Why this Darnold-to-49ers mock draft trade could make sense


Whether it be free agency, the trade market or the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers will continue to occupy a seat on the QB carousel until a firm decision on Jimmy Garoppolo is made. 

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have said in the past they "expect" Garoppolo to be the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2021. As of now, that still is the most likely scenario but it's far from guaranteed. So, who could they turn to if they decide to move on from Garoppolo? 

We know Matthew Stafford isn't an option. Aaron Rodgers will be on the Green Bay Packers again, so let's put that nonsense to rest. Just stop with any Kirk Cousins rumors right now. Deshaun Watson will cost the entire City of Santa Clara, but let's be honest, he's well worth it.

But there could be another young, intriguing option available this offseason. 

The Athletic's Dane Brugler released his latest mock draft Thursday morning, and it presents quite an interesting scenario for the 49ers. Here's how it goes: The 49ers trade the No. 12 overall pick and a 2022 second-round pick to the New York Jets for QB Sam Darnold and the No 23 overall pick, and then take Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye after moving down in the first round. 

Let's start with Darnold. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported during the Super Bowl pregame show that Shanahan is "very high" on Darnold. Robert Saleh, the Jets' new head coach and former 49ers defensive coordinator, could help his old friends after grabbing his own QB with the No. 2 pick and adding another early pick for a roster that needs an overhaul. That brings us to the question of whether or not Darnold is better than Garoppolo. 


The short answer is no -- at least that's what the stats tell us the past few seasons. In the last three years, since Darnold entered the league, Garoppolo has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 39 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Darnold has completed just 59.8 percent of his passes for 45 TDs and 39 interceptions. But Darnold has played 13 more regular-season games than Garoppolo in that span. 

Darnold hasn't played a full 16-game season in his short career but his injury history is nothing compared to Garoppolo's. He also is six years younger than Garoppolo. There's no doubt Garoppolo's floor is higher than Darnold's right now, especially as someone who already knows Shanahan's complex system. But Darnold has a higher ceiling as a former No. 3 overall pick in the draft who unfortunately played for a garbage fire of an organization under the leadership of Adam Gase. 

Putting Darnold in Shanahan's offense with weapons like Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. could be exactly what the young signal-caller needs. Just look at this ridiculous touchdown pass he made against the 49ers in a Week 2 blowout loss. 

The talent is there with Darnold, and he could help the 49ers bring back some key free agents this offseason. Why? His contract costs just $4.7 million next season. That's a big difference compared to the cap hit Garoppolo's contract holds, which is more than $26 million. 

Now, let's turn to Paye. This very well could be a prospect the 49ers would consider if they stay at No. 12 and he's available. The 49ers badly need another edge rusher, especially with Nick Bosa coming off a torn ACL and Dee Ford's future up in the air. 

Paye is in the running for the top pass rusher in the draft this year. He recorded 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss as a junior at Michigan. In just four games this season, he has two sacks and four tackles four loss. 

At 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds, he's a strong edge defender who can rush the passer from the inside or outside. He's more of a Bosa than a Ford. 

RELATED: Young intrigued by idea of 49ers replacing Jimmy G with rookie

In this scenario, Shanahan would add a young, former top pick at quarterback who could reach his potential under his guidance and the 49ers also get another piece for their defensive line who should help from Day 1. Not bad.

Different scenarios will continue to pop up in the months leading up to the draft. For the 49ers, this is a pretty good one.

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