The 2021 NFL Draft is absolutely stacked at quarterback. The San Francisco 49ers traded up to the third pick as a way to find an heir-apparent to Jimmy Garoppolo. The backdrop here is a media concluding that this could be the best class at quarterback since all the way back in 1983.
Said class included future Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly being three of six quarterbacks selected in the first round. It’s considered the greatest class of quarterbacks to enter the NFL in the modern era.
What some don’t point out about the Class of 83 is that three other lesser-known signal callers went in the initial round. Todd Blackledge went to the Kansas City Chiefs at seven — 21 selections before the Miami Dolphins picked up Dan Marino. The New England Patriots nabbed Tony Eason one selection after the Buffalo Bills picked up Jim Kelly. Heck, Ken O’Brien was taken a few picks ahead of Marino.
This should be a case-study when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft. It’s a hit/miss proposition with busts becoming equally as prevalent as those who are considered generational talents. This is also one of a few reasons why we decided to play devil’s advocate and conclude the 49ers should not take Trey Lance, Justin Fields or Mac Jones at three.
Is Jimmy Garoppolo really that bad?
I get it. San Francisco is on the verge of using three first-round picks and a future third-round selection on an unproven player who has never suited up professionally. You only make that move for a quarterback. It’s common sense.
With that said, Garoppolo is a mere 14-plus months from leading the 49ers to a shocking Super Bowl appearance. Sure their defense played the most pivotal role in that success.
Even then, it’s not like Garoppolo was out there acting the part of Trent Dilfer and riding the coattails of his defense. His regular-season performance was similar to what we saw from Joe Montana and Steve Young during their Super Bowl runs for the dynastic 49ers teams of yesteryear.
- Jimmy Garoppolo: 69.1% completion, 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions (102.0 rating)
- Joe Montana (1981): 63.7% completion, 3,565 yards, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions (88.4 rating)
- Joe Montana (1984): 64.6% completion, 3,630 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (102.9 rating)
- Joe Montana (1988): 59.9% completion, 2,981 yards, 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (87.9 rating)
- Joe Montana (1989): 70.2% completion, 3,521 yards, 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions (112.4 rating)
- Steve Young (1994): 70.3% completion, 3,969 yards, 35 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (112.8 rating)
I get it. Different eras. Today’s NFL is more friendly to quarterbacks and passing game in general. But what if I were to tell you that all five of the 49ers’ championships under Montana and Young included defenses that finished in the top 10 in scoring? It’s true. In fact, the 1981 and 1984 iterations included No. 1 and No. 2 scoring defenses, respectively.
This isn’t to say that Garoppolo is a franchise quarterback. Rather, it’s just to conclude that he can get the job done as long as the quarterback’s injury history doesn’t continue to bite him in the back end.
Imagine Kyle Pitts on the San Francisco 49ers
A 6-foot-6, 219-pound hybrid pass-catcher who just ran a blazing 4.44 40-yard dash. Say what? That’s the backdrop relating to this former Florida tight end heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. For many experts, Pitts is not just a generational talent. Rather, there’s a chance that he could be the greatest tight end to ever play the game. That’s not hyperbole.
“While the player comparison for the purposes of this scouting report is Darren Waller, Pitts may have the traits and talent to create mismatches similar to those created by Calvin Johnson and Tyreek Hill. His rare blend of size, athleticism and ball skills are reminiscent of Megatron’s,” respected NFL Draft guru Lance Zierlein noted in his scouting report.
The combination of Calvin Johnson and Tyreek Hill playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with All-Pro tight end George Kittle already in the mix? Where do we sign up for that? It’s football porn. Add in the presence of wide receivers Deebo Samuel as well as Brandon Aiyuk to go with game-breaking running back Raheem Mostert, and I could succeed under center.
In all seriousness, Kyle Pitts is a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s system with the San Francisco 49ers. Could they shock the world and go with the game-changing pass-catcher?
Read More: Bold predictions for 2021 NFL Draft
NFL Draft history does not favor the San Francisco 49ers
I covered the 1983 NFL Draft above. But there’s more-recent examples of heralded quarterback classes bombing out big time. Back in 2015, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota went one and two, respectively.
After some initial success for both quarterbacks, they were jettisoned from their teams after their rookie contracts expired. The following year saw the Los Angeles Rams trade up for Jared Goff at one with the Philadelphia Eagles moving up to the second selection for Carson Wentz. Both quarterbacks were traded earlier this offseason after failing to live up to expectations.
There’s a moral to this story. The 49ers will take a quarterback at three later in April. They did not send a ransom to Miami for a player at another position. But just as we’ve seen throughout the past several decades, it does not mean said quarterback will succeed in the NFL. For every Patrick Mahomes, there’s a Josh Rosen. For every Josh Allen, there’s a Brady Quinn.
Just some food for thought.