The San Francisco 49ers are slated to pick third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft later this week. It’s also rather obvious that they are targeting a quarterback to eventually unseat current starter Jimmy Garoppolo after exhausting two future first-round picks and change to trade up from 12.
The backdrop here is a 49ers fan base that’s on pins and needles as it relates to who head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will be targeting.
Initially, reports concluded that San Francisco was dead set on selecting reigning Heisman finalist Mac Jones from Alabama. Recently, odds shifted in the direction of Ohio State product Justin Fields being the selection. Now, reports tell us a story of a 49ers team choosing between Jones and former North Dakota State star Trey Lance with Fields out of the equation.
To be absolutely clear here. We have no idea in what direction the San Francisco 49ers are going with the third pick. They don’t leak. It was one of the precursors to both Shanahan and Lynch taking on their roles with the 49ers back in 2017. The need to stop the leaks that defined the latter years of the Jim Harbaugh era.
With all of that said, there’s this narrative floating about that Shanahan making the decision is good news for 49ers fans. Is that indeed the case?
Will the San Francisco 49ers actually pass up on Justin Fields?
“NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the belief is San Francisco has appeared to narrow its focus on selecting either Alabama QB Mac Jones or North Dakota State QB Trey Lance, according to several sources.”
Immediately after the 49ers traded up for the third pick, suggestions were that Shanahan would look in the direction of Mac Jones due to his previous “success” with the likes of Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan in previous stops. The head coach pushed back against that in a post-trade press conference.
But here we are. Potentially back at square one with the 49ers taking a less-toolsy quarterback because he somehow fits Shanahan’s perception of a quarterback who could excel in his system.
The objective observer will say Fields is a better pro prospect with a ceiling that rivals consensus No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence. Jones? He has a higher floor than any of the top-five quarterbacks not named Mr. Lawrence. However, his ceiling is the lowest of the group. That begs a major question. If the 49ers do indeed select Jones, should fans in Northern California give Kyle Shanahan the benefit of the doubt?
Kyle Shanahan and his decision-making at quarterback
We just have to look at the earliest stages of Shanahan’s tenure in 2017. Taking on what was pretty much the equivalent of an expansion roster, he opted to sign veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer to start. He lost all six of his starts before being replaced by C.J. Beathard, who eventually became a clipboard holder when the 49ers acquired Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline.
But this process started months before during the 2017 NFL Draft. Joining forces with John Lynch, Shanahan passed up on the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Instead, San Francisco traded down from the second pick to third overall for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. The 49ers also nabbed embattled linebacker Reuben Foster in a trade up at the end of Round 1. Neither player remains on the roster.
The backdrop here is a 49ers team that was seemingly dead set on targeting former Shanahan quarterback in D.C., Kirk Cousins, in free agency the following offseason. Once Garoppolo became available, those plans were nixed.
The rest is pretty much history as it relates to Garoppolo. He signed a five-year, $137.5 million extension with San Francisco after starting a mere five games with the team in 2017. The following season saw Garoppolo miss all but three games due to a torn ACL before he shockingly led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2019.
As you already know, the embattled signal caller also suffered through a plethora of injuries in 2020 — leading to the 49ers sending away two future first-round picks in order to move up less than 10 spots in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Opting to trade for Garoppolo is one thing. Targeting Kirk Cousins more than a year before he was slated to hit free agency is another thing. Passing up on Mahomes and Watson while adding two players who ended up being busts takes this to a whole new level.
Kyle Shanahan is 29-35 as the 49ers’ head coach. He’s joined Lynch in making some questionable roster decisions for a team that seemingly had a wide-open Super Bowl window less than a calendar year ago.
The San Francisco 49ers are about to embark on a franchise-altering decision. Both Shanahan and Lynch are in it for the long haul after they each signed extensions last offseason. They are a mere 15 months from holding a double-digit lead in the Super Bowl.
On the surface, this should lead to fans in Northern California being confident that Kyle Shanahan and Co. will make the right decision. Delving further into it, the track record in Santa Clara just doesn’t speak to said confidence being justified. That’s the brutal truth.