The 2021 NFL Draft still is over two months away. That doesn't stop analysis, mock drafts and multiple hypothetical worlds popping up left and right.
As rumors swirl, however, the most likely scenario at the most important position on the field is Jimmy Garoppolo returning as the 49ers' starting quarterback next season. Even if that's the case, the 49ers have to address the QB position at some point in the draft, whether it be in the first round or after. This doesn't necessarily mean a rookie should come in and take Garoppolo's job on Day 1. What it does mean is the 49ers need better depth at the position.
There are five quarterbacks -- Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones -- who could all be taken in the first round. When the 49ers are on the clock with the No. 12 overall pick, there's a good chance three, or more, of the above names could already be gone. If Lance or Jones still are available, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan might be inclined to select a young signal-caller. Either player certainly could benefit from sitting behind a veteran as a rookie.
But let's say Lynch and Shanahan cement Jimmy G as their guy and the 49ers fill a bigger need with their top pick. That doesn't mean they should avoid the position entirely in the draft.
C.J. Beathard is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Nick Mullens is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. Sure, the 49ers could bring back either one but that's far from a guarantee and the front office might be ready to move on from both of them.
The 49ers currently have three quarterbacks under contract: Garoppolo, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson. Rosen is a former top draft pick who has looked like a bust but the 49ers smartly re-signed him this offseason as an exclusive rights free agent. Johnson turns 35 years old in May and hasn't attempted a pass in the NFL since 2018.
Shanahan has shown more willingness to run his offense with a dual-threat quarterback. His offense thrived when he was Washington's offensive coordinator in Robert Griffin III's rookie year, and it's clear you need a quarterback who scares defenses with his legs in today's NFL. If he opts to find a developmental QB who can be a threat throwing the ball or running it, there could be two options later in this year's draft.
Kellen Mond and Jamie Newman both come to mind.
Newman might be the rawer prospect, but he also has higher upside. Mond was a four-year starter at Texas A&M but he has a mediocre arm, hides it with conservative play and throwing accurate balls isn't exactly his forte. Newman, who's 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, transferred to Georgia after two seasons at Wake Forest but opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Prior to him opting out of the season, Newman was Pro Football Focus' third-ranked returning college quarterback. He easily could turn into the steal of the draft with his arm strength and ability to thread the needle while also being a rushing threat. Newman only completed 60.9 percent of his passes as a junior and was intercepted 11 times, but over 53 percent of his pass attempts in 2019 were in a tight or closing window, per PFF. He simply didn't have much talent at Wake Forest, and still threw for nearly 3,000 yards in 12 games with 26 passing touchdowns, 574 rushing yards and another six TDs on the ground.
Out west, there's a QB rising up draft boards who might fit the current Shanahan mold perfectly as a Day 2 pick. Meet Stanford's Davis Mills.
Mills has prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and comes from a pro-style offense at Stanford. Unfortunately for him, he dealt with a couple bumps along the way in college. The start of his college career was interrupted by a knee injury he sustained in high school and he missed the season opener last year with COVID-19. He only played 13 games in his college career but has the tools to be an NFL QB.
While Mills might not be the running threat that Newman is, he has great pocket mobility that lets him evade pass rushers. He knows when to have touch and is one of the best passers in the draft on throws over the middle. The 22-year-old just needs time to develop and be in the right system.
Mills was the No. 1 QB in the high school Class of 2017, well ahead of Jones and Tua Tagovailoa. The 49ers might not have to look too far for a reliable backup option, and someone who could turn into a viable starter down the road.
One more name to know is SMU's Shane Buechele. Though he's only listed at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Buechele has a rocket for an arm and knows how to stretch the defense. Over his final two seasons in college, he threw for 7,024 yards and 57 touchdowns.
Buechele plays a little too much backyard football at times. Who cares, though. He's damn fun to watch.
The 49ers have selected just one quarterback since Lynch and Shanahan took over in 2017. That would be Beathard, who they traded up for in the third round of the 2017 draft, and that didn't turn out great. Garoppolo has a long injury history, and the 49ers have to be more reliable if he goes down.
Shanahan is said to be an offensive genius, a QB guru. Can he develop young talent at the position? The weapons are there on the 49ers' offense. Let's find out the answer to that question.