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Fields? Jones? Lance? Ranking 49ers' best QB options at No. 3 pick

/ by Josh Schrock
Presented By Big O Tires
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Mac Jones, Justin Fields

With one massive blockbuster trade Friday, the 49ers made a bold statement, acquiring the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and putting themselves in a position to select their next franchise quarterback.

Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to still be the 49ers' starter in 2021, but it's clear that his time in Santa Clara is running out.

Trevor Lawrence already should be shopping for houses in Jacksonville. The Jaguars will make the Clemson star the No. 1 overall pick, and you can write that in ink.

After that, things get a little murkier. BYU's Zach Wilson is expected by many to be the No. 2 overall pick, but it's still unclear what the New York Jets plan to do with Sam Darnold. They could draft Wilson or Ohio State's Justin Fields, take Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell or trade down.

The 49ers made the trade to give up the No. 12 overall pick in 2021 and future first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 knowing they had at least three quarterbacks in the class they believed could be franchise pillars. It's the only way you can give up that much draft capital. It's too big of a price to pay if they only have one guy in mind.

So, with the being said, here are my first rankings of the four quarterbacks the 49ers could target at No. 3 overall.

4. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Why he fits 49ers: Elite athleticism, playmaking ability, high football IQ

 

Why the 49ers should be wary: Still raw, often leaves pocket too early, can miss easy throws

There is no ceiling with Trey Lance. The North Dakota State star is the "toolsy" quarterback in this class equipped with the athleticism to extend plays, make throws outside the pocket and burn defenses with his speed.

Lance doesn't have a rocket arm but that should improve as he gets more strength from his legs in his throwing motion. He's a smart quarterback who was tasked with setting his own protections at North Dakota State. He's got a quick, twitchy throwing motion and bouncy feet. However, Lance has a tendency to leave the pocket too early and pressure often causes him to take his attention off throws he should deliver.

The upside is immense with Lance. But he will take time to develop. He is great at diagnosing coverages but often struggles pulling the trigger on throws he can and should make, opting instead for the safer throws.

In the NFL, Lance likely will need an offense tailored to what he does best and a play-caller who will be patient with him.

Lance is a film junkie and has all the tools to be a star, but he won't arrive ready.

3. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Why he fits 49ers: Excellent thrower of the football, mobile threat, good frame, good accuracy on bootleg action throws to his right

Why 49ers should be wary: Needs to work on anticipation, struggles to identify edge pressure, needs to improve pocket mobility

Fields was a star at Ohio State. There's no question about that. But too much time spent under the microscope has allowed scouts and general managers to pick his game apart in the same way they did Oregon's Justin Herbert. That worked out well for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Fields has a great blend of throwing ability, athleticism and clutch-playmaking, which is the first thing you notice when you turn on the tape. He's an adept thrower of the football with an elite skillset to throw around defenders while on the move and has the arm strength to attack all areas of the field. As a runner, Fields will kill man coverage. He's big and strong but also dynamic, making him a nightmare for defenses on third downs.

Field's comprehensive bag of tricks will give Shanahan the ability to get creative in a number of ways, including adding more RPOs to the 49ers' playbook to stress defenses to the max.

However, Fields needs to get better at quickening his process after his first read and diagnosing edge pressure. There were a number of times last season where Fields missed a quick blitz beater, which can't happen at the next level. Fields also had some alarming struggles under duress, especially in games against Indiana and Northwestern. Some of those shortcomings can be explained away, but Fields could benefit from some time to sit and develop.

 

He's the biggest boom-bust prospect of the four.

2. Mac Jones, Alabama

Why he fits 49ers: Incredibly accurate, quick processor, good anticipatory thrower, great in-pocket mobility, stellar when facing pressure

Why 49ers should be wary: Lack of physical tools, low ceiling-high floor prospect, not great on throws outside the pocket

Alright, this won't be well-received but as far as the 49ers are concerned I really do think Jones should be their guy if Wilson is gone.

Jones is coming off the best recorded season by a Power Five quarterback in Pro Football Focus history, is incredibly accurate in the short and intermediate area and is a cerebral quarterback who makes smart decisions and can move through his reads quickly.

Jones excels when facing pressure, going 56-of-88 passing for 976 yards, 556 air yards and 13 touchdowns with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 131.4 when under duress last season, per Sports Info Solutions.

Of course, Jones doesn't have the blinding athleticism of Trey Lance or the astronomical upside of Justin Fields, but he has all the tools that Kyle Shanahan, to this point, has liked in a quarterback. No, he isn't going to tuck it and turn on the afterburners for a 30-yard gain. But he's got great pocket awareness, making subtle movements to buy time for his receivers to get open.

Jones will need playmakers, protection and a good play-caller in order to be successful and reach his NFL ceiling. The 49ers have all three and I believe Jones has MVP Matt Ryan-level capabilities if all goes well.

Some might say you don't give up the draft haul the 49ers did for Jones, but he fits what Shanahan likes in quarterbacks and the 49ers have the talent around him to blossom in the NFL.

RELATED: Could Jones be QB 49ers are targeting at No. 3?

1. Zach Wilson, BYU

Why he fits 49ers: Great on bootleg action, strong arm, off-schedule play wizard

Why 49ers should be wary: Competition level, incredible one-season leap

There's a reason most draft experts believe Wilson will be off the board at No. 2 overall. Combine his arm strength with elite mobility, athleticism and an ability to make off-platform throws that has many comparing him to Patrick Mahomes, and you get a whole lot of hype.

Just look at this sorcery from Wilson's pro day.

This gets said every year, but there are few quarterbacks who can make that throw.

Wilson also is familiar with the style of offense Kyle Shanahan runs. The 49ers' run game is predicated on the outside zone and bootlegging off it. Last season, BYU ran outside zone on 52 percent of its plays, per Pro Football Focus. Wilson is a wizard outside the pocket and his incredible arm strength allows him to threaten every inch of the field.

Per PFF, Wilson threw 38 passes from the left hash to within 10 yards of the right sideline with a grade of 96.4. Flip that -- throwing right to left -- and he had a grade of 90.5 on 29 throws.

 

It's not likely Wilson will fall to No. 3. But if he does, he should be the 49ers' guy.

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