49ers NFL Draft: Kyle Shanahan has to ace his quarterback selection

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The 49ers went all in by trading up to the No. 3 overall spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, meaning Kyle Shanahan must make a home-run selection at quarterback.

Here we are yet again, approaching another NFL Draft, and it feels like the entire world will be tuned in on the San Francisco 49ers and the third overall pick this year.

With each passing day, speculation grows larger and larger for their projected selection. And after giving up two future first-round draft picks to move up to No. 3 overall to grab a quarterback, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s choice will define his tenure.

The new regime has been in the Bay Area since 2017 and only has one winning season (2019) so far. Granted, when Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were hired, they inherited a depleted roster with minimum options, including at quarterback. At the time of the hires, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the team’s biggest name. Shortly after the new regime took over, Kaepernick was released and the 49ers were left revamping the quarterback room, eventually bringing in Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard.

San Francisco was previously anticipated to be in the market for a quarterback earlier in the 2017 NFL Daft, and many speculated the Niners were surely going to get “their guy.” Much to the chagrin of folks who follow the team closely, the 49ers instead selected defensive end Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall and not a quarterback, instead settling on Beathard in Round 3, and the collective groans can still be heard cross country after missing out on the opportunity to draft either one of the league’s two best quarterbacks, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes or the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson.

Although it may be four years later than anticipated, perhaps the Niners can finally solidify a top priority for the most important position in the league.

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers need to get this quarterbacking plan right

San Francisco was expected to make a strong push for veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins in the 2018 offseason. As fate would have it, though, the football gods intervened in order to pave the way for a midseason trade with the New England Patriots to acquire quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo instead. After his five-game win streak to close the year, all the “Kirk Cousins to SF” rumors would be put to bed, at least temporarily.

The Niners would go ahead and sign Garoppolo to a five-year extension at the conclusion of that season with the hopes of him leading the charge for the foreseeable future.

However, upon further evaluation of the QB’s overall health concerns, the organization once again finds itself searching for its franchise quarterback.

When it comes to play-calling and putting players in the best possible position to succeed, there’s very little doubt about Shanahan’s ability to do so. Many experts believe a dynamic signal-caller is the one element missing from Shanahan’s arsenal, which may come to an end with this year’s draft.

Since becoming the 49ers head coach, Shanahan deployed four different quarterbacks but only one of them, Garoppolo, has a winning record.

So that kind of begs the question: Is the magic in the system, or does it require a particular type of quarterback to unlock the magic?

Personally, looking at Shanahan’s body of work the last four seasons or so, my appreciation for his offensive intellect has grown substantially. Although his team landed on the top-five league-ranking list for offense just once, 2019, pairing Shanahan with a competent, capable and available quarterback is more than enough to enjoy sustained success for years to come.

Simply put, be it with whichever quarterback he chooses at No. 3 overall — Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance — Shanahan and the 49ers can’t afford another miss like they had in 2017.

Shanahan’s brief tenure with San Francisco will definitely be defined by this year’s selection in the upcoming draft. After missing out on a couple of marquee quarterbacks in previous drafts, the Niners must swing for the fences and hope to land a true gem.

Otherwise, Shanahan may go down as one of the most intelligent coaches who couldn’t get over the hump.

Next. NFL Draft: Power ranking 49ers' quarterback options at No. 3 overall. dark