SF 49ers NFL Draft: Mac Jones can shine in CFB Playoff championship
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers have already shown some interest in Alabama’s Mac Jones, who’ll be under the spotlight in the CFB Playoff vs. Ohio State.
With the 2021 CFB Playoff Championship game kicking off on Jan. 11, the SF 49ers will get a chance to look closely at two quarterbacks who’ll almost assuredly go early in the 2021 NFL Draft: Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Fields, of course, is the higher-ranked prospect, likely not to make it out of the top five among the plethora of quarterback-needy teams selecting early in Round 1.
Jones, however, has a draft stock a little less clear than his Monday night counterpart. While quarterback stock values always tend to increase leading up to the draft, many a big board and mock tab Jones somewhere between the teens down into the latter stages of the first round. It’s not hard to find some mock drafts tabbing Jones as a second-round pick, although that seems unlikely.
Barring a trade-up, the Niners aren’t going to have a chance at Fields this April. And it’s still unclear whether or not head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to target a quarterback early anyway. San Francisco still has its starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, under contract for next season and beyond. Plus, in light of all the injuries the SF 49ers suffered in 2020, Shanahan’s roster is built to win now with multiple core players dotting the squad up and down.
Still, the speculation about Garoppolo’s future has its reasons. Major injuries in 2018 and 2020 have sidelined the quarterback for the better part of those two seasons, and there’s an ongoing debate whether or not Jimmy G can elevate Shanahan’s offense to the levels many hoped it would reach since he took over head-coaching duties in 2017.
While Fields’ dual-threat, big-play capabilities are there, Jones might be the player the Niners watch more closely Monday night.
SF 49ers already showed an interest in Mac Jones
The Alabama signal-caller, who tossed 36 touchdowns against four interceptions during the Crimson Tide’s 12-0 run-up to the CFB Playoff, was already scouted by San Francisco’s Vice President of Player Personnel, Adam Peters, according to a November report from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
The other quarterback was BYU’s Zach Wilson, who has already drawn interest from the SF 49ers fanbase but might, too, be out of reach. Wilson, after all, is in contention with Fields to be the No. 2 quarterback to be selected this April behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
This led to some believing San Francisco could go after Jones with the No. 12 overall pick, such as Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner in a mock draft he put together last November:
"Is it a little high? Possibly. But Jones is currently operating a 2019 LSU-esque offensive juggernaut at Alabama and performing at a higher level than we ever saw from Tua Tagovailoa in his college career. The tools aren’t exceptional, but performance matters at ton at the quarterback position. His accuracy, decision-making and anticipation would play in the 49ers’ offense."
Jones might not have the pure athletic traits either Fields or his predecessor at Alabama, Tagovailoa, possess. But Jones is more than adept at making the correct decisions, protecting the ball and understanding the system’s benefits.
Considering Shanahan’s West Coast-style of offense, it’s hard not to see Jones as a potential long-term upgrade with a large ceiling for success within it.
But the biggest challenge of Jones’ collegiate career will come on Monday night against an Ohio State defense that held opponents to less than 30 points in all but one of its seven games this season, including holding Lawrence and No. 2-ranked Clemson to just 28 points on Jan. 1.
Should Jones go off in the championship, it might make Shanahan and the SF 49ers much more confident in the risks associated with grabbing a quarterback in Round 1, both in terms of replacing Garoppolo and not being able to land a high-profile name like Fields or Wilson, the latter two requiring what would likely be lucrative trade-up packages.
Either way, there is a lot on the line for Jones, the Niners and Garoppolo, too, when the CFB Playoff championship kicks off on Monday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. ET.