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San Francisco 49ers draft picks are going to be very important this coming April with the team ready to move on to a new franchise quarterback.
That trade up scenario that was long being speculated about that’d see 49ers general manager John Lynch find a replacement for Jimmy Garoppolo? Well, it happened, as San Francisco got aggressive and moved from 12th to third overall in a blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins.
There are needs all over the field for a team that’s one year removed from a shocking Super Bowl appearance. However, Lynch’s watershed moment as GM is on the horizon, as he’ll determine the fate of the 49ers franchise with whichever QB he chooses to take.
Below, we look at what the 49ers should do in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.
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San Francisco 49ers draft picks: Best prospects to target in first three rounds
First round, 3rd pick: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State), Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State), Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)
It’s safe to assume that the 49ers are exclusively targeting quarterbacks with this high of a pick. Another assumption we can draw from the trade heard ’round the NFL world is that San Francisco knows who it wants the most, and must be assuming that Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and BYU’s Zach Wilson will be off the board.
With all that in mind, let’s spell out each scenario. In Justin Fields’ case, the ideal situation would be for him to sit for a full season behind Garoppolo, but good luck convincing Jimmy G to stick around and groom his eventual successor.
Fields might not be ready to play as a rookie, yet with head coach Kyle Shanahan giving him enough creative play designs and taking advantage of the Ohio State star’s dual-threat ability, some success could be had early. It’s also possible that Fields, not unlike Justin Herbert coming out of Oregon, was held back by his gimmicky college offense and hasn’t shown what he can truly do as it translates to the NFL.
In Trey Lance’s case, he’s only turning 21 in May and has only one full season of college starting experience. With 28 touchdown passes and 14 rushing scores in that magical 2019 campaign, though, Lance proved he has uncommon playmaking ability at the quarterback position.
While critics will dismiss Lance’s accomplishments because he played at the FCS level and ran a run-first offense, he’s much more familiar with pro-style concepts than Fields is. For the best blend of arm talent, immediately translatable football IQ and upside, Lance may be the 49ers’ best bet.
But then there’s Mac Jones, who definitely seems more pro-ready than Fields and Lance. Jones just led Alabama to a national championship on a less-loaded offense than Tua Tagovailoa had to work with.
Shanahan might see some qualities of some of his best former players in Jones. He fits the mold of a Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan, but with a little more athleticism and a stronger arm than both. That said, it seems less likely that San Francisco traded up from 12th to take Jones, since there’s a decent chance he’d have been available at that spot in the draft anyway.
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Second round, 43rd pick: Creed Humphrey (OL, Oklahoma), Asante Samuel Jr. (CB, Florida State), Travis Etienne (RB, Clemson), Elijah Moore (WR, Ole Miss)
While Laken Tomlinson has performed well at left guard, the 49ers are in need of more help along the interior of the offensive line. Humphrey primarily played center with the Sooners, but translates better as a Day 1 left guard — opening up the possibility that Tomlinson moves to the right side.
As for the two Clemson skill-position players, each one would be a tremendous fit in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Etienne dominated with the Tigers over the course of his four-year career, recording 6,107 total yards at a clip of 7.8 yards per touch while grabbing 102 passes. That dual-threat ability has to be appealing to San Francisco, especially given the fact that Tevin Coleman is gone and Jerick McKinnon is unlikely to be back next season.
Moore is also an interesting option in that San Francisco needs to find an upgrade in the slot. The team has two tremendous young receivers in that of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk set to shine moving forward. Adding the 5-foot-9 Moore to the mix would make this receiver group elite.
Related: If you’re a fan of the 49ers, check out #NinerNation rumors, rankings, and news here.
Third round, 103rd pick: Jabril Cox (LB-S, LSU), Jordan Smith (EDGE, Alabama-Birmingham), Dyami Brown (WR, North Carolina)
First off, San Francisco already boasts one of the best young linebacker tandems in the NFL in that of All-Pro performer Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Selecting Cox in Round 3 might not be for him to play linebacker. Rather, the versatile defender could translate better to strong safety in the NFL. Cox could still be a linebacker at times for the Niners, move all around the formation and thrive with all the talent flanking him.
If the 49ers were to pass up on an offensive skill player or the edge position with their first two picks, nabbing either Smith or Brown on Day 3 makes sense.
The 255-pound Smith registered 23.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in two collegiate seasons. Meanwhile, Brown is maybe a better fit for what San Francisco is looking for thanks to his superior size, and could help the 49ers strike gold with a trio of great young wideouts. Brown tallied back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for North Carolina and averaged over 20 yards per catch with 20 receiving TDs.
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Ideal San Francisco 49ers mock draft
- First round: Trey Lance, quarterback, North Dakota State
- Second round: Travis Etienne, running back, Clemson
- Third round: Jabril Cox, linebacker/safety, LSU