The San Francisco 49ers traded up from 12th to third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the growing sense around the league is that Mac Jones is who they’re targeting as their quarterback of the future.
Beware the pitfalls of the pre-draft silly season, many will tell you. There are always smokescreens abound and leaked information that’s calculated as teams try to deceive each other. It’s a total mind game. Maybe the Jones-49ers hype is all smoke, no fire.
But read this piece of information from Pro Football Network insider Tony Pauline about what NFL personnel men think about Jones to San Francisco and decide for yourself:
“He was phenomenal at the Senior Bowl […] but No. 3 seems early for Mac Jones. People I’ve talked to, there’s no inside information here, but their gut feeling is that it’s Mac Jones at three.”Tony Pauline on Mac Jones to San Francisco 49ers in 2021 NFL Draft
This isn’t media hype or speculation. It’s based on what people within NFL circles are taking away from San Francisco’s blockbuster trade. Is Jones the right field general to lead the 49ers going forward, though?
Why Mac Jones to the San Francisco 49ers makes sense
Provided the slew of injured players from last season, notably star pass-rusher Nick Bosa, return healthy for 2021, the 49ers have a roster that’s ready to win now.
If Jones is the pick, he’s probably the most ready among the trio of him, Trey Lance and Justin Fields to start as a rookie. He wouldn’t need to sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a year and essentially waste a season of his inexpensive rookie contract.
Plus, Garoppolo probably doesn’t want to stick around. In an ideal scenario, he’d not be a lame-duck QB and seek a fresh start with a team that truly believes in him. Jimmy G’s exit from the Bay Area likely gets expedited if the 49ers go with Jones at third overall.
Mac Jones’ inferior upside could haunt San Francisco 49ers
It’s pretty easy to play devil’s advocate to that whole argument. Lance and Fields are clearly the better athletes, have more arm strength than Jones and aren’t exactly scrubs. They’re legitimate first-round prospects who definitely have more superstar potential than Jones does.
Plus, Lance played in a pro-style offense at North Dakota State and showed exceptional decision-making, throwing 28 touchdowns to zero interceptions and running for 14 more scores in an electrifying 2019 campaign. Like Jones, Fields has played on the biggest stages in college football at Ohio State, and despite the sometimes gimmicky nature of the Buckeyes’ offense, Fields showed the ability to work through progressions better than he’s given credit for.
Trading up so far in the draft and sacrificing two future first-round picks seems to suggest San Francisco believes its QB of the future is worth developing for that period of time. There’s an outside chance both Fields and Lance can thrive as rookies, and the criticisms about their perceived shortcomings are overblown.
All these factors make this a watershed moment for the 49ers franchise. They have a rich history of quarterbacks, highlighted by Joe Montana and Steve Young, but haven’t had anyone like that in quite some time.
With an offensive genius as head coach in Kyle Shanahan, any of these three QBs will likely work in San Francisco’s system. Although he didn’t really show it at Alabama, Jones isn’t a total statue and can buy time with his legs. He also has great pocket presence and can make difficult throws even when his feet aren’t perfectly set, which is part of the reason why he had an NCAA-record 77.4% completion rate in 2020.
Given all the glowing remarks made about Jones, Fields and Lance, combined with Shanahan’s schematic savvy, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers going wrong. However, there’s never a case where all the top QB prospects in the draft are all hits. San Francisco can’t afford to miss here.