The 2021 NFL Draft is a little more than a month away, but that didn’t stop an absolute blockbuster of a trade from happening on Friday. The San Francisco 49ers, ever aggressive in a move to secure their future franchise quarterback in the midst of a championship-winning window, parted with the No. 12 overall pick, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2022 third-round pick, and a 2023 first-round pick in order to move up to No. 3 overall, presumably to take a quarterback.
The bold move by 49ers general manager John Lynch is consistent with reports throughout the offseason that San Francisco was looking to upgrade their quarterback position. There were rumors that they showed interest in acquiring Matthew Stafford before he was sent off to their division rival Los Angeles Rams, but they reportedly never made a formal offer. San Francisco was also a team linked to the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes until legal issues put his trade market at a standstill until due process plays out.
That’s all in the past. Now, the question on everyone’s mind is: Which soon-to-be-rookie quarterback did Lynch and Co. trade up for?
The Jacksonville Jaguars will, in all likelihood, take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick. There is no sane reason to debate this. The New York Jets—a potential trade-back candidate like the Miami Dolphins—currently hold the second pick and appear poised to select BYU’s Zach Wilson, whether Sam Darnold is still on the roster or not. That leaves two choices for the 49ers: North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Lance is the ultimate wild card of the 2021 NFL Draft class. He has only 17 FCS starts to his name, but boy did he look as good as anyone possibly could in them. He completed two-thirds of his passes and threw a grand total of 0 (ZERO!) interceptions and 28 touchdowns in his only full season as a starter in 2019. He played a single “showcase” game against Central Arkansas this season, but that was a bit of a mixed bag performance-wise—his draft stock was largely unaffected.
Will Kyle Shanahan fall in love with the potential here, especially with the ability to start the 2021 season with Jimmy Garoppolo under center?
With time to develop, Lance appears to be a solid fit for the 49ers’ offense—possibly a better fit than even Wilson. The NDSU offense ran plenty of similar concepts, and Lance’s ability to successfully execute play-action rollouts at a high level with proper technique will be a humongous plus for him in this offense. His excellent arm strength, mostly-consistent ball placement (some mechanical improvements are needed here for him to solidify this aspect of his game), and overall poise/leadership are just a few things 49ers fans can look forward to if Lance is selected.
TDN’s QB2 might fall outside of the top-two on draft day and right into the 49ers’ laps. Fields’ 2020 season was filled with peaks and valleys. Detractors will point to the Indiana and Northwestern games as red flags—he completed just 53% of his passes for two touchdowns and five interceptions combined in those two contests. Those on the other side of the fence will point to his superb performance against Penn State or his gutsy slaying of Clemson in the Sugar Bowl as the “real Justin Fields.”
One of Fields’ biggest assets is his fearlessness as both a passer and runner. He believes in his arm and can make big-time throws anywhere on the field and big-time plays on the ground if his initial reads are covered. He’ll need some development time in order to better read the entire field and avoid taking off out of the pocket too quickly, but his potential ceiling is quite high. It’s also hard to imagine players wouldn’t like playing alongside him, given the on-field toughness and accountability he displayed in 2020. We’ve also seen Fields work with QB Collective this draft season, a place with plenty of ties to Shanahan.
Late Addition: Mac Jones
Jones' name has to be added to this list after Chris Simms and Dan Orlovsky have both mentioned that the 49ers could be focused on the former Alabama passer. Simms is close with Shanahan, so his opinion on this matter holds some weight. The crux of the argument is that Shanahan wants a "pro-ready" option, and Jones would be that. Jones being the most pro-ready quarterback of the bunch is debatable, but he's a mechanically-sound thrower and Shanahan has had success with less-mobile quarterbacks before. Trading all the way up to No. 3 seems like a reach, but it is possible the league is higher on Jones than analysts are.
So, who should the 49ers take at No. 3 overall?