A solid bond has been established between the San Francisco 49ers and number 3 Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft. The drafting world has finally resigned itself to the idea that Jones, as an athlete, fails the eye test, but he’s doing enough to warrant a possible move up to the top 10 on the draft.
Meanwhile, the question has arisen whether there is a legitimate case that the 49ers intend to vote for Jones at number 3. Or is the smoke before drafting with Jones a little too useful to keep competing teams off the smell of their true intentions?
What we do know is that the 49ers gave the Miami Dolphins a sizable collection of picks – the number 12 in this draft, a first and third round in 2022, and another first round in 2023 – to upgrade nine spots from No. # 12 through # 3. The nature of that move calls out for quarterback, so now it comes down to which prospect suits the Niners best.
The Jacksonville Jaguars appear to be linked to number 1 in Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and the New York Jets made their intentions clear to BYU’s Zach Wilson by trading Sam Darnold for the Carolina Panthers last week.
San Francisco now has the first dibs for the best quarterback available, and that choice is Jones, Justin Fields, Ohio, or Trey Lance, North Dakota.
On top alone, Fields and Lance seem to be in a different stratosphere as athletes and pure throwers, but Jones enters the design with a better reputation for processing what he sees on the field and delivering the ball with precision . He used these skills to host a monster season for coach Nick Saban and led the Crimson Tide to a national title.
Jones was a Heisman Trophy finalist and set the NCAA’s record for one season (77.4), indicating how automatically he makes the right decisions. As a former four-star recruit, Jones completed 311 of 402 passes for 4,500 yards with 45 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Here’s a good, in-depth look at how Jones is making progress on Alabama’s high octane crime:
Few prospects are dragged out in the run-up to the draft like Fields, who is an exceptional quarterback with special arm talent when he’s at his best. Questions about its consistency are fair, but the real debate revolves around Fields’ ability to make progress beyond his first reading. Scouting reports say he is holding the ball for too long.
Much of this review feels fabricated and deliberate, as it often does this time of year, especially with the perspective that Fields is likely to be performing what he was asked to do in the Buckeyes crime. Anyway, it seems at least quite a number of NFL talent assessors share these concerns about Fields, but where do the 49ers stand on him?
That part is unclear as General Manager John Lynch did not tilt his hand. When it came down to it and Lynch had the choice of testing Fields or Jones on their respective pro days, Lynch picked Jones. That, too, could mean something or nothing.
And the final vantage point for the 49ers preference is “The Kyle Shanahan Effect”. What is he looking for in a quarterback? How important might Jones’ processing skills be to him, and how does this fit with the belief that dual-threat skills add a valuable new dimension to his offense?
Shanahan has made his offensive work with almost any type of quarterback, as Brad Berreman points out for FanSided, so his “type” isn’t set in stone. However, his liveliest quarterback during his time as Coordinator was Robert Griffin III in Washington, and he has another shot to add that momentum to the 49ers offensive with Fields or Lance.
Chances are, the 49ers’ decision will be made by either Fields or Jones just because they have far fewer questions about their game. Fields is arguably a better mix of advantage and security, but Jones is probably the guy if the 49ers want a player who can get used to the NFL and start right away.
If Jones is really special in the mental side of the game, that affects the discussion up too. Tom Brady became the greatest quarterback of all time with below par athleticism but elite workmanship, instinct, accuracy, and competitiveness.
Jones may have a skill similar to a long, productive career, but it would seem like an unnecessary gamble for a player barely in the first round to move into 3rd place to pick. Only the 49ers can know for sure where to lean – and Jones is undoubtedly at the top of their board – but the fact that it’s cast as a virtual automatic seems a little * too * easy and convenient.