Niner Noise scours the mock landscape to see which player the 49ers grab after moving up to No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
It was essentially a wild guess which prospect the San Francisco 49ers were originally going to select with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Before their blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up from No. 12 overall to the third overall pick this April, there was a sizable mix between cornerbacks, offensive linemen, quarterbacks, pass-rushers and even wide receivers on many experts mocks.
Yet the Niners made that trade, almost entirely guaranteeing general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will grab a quarterback at No. 3 overall. Teams simply don’t give up two additional first-round draft picks, one each in 2022 and 2023, along with a Round 3 selection to grab someone else other than a signal-caller.
Although Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, perhaps a generational talent, and the prolific tight end, Kyle Pitts, are surely enticing targets nonetheless.
With Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence all but certainly going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 overall, there are essentially four other quarterbacks at play now:
- Zach Wilson, BYU
- Justin Fields, Ohio State
- Trey Lance, North Dakota State
- Mac Jones, Alabama
Now with the trade in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at whom the draft experts are now mocking to San Francisco.
Which players do the experts mock to the 49ers at No. 3 overall?
Adam Rank, NFL.com: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
"San Francisco didn’t trade up into this slot to grab Kyle Pitts. Although that would be awesome! Having him and George Kittle? I mean, it’s too much to invest in the tight end position, but it’s fun to think about. The 49ers are going quarterback. And I hope the ghost of duping the Bears into trading up for Mitch Trubisky in 2017 doesn’t come back to haunt you here, Faithful. I’m kidding. That’s on my Bears. I can’t hold that against you. But I’m putting Jones as a placeholder here because he fits the Matt Ryan profile. And Ryan had his MVP season with Kyle Shanahan as his OC. But take the quarterback you want, whomever that might be."
Todd McShay, ESPN: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
"I’m hearing a lot of noise about Jones being the 49ers’ preference. He is accurate and reads the field so well, which helps assuage some mobility concerns. Plus, he excels when passing in the pocket or off play-action, two staples of Shanahan’s system. San Francisco paid a hefty price, but quarterback was in need of an upgrade. Now it just has to hope it selects the right one."
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
"Fields is very accurate, can get through his reads, has a cannon for an arm and can create outside of structure. He is the perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense despite what anyone else tells you."
Austin Gayle, Pro Football Focus: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
"The concerns with Fields’ processing and his tendency to hold the ball too long in the pocket are valid, but the prospect of his development in those areas coupled with his proven athletic ability and accuracy should be too good for San Francisco to pass on. Fields is PFF’s No. 3 overall player and No. 3 quarterback prospect in the 2021 class. He’s also the only quarterback in this class with two years of 90.0-plus PFF grades (2019-20)."
Eric Edholm, Yahoo! Sports: QB Trey Lance, NDSU
"Elite-type guys, eh? I don’t think that screams Jones. It more likely shouts Lance, methinks. And that even could allow Jimmy Garoppolo to stay on — they have the cap space — and start early until Lance is ready.There is precedent, too, for a 49ers team making a midseason QB switch and still making a Super Bowl run, and this roster is in the kind of shape to do just that."
Drae Harris, The Draft Network: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
"Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s trade up to this No. 3 pick shook up draft Twitter last week. This pick will undoubtedly be a quarterback. Will San Francisco keep Jimmy Garoppolo as their bridge QB for the year or choose to start a new era with their rookie QB, whom I believe will be Justin Fields?"
Lance might have the best upside of any of the available quarterbacks after Lawrence, especially if Wilson winds up going No. 2 overall to the New York Jets as many think. But Fields is certainly more pro-ready and has just as near an upside as Lance and probably won’t require as much developmental time as the North Dakota State product.
But Edholm brings up a valid point: San Francisco can be patient with its future rookie quarterback with Garoppolo fully entrenched… for now.
2019 revealed the 49ers can with with a fully healthy Garoppolo under center, and that’s likely the focus for 2021 now. Beyond this upcoming year remains something of an open-ended question, of course, but right there is where the idea of the Niners grabbing Jones holds little weight.
The distance between the first big four — Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Lance — and Jones is quite a big gap with many a draft expert tabbing Jones as a mid or late first-round pick, perhaps climbing into the early teens at best. There’s a good chance the former Alabama quarterback would have been available at No. 12 anyway. And even if there were rumors of Jones rising into the top 10, San Francisco being overly aggressive to get the No. 3 selection just to grab Jones is an awful reach.
Unless analysts like Rank or McShay are viewing Jones with a much brighter lens than many others.
The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 29 from Cleveland, Ohio.