Jimmy to Jones: Does Drafting Mac Make Sense at 3?
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Friday, March 27, 2021 will go down as either the day that head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch made the move to steer the San Francisco 49ers towards the Super Bowl for the next decade, or directly into an iceberg that not only sinks the franchise, but their careers, too. This was the biggest trade the franchise has made since trading multiple picks to trade up for their Jerry Rice heir-apparent, J.J. Stokes. Stokes didn’t quite live up to Rice’s or even John Taylor’s production level and whoever gets drafted third overall by the team this April, must provide an upgrade over what current QB1 Jimmy Garoppolo has provided since being traded for at the trade deadline in 2017.
The more cynical fans and pundits would say all the rookie quarterback would need to do is be available every Sunday to check off that requirement, but it’s hard to argue that Garoppolo hasn’t been rather effective at leading the 49ers to wins. Whether the 49ers will go forward with its Joe Montana-Steve Young-styled QB room for 2021 or not, who they pick with the third pick in the draft has already had a lot of speculation in the last three days. With Trevor Lawrence inked in to the Jacksonville Jaguars at pick one and Zach Wilson penciled in to the New York Jets at pick two, the 49ers will be choosing between Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones.
Immediately following the draft, there were multiple reports on Twitter connecting the 49ers to Mac Jones with the no. 3 pick. Connecting the franchise and signal caller had been happening for months, but that was when the 49ers held the twelfth pick in the draft, before giving up three first-rounders and a third-rounder to trade up for their potential quarterback of the future.
Jones has been touted as the most pro-ready QB this side of Lawrence, but with a lower ceiling than the more athletic Fields and Lance. There have been comparisons of Jones to Tom Brady, and both first round wide receivers coming out of Alabama (Jaylon Waddle and DeVonta Smith) have stated that they prefer Mac Jones over the Miami Dolphins second year QB Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins picked last year as their QB of the future and Jones lost to in their position battle at Alabama.
Most draft evaluators have Jones listed as the fifth best quarterback in the draft, with Lawrence at one, Wilson, Fields, and Lance arranged two through four, and Jones as a far off five. The one exception to the rule is Chris Simms, who has Jones listed as the third best. Simms most famous attribute might be his friendship with Shanahan, which might tilt his hand a bit, but Simms also famously left Brandon Aiyuk off of his first-round receiver list last year. Also, Shanahan said during Monday’s press conference, “Chris talks about everything, which is why I haven't talked to him in a couple years," leading us to believe that Simms, although valued by Shanahan for his ability to scout QBs, isn’t Shanahan’s confidant.
After executing the trade, Adam Schefter stated that the Niners did not trade up looking at a specific QB, but that they would be comfortable with several options. That means the 49ers must like at least two of the other quarterback options after Lawrence. Is Jones one of them?
Many evaluators have also placed Jones alongside Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, and every 49er fan knows Shanahan’s love for Cousins. This may be the biggest circumstantial piece of evidence to connect Jones to the third draft pick. Jones also boasted a 77.4 percent completion percentage and a 41- 4 touchdown to interception ratio during his junior year at Alabama. Although those raw numbers are impressive and he helped his teammate Smith to win the Heisman trophy, a little deeper dive into his actual play calls tells us Jones may not be able to make the throws that Shanahan would need him to make in his offense. He doesn’t possess the arm talent that Wilson, Fields, and Lance do, and his accuracy on bootlegs is below average.
Both Shanahan and Lynch headed to Jones’ second pro day on Tuesday, rather than attending Fields’ pro day, which was held at the same time. The team watched Fields though, sending assistant general manager Adam Peters and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to the pro day. This was seen as the team tipping their hand towards Jones, and it has been reported that many teams around the league believe that is the team’s plan. Shanahan told everyone at his joint press conference on Monday that they had been in contact with Fields’ agent, and that they would be attending a second pro day for Fields later in April.
The 49ers have made so many moves this offseason and no one knew any of them would happen for sure until they did. It was reported that they were working on a trade for weeks, and no one knew about it until the trigger was pulled for the third overall pick. The Niners could be throwing up smoke screens or they could be doing their due diligence, a term Lynch likes to throw around, or Shanahan could be trying to sell Jones to Lynch, a player the team could have possibly gotten later in the draft.
So should the 49ers make the conservative surprise pick and draft Jones at three overall? If this was 1999, I might say yes, but after watching them make the conservative pick of Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers and what that did for the decade that followed, I would have to argue for Fields to be the quarterback of the future, whether that future is week one of the 2021 season or sometime in the future. Jones just doesn’t appear to be the explosive franchise altering player the team would need to move on from Jimmy G.
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