In the weeks leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, almost everyone believed Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers were set to select Mac Jones with the No. 3 pick.
Of course, the months leading up to the draft are filled with smoke as teams try to throw the competition off the scent of what they plan to do. But reading the tea leaves, Jones felt like a good fit for the 49ers' offense and what Shanahan wants his trigger man to be able to do.
In the end, almost everyone was wrong, as the 49ers selected Trey Lance and Jones slid to No. 15 where the New England Patriots snapped him up. While Shanahan was happy to let the media run wild with the Jones theory, he admits he understands why that was the prevailing narrative and that Jones earned the right to be in the conversation along with Lance and Justin Fields for the No. 3 pick.
"I think either one would have been a good decision," Shanahan said of the Lance vs. Jones choice on the latest episode of The Ringer's "Flying Coach" podcast. "Like, you're not moving up if you don't feel good about both of those. And if it had just been one then we probably would have said no -- well, we probably wouldn't have said that because it's still risky. But we really -- either one of those players would have been a great pick, in my opinion. And the third guy with Justin, he would have been a great pick. It's just what direction do you want to go.
"There's so many things that go into it and you've got to make that decision. But I didn't blame people at all for thinking it would be Mac Jones. Because Mac Jones deserves that. He's that good of a player and he put it on tape for a whole year, and everyone did want to relate me to Kirk [Cousins] because that's the only guy that I was openly going for as a free agent, so people talk about him. But Trey brought another element. And it doesn't mean he's better or worse. It just means he brought another element that over the course of us studying it really intrigued us, and that's a direction I would love to go and have always wanted to go.
"But the guy has got to be able to do it all, and Trey sold us that he could and that's why I'm excited to work with him and it's up to us to get him to do it."
Both Lance and Jones will enter their respective training camps as underdogs to unseat the veteran incumbent starting quarterbacks.
While Lance showed impressive improvement during OTAs and rookie minicamp, Shanahan has been open about the fact that it will take a lot for the rookie to take Jimmy Garoppolo's starting job this season. However, even if Lance isn't the starter, it's fair to expect Shanahan to dial up some packages for the rookie to sprinkle in throughout the season and keep defenses off balance.
As for Jones, he said he was secretly hoping the Patriots would be the team that drafted him. The Alabama product has big shoes to fill in New England as he'll be tasked with leading the Patriots in the post-Tom Brady era. After Cam Newton's subpar season in 2020, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jones either win the job outright in camp or take over a few weeks into the season if Newton continues to struggle with his accuracy.
The 49ers faced a difficult decision at No. 3 overall, but Shanahan and general manager John Lynch ultimately chose the signal-caller with the highest upside, and tied their future and legacy in San Francisco to a toolsy quarterback from North Dakota State.