By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football writer
On the morning of May 1st, NFC West could offer the most entertaining four quarterbacks we’ve seen in a single division in years.
Kyler Murray in Arizona, Matt Stafford in Los Angeles, Russ Wilson in Seattle, and Justin Fields in San Francisco: this is a TV drama, and it’s about to happen.
Jacksonville is so determined to draw Trevor Lawrence in first place that Jaguar trainer Urban Meyer didn’t even attend BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s pro-day.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets appear to be stepping out of the Sam Darnold business and preparing to hand over their franchise to the best QB prospect to come out of Provo since Taysom Hill.
“Jets will be taking Wilson at 2,” a member of the NFL front office told me. “Draw your own conclusions about 3.”
Well, I’ll: Justin Fields is about to become a San Francisco 49er.
GM John Lynch and trainer Kyle Shanahan almost explained this with the move the Niners made on Friday.
San Francisco gave up two future picks for the first round and a third-placed finish for 2021 to move up nine spots to third in the upcoming NFL Draft. You are not taking such a step and mortgaging your future unless you believe you have a chance to attract the most important player to your franchise over the next decade.
The Niners also set out to us what most NFL front office members and draft analysts have believed since January: There are three franchise quarterbacks in this draft class, and they’re all household names.
Lawrence. Fields. Wilson.
If the Jets decided to make a double move and draw fields instead of Wilson, you can be just as sure that the Niners will draw Wilson.
Somehow, in the 49ers NFL Twitter persuaded itself to take Trey Lance from North Dakota or Mac Jones from Alabama while Fields is said to be across the board.
Hall of Fame scout Gil Brandt tweeted that he heard from an NFL club that their team had a fourth round on fields.
Even if this is the worst compliment in history, that “he’s a Russell Wilson guy” in history, the thought of Fields finishing off as a quarter-finalist is absurd.
But move up to Lance’s draft? Why not just move up to Jones’ draft? Because you wouldn’t.
Jones ended his final college season with an unbeaten record and a national title – like Lance. Jones set the record for NCAA passer-by efficiency in one season, throwing 41 TD passes with just four interceptions, and finishing third in the 2020 Heisman vote.
We can play the numbers and awards game until the Detroit Lions finally win a Super Bowl, or we can watch the tape.
What does the tape show?
Lance is mobile. He hasn’t played with a few stallions, but how many stallions are there in the FCS?
Jones is about as mobile as an angry snail, and he’s played with a few stallions – arguably the most talented class in college football history. He also played a conference schedule for all conferences in the toughest league in the sport.
Even so, so many people want to believe that you don’t need a mobile quarterback in the NFL because Tom Brady just won his seventh Super Bowl ring.
While that’s not inaccurate, only two quarterbacks have won the NFL MVP unanimously. One is Brady. The other is Lamar Jackson – the most mobile quarterback on the side of Michael Vick.
Quite frankly, this is a trait Shanahan never had a chance to play as an offensive coordinator in Atlanta or as head coach in San Francisco during his four seasons.
He knows that an immobile quarterback can’t turn a bad play call or broken game into a positive win or touchdown. He also knows that an immobile quarterback was what he lost in his two Super Bowl appearances.
The mystique surrounding Niner’s quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was strong in New England. After moving to San Francisco, it lost some of its luster as the Niners ran to the Super Bowl in 2019.
But it was completely lost when 100 million people watched Garoppolo throw the football with his eyes closed in the biggest game of the year. Add to that the injury he sustained and you can see how enticing the prospect of a 6-foot-3,230-pound field can be.
It’s not just that Fields and Ohio State started their season in November and still managed to play in the national title game in January. It is also the case that Fields has shown time and again that he is accurate with the ball, that his teammates want to follow him and that he can play with pain.
Fields is the best athlete available at Quarterback, and he’ll likely show that again next week at Pro-Day in Ohio. In a video shared on his social accounts, Fields ran 4.41 seconds on the 40-yard dash, claiming that he would come under 4.4 by his pro-day.
If he does, he’ll be one of the four fastest QBs ever recorded, and the fastest since Jackson. But that is exactly what the conversation about Fields missed.
Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, and Jones have each gone through their respective pro-days, and the response has been predictably reactionary. Affirmative bias is in its full glory.
When Fields shows up on his pro day, expect him to push up your team’s draft board … and nod along with you.
Justin Fields has everything you could want in an NFL quarterback. The Niners know that. Why don’t you go?
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He’s not on a StepMill.
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