Where Would the Top QB Draft Prospects Rank Amongst the NFC West?
We have probably all thought more about quarterbacks during the past month than is healthy. However, since that trade, the magnitude of it has really started to sink in. What makes it even more important is that the 49ers reside in the NFC Best, the most competitive division in the whole NFL, which also happens to be QB Central.
This undoubtedly played a part in the momentous decision to trade up to three to get their guy. After all, in the words of the inimitable Sean Connery (The Untouchables, 1987) “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” If the opposition has heavy artillery, you need to fight fire with fire - right?
Anyway, enough of the mixed metaphors, let’s have a look at our esteemed competitors and see how Fields, Lance and err… Mac Jones stack up.
The Current NFC West Quarterbacks
Image Credit: Getty Images
Firstly, another team who has made a seismic trade (this year’s third-rounder, two future first-round picks, and Jared Goff) for a quarterback this offseason - the L.A. Rams. Matthew Stafford is a genuine top-10 talent at the position although he has only posted four winning seasons in his 12 years with the Lions with a career passer rating of 89.9. Some of that can be put down to him playing in a somewhat chaotic and dysfunctional franchise which has been in an almost constant rebuilding phase.
Whilst it may be true that he has never possessed a great all around starting cast like he will have at the Rams, Stafford’s lack of winning football still raises question marks. That said, if he performs up to his obvious ability, in a much better situation than he has ever worked in, he should post big numbers this coming season. It also needs to be noted however that Stafford turned 33 in February so cannot really be viewed as a long-term investment by the constantly aggressive Rams.
Which brings us to an all too familiar foe, Russell Wilson. This guy has been giving the 49ers nightmares for years with his ability to evade pressure and ensure that the Seahawks remain the team to beat in the division, while overcoming the obvious roster flaws with his innate ability.
Boasting a career passer rating of 101.7, the eight-time Pro-Bowler threw for over 4,000 yards last season, with 40 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and shows no signs of slowing down at 32 years old. Although he has made noises about getting out of Seattle this off-season, this now seems unlikely and so it looks like we are stuck with him in the division for the foreseeable future.
So that’s the grizzled league veterans dealt with, what about the new kid on the block? Kyler Murray was selected first overall by Arizona in 2019 and has made steady progress since. Last season he threw for just shy of 4,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 94.3. A genuine dual threat, Murray also ran for over 800 yards and 11 touchdowns. Starting 32 out of 32 in his first two seasons, Kyler Murray is also durable despite his smaller stature and will be a thorn in the 49ers side for a number of years.
So how does this draft class stack up?
Image Credit: Getty Images
Well, it depends what flavour you choose. Let’s get the worst-case scenario out of the way first, Mac Jones. Closest in style to Matt Stafford out of the current NFC West quarterbacks, Jones offers high-level processing ability from the pocket but very little in the way of athletic ability. Mac Jones would not provide the kind of elusiveness of Russell Wilson does, or the dual-threat ability of Kyler Murray. He would need to execute Shanahan’s offense at an extremely high level to maximise his potential and even then would probably be the worst starter in the West, lacking Stafford’s experience and arm talent.
Justin Fields would give the Niners the opportunity to change things up, utilise his athleticism and provide a dual threat similar to that of Kyler Murray. He also has high level arm talent like Stafford and could become the best in the division within three years (at which point Stafford will be 36 and Wilson, 35). Fields appears the best combination of physical ability and passing accuracy and has a combination of traits which would rival the veterans in the division.
Finally, there’s the wild card, Trey Lance. The key word with Lance is potential. This youngster (he’s still only 20) has elite physical gifts at 6’3” and 221 lbs and could still get bigger and stronger. He has a quick release and a live arm but has struggled with accuracy. He’s also only played one full season, at a lower level, so he would be a projection but he has been compared to Bills quarterback Josh Allen and has that kind of upside. Potentially (there’s that word again!), Lance could be the best of all and own the division well into the 2030s but only time will tell.
Potential NFC West QB Rankings (Year 1)
Image Credit: Associated Press
I would expect Justin Fields to perform at a high level in a Kyle Shanahan offense with the talents at his disposal and could see him sneaking ahead of Kyler Murray in year one. Over the next couple of years, you wouldn’t have to squint too hard to see him challenging the highly-paid veterans Stafford and Wilson, providing great value on a rookie deal. Lance is potentially a slower burn due to his age and lack of experience and so he is a tougher projection. Jones, while solid and steady enough, lacks the experience and arm talent of Stafford and Wilson and the athletic ability of Murray, placing him bottom of my projected rankings.
As ever with the draft though, nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen but it is always fun seeing if things turn out as we expect. Hopefully for me, the pick is Fields and we finally have the firepower to compete with the incredible quarterback talent in what is arguably the best division in the NFL.
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