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Panthers were Jones trade-up candidate, ex-NFL exec says

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Mac Jones

The 49ers moved up to the No. 3 overall pick to select the third player -- the third quarterback -- in the 2021 NFL Draft.

But if coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch had their eyes on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, did they spend way too much for a player who mock drafts had lasting into the teens?

Former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum, now ESPN’s front office insider, said the 49ers did it the right way to avoid any heartbreak on draft day.

He said he believes the Carolina Panthers, who own the No. 8 overall pick, were a prime candidate to pounce on Jones if the 49ers left them an opening.

Lynch and the 49ers’ front office had to gauge what would be a safe place in the draft to land in order to get the player they are targeting.

The Panthers coached Jones at the Senior Bowl, and Tannenbaum said he observed how much Jones impressed the Carolina staff.

“You’re trying to collect as much information as possible, and Carolina loves Mac Jones,” Tannenbaum said on 49ers Talk.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt. I just watched the body language all week of (Panthers coach) Matt Ruhle. I was down there (at the Senior Bowl) broadcasting the game for ESPN. And it was clear that they were falling in love with him. So I think that had to be part of the psyche: ‘If we get to five, Carolina might jump us.’ So they went as high as they needed to.”


The 49ers packaged the No. 12 overall pick along with first-round selections in 2022 and ’23, and a third-round compensatory pick in 2022, to move up to the No. 3 overall pick in a trade with the Miami Dolphins.

“So they gave up an extraordinarily huge amount of draft capital and maybe he would’ve been there at five or six, but you’re literally throwing up in the draft room if you trade to six, and Mac Jones goes at five,” Tannenbaum said.

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Tannenbaum said teams will try to predict the range in which a player could be selected. But it is an inexact science with plenty of surprises along the way.

Shanahan said the 49ers have a list of three quarterbacks they evaluated as players they want to lead the team deep into the future. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are likely two of the three. Then, Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance are the candidates for the No. 3 overall pick.

“Even though Mac Jones may be sixth or seventh on certain boards, if you’re sitting there and you’re John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan and you’re saying, ‘Hey, you know what, his ceiling might be a little bit lower, but if we give up an extra third-round pick, we know we’re going to get him,’" Tannenbaum said.

"That’s just smart business, because you’d be extremely disappointed if you trade up and you still don’t get your player.”

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