Mac Jones has a chance to put a topper on one of the best seasons a college quarterback has ever produced Monday when he and the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide face No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Jones' meteoric rise this season has seen him climb from fringe NFL draft prospect to first-round talent in four short months. As the 49ers assemble their draft board, there's no reason Jones shouldn't be among the name in consideration when San Francisco goes on the clock at No. 12.
Yes, cornerback and defensive end are more pressing areas of need for the 49ers. In my latest mock draft, I have them selecting South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. But drafting a quarterback in Round 1 doesn't totally fit with the 49ers' roster-building philosophy. They'd love to find a young edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa, but the class lacks top-end talent with only Gregory Rousseau and Kwity Paye expected to go in the top 20.
That brings us to the quarterback. More specifically to Jones. The 49ers aren't going to trade up for Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. That would cost much-needed draft capital that general manager John Lynch won't want to part with. Jones, however, should make Kyle Shanahan's eyes light up, and something tells me a stellar performance Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium might just move the Heisman Trophy finalist to the top of Shanahan's wish list.
So far this season, Jones has thrown for 4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Keep in mind, this was not a normal season that saw Jones play stat-padder games against The Citadel or North Alabama. He played 11 games against SEC competition, torching every defense that stepped on the field across from him. While those weren't the SEC defenses of the 2010s, Jones followed that up by completing 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns in a win over No. 4 ranked Notre Dame in the College Football Semifinals. That's a Fighting Irish defense that came into the game ranked in the top 25 and was well within the top 20 before consecutive shellackings at the hands of Clemson and Alabama.
He enters the championship game against Ohio State with a 95.5 grade from Pro Football Focus. That mark would be the top grade for a college QB in PFF history, breaking the mark set last year by 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. Jones has a 71 percent accurate pass rate, per PFF, the second-best mark in college football behind his opponent Monday night, Justin Fields. Jones' negative throw rate also is on track to be a record for PFF.
Jones doesn't have a cannon for an arm. But he's impressively accurate. The 6-foot-3 junior led the nation in completion percentage (77 percent) and adjusted completion percentage (86.3). He's accurate and efficient to all three levels of the field. ranking fifth in the country on accuracy when targeting a receiver 20 or more yards downfield (64.7 percent).
While the arm strength is average, Jones is an underrated deep-ball thrower.
The deep ball is nice, but Jones also is deadly accurate in the short and intermediate passing game. He's a high IQ quarterback who moves through his progressions quickly, has great pocket presence and savvy that allows him to make subtle movements in the pocket to keep plays alive.
Jones doesn't have the mobility of Fields, Wilson or Trevor Lawrence, but he's the type of quarterback prospect who can have a ridiculously high NFL ceiling if he is given protection, play-calling and playmakers. Sound familiar?
Jones undoubtedly is on the 49ers' radar. It remains likely the 49ers bring back Jimmy Garoppolo as their starter in 2021, but Jones has all the traits Shanahan likes in a quarterback: He's cerebral, accurate, safe with the ball and can stretch the field. There is some Matt Ryan in Jones' game, although I'm not sure that comparison is as accurate as a Jones dart over the middle.
Questions about Jones' NFL prospects remain because he's surrounded by a wealth of NFL talent at Alabama. But Jones' success hasn't been a product of him only throwing 2-yard drag routes and watching Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith run by everyone en route to the end zone. As seen above, he's been accurate in the short, intermediate and deep game. He hasn't turned the ball over and has outpaced Tua Tagovailoa in most advanced metrics during his time at Alabama.
There was a time when teams were planning to "Tank for Tua." So what makes Jones that much of a lesser prospect?
If Jones puts on a show against Ohio State on Monday, he put an exclamation point on a historic season and perhaps move to the top of the 49ers' draft board.