The 49ers’ decision with the No. 3 overall pick is not so simple as merely choosing one quarterback among three options.
Greg Cosell, a respected film analyst and senior producer at NFL Films, believes the 49ers’ decision will signal coach Kyle Shanahan’s vision of the quarterback position.
“Ultimately, what does Kyle Shanahan want?” Cosell said on 49ers Talk.
The answer to that question will determine which quarterback the 49ers select to ultimately replace Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers have a particular style of quarterback on their offseason roster. Jimmy Garoppolo, Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson currently are on the 49ers’ offseason roster. On April 29, with the third pick of the NFL Draft, the 49ers will add another quarterback.
“Does he want a better ball distributor and efficient executor than Jimmy G.? Or does he feel Jimmy G has been hurt too much and he wants the same kind of guy, he just wants a guy who will play 16 games?” Cosell asked.
“Or has his thinking evolved over time to where he believes that, you know what, 'I want to have a guy like Justin Fields that, yeah, he can still run my offense, and I’ll teach him the specifics of the offense, but in those three plays in a big game where the you-know-what hits the fan, he can make a play. And you know what? That’s important.' I can’t answer that.”
Fields of Ohio State and Trey Lance of North Dakota State have big arms. Lance was a 1,000-yard rusher, while Fields had 15 rushing touchdowns in his final 22 college games. Mac Jones of Alabama provided no additional yards or impact with his legs.
“If you believe your quarterback has to have at least some ability — some — to make plays outside of structure, then you’re probably not going to look at Mac Jones as your guy,” Cosell said. “If you believe, hey, that’s still a luxury and not a necessity, then you might really like Mac Jones because he is an efficient executor and ball distributor. That’s what he is.”
Of course, Fields and Lance offer a lot more than the ability to run with the football. Both are also skilled at making plays from the pocket with throws at every level. Jones excels at executing the offense as drawn up and getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks while lacking the inclination to make plays off-script.
“Mac Jones,” Cosell said, “raises the question that I know a lot of coaches are debating in their minds, and that’s what is the balance in today’s NFL between pocket play, being a highly efficient executor and ball distributor, which Mac Jones was in college, and the need for second reaction improvisational play, which Mac Jones will not give you.”
Cosell said coaches with whom he has spoken do not place value on quarterbacks who are quick to make plays outside the design of the play.
“I have not spoken to one coach who will say that you draft a player based on his ability to extend plays,” Cosell said. "Coaches work 16, 17 hours a day and put in a structure to attack an opponent. And they want that structure executed.
“If you can’t execute the structure of an offense, you can’t play quarterback in the NFL.”
There are times when coaches might cringe when a quarterback breaks too quickly from the designed play.
But, obviously, there are other times when the ability for a quarterback to improvise can result in a game-turning play.
“There will be plays in a game where the defense wins. And they win early in the down. So what happens then?” Cosell asked. “At that point, Mac Jones is not likely to do anything.
"So where do you fall in that spectrum? I don’t think there’s a defined answer to that. It’s not a mathematical equation. But Mac Jones will not make those kinds of plays.”