therefore has more physical maturing to do, and already possesses a much more powerful arm and far superior running ability.
There’s no denying Lance has a higher ceiling, and with Shanahan’s guidance, could become a legitimate superstar, albeit after some rookie growing pains. If Jones is who Shanahan thinks he is, though, the 49ers could be in immediate Super Bowl contention.
Going off Sportsnaut’s top 100 prospects big board, Lance is the easy call for us, as he ranks 11th to Jones’ 35th. That said, Shanahan is a play design wizard, and it’s hard to argue that Jones wouldn’t thrive in an offense with an elite left tackle in Trent Williams, a strong running game and pass-catchers like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle to throw to.
So much of a draft pick’s success or failure is based on where a prospect lands. Among the teams near the top of the draft picking a quarterback, the 49ers are easily the most desirable destination.