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Jones, Shanahan give glimpse into why they could be ideal fit

/ by Josh Schrock
Presented By Big O Tires
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Mac Jones

He doesn't have the mobile play-making ability of Trey Lance, and his perceived upside isn't as high as Justin Fields. He can't throw a 60-yard rope off one foot while fading away like Zach Wilson.

And yet, the Mac Jones-49ers smoke just keeps on rising. Believe it or not, there is something to the idea that Jones' top traits are exactly what coach Kyle Shanahan wants in the trigger man for his offense.

Chris Simms, Shanahan's good friend, said he'd be shocked if the 49ers' trade up to the No. 3 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft wasn't with Jones in mind. My esteemed colleague Matt Maiocco believes Jones is the likely target for Shanahan.

Some might say that trading three first-round picks to go up and grab a quarterback who would be described as unremarkable is a move you don't make. That you only make a franchise-altering trade to take a big swing on a guy with a superstar ceiling like Fields or Lance.

But what's more important to remember is that the opinions of NinerFan475 and TheFaithful 22 don't matter. All the mock draft experts and T.V. talking heads hold no sway.

What matters is the opinion of one man, and what he believes a quarterback must be able to do. That's Shanahan.

After the 49ers were ripped apart by Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills last season, Shanahan admitted he would be open to looking at a dual-threat quarterback running his team, something he had been reticent to do in years past. This led some to believe Shanahan finally was moving away from the Matt Ryan/Kirk Cousins/Jimmy Garoppolo mold of quarterbacks.

 

That is, in fact, not entirely what he meant, and Shanahan gave a glimpse into his thought process as he evaluates Jones, Fields, Lance and Wilson.

"I probably change my number every time," Shanahan told reporters Monday when asked about his ideal quarterback archetype. "I sometimes say there's five, I sometimes say there's 10, but they're all different, but there's 10 of them, whatever that number is. You want an elite player and, of course, if you can get a guy who is elite with his arm and can play in that pocket and do everything and still run around and make off-schedule plays. I mean, that's what you've seen with [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick] Mahomes.

"Everybody wants something like that, but there is a risk to everything and you've got to see that in the draft, you've got to see it in college. It's not that these guys are just coming. I mean, no one's probably been talented like that. Some have. [Former Denver Broncos QB John] Elway's pretty talented and there's people, but there's more talented players playing these positions in college.

"So, I do think there's more options coming into the league, but if you can't sit in that pocket and play the position, eventually it's not going to matter," Shanahan continued. "So, they both go hand in hand. To say that my prototypical guy is someone like Kirk Cousins, I mean, that's just, everyone knows my history with Kirk. ... There's a number of quarterbacks like that, but that's the only one I've been associated with because people thought I was trying to bring him here, which I was at the time. It's not because that's how you draw it up.

"If you're going to draw it up, you're going to draw the biggest, fastest, strongest and best quarterback in the pocket. So, I think that's pretty ridiculous to say that, but I also tell you, I love Kirk. I know I'm not allowed to talk about other players, but Kirk's a hell of a player and a lot of people would be lucky to have a quarterback like that."

Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have had a front-row seat to some of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL over the past four seasons. The 49ers face Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray twice a season, they lost Super Bowl LIV to Mahomes and were rolled by Allen last season. They understand where the league is going and the luxury it is to have a quarterback with the special talents of Mahomes or Allen.

But it's clear Shanahan still values, above all else, the ability for a quarterback to stand in the pocket, read the defense and deliver on-target, on-time strikes.

Mahomes, obviously, is as dangerous from inside the pocket as he is outside. He is, by definition, a generational talent. Before last season, Allen had struggled with his accuracy and was more of a reliable threat on the ground than through the air. Next season will tell us if his 2020 leap was for real or a one-year blip if his accuracy dips back into the 50s. Justin Herbert had a fantastic rookie season, ripping off lasers from all areas of the field. But it's too early to crown him.

 

So, when you ask why the 49ers and Shanahan would be interested in Jones, the answer should be readily apparent. He's a quick processor who is a great anticipatory thrower and shows excellent accuracy in the short and intermediate areas. He's a high football IQ passer who throws a good deep ball and has the pocket awareness and quick-twitch mobility to extend plays from inside the pocket.

Jones, in his pro day media availability Monday, described what makes him special, and it's easy to connect the dots between what he knows he is and what Shanahan tells us he wants.

“What separates me is my preparation and my ability to take what I learn from the coaches’ meetings and my meetings and then apply it to the field,” Jones told reporters Monday. “I’m going to do exactly what the coach tells me to do. I’m going to play within the framework of the offense.”

That sounds an awful lot like what Shanahan has been searching for. His frustration with Garoppolo has been evident many times over the past few seasons. While the 49ers have won a lot of games with Garoppolo under center, he is often late on throws and has shown a reluctance to pull the trigger on throws Shanahan wants him to make.

Jones, as he outlines, prides himself on absorbing the game plan and executing it. Knowing where the ball is supposed to go and when, and being able to anticipate receivers coming open as opposed to waiting to pull the trigger.

The Heisman Trophy finalist knows he might be the 49ers' target at No. 3. He has studied Shanahan's offense and feels like he has a good grasp of how to pilot it.

"Yeah, the 49ers specifically, they run a lot of wide zone. They also have a great fullback so they can run power, and they also do a bunch of play-pass off that. Outside zone, sprint-out stuff obviously their dropback passing game is really similar to what we did with [Steve Sarkisian] in some of their motions. I noticed they got the boomerang motions and the cat motions across the ball really fast. That's all stuff that I'm really familiar with. Obviously, it's a super quarterback-friendly offense, so I'm really looking forward to learning more about that."

Jones will throw for his second pro day Tuesday with Shanahan and Lynch in attendance. He said he plans to have a throw script tailored to some of what the 49ers like to do.

 

There have been questions about Jones' lack of athleticism hampering him at the NFL level, and how that makes him not an ideal fit for a scheme that asks the quarterback to run bootlegs, play-action and make a lot of second-reaction throws.

While Jones wasn't tasked with doing a lot of that at Alabama, he believes he's more than just a prototypical pocket passer.

“Well I ran a 4.7 40, so that should help out,” Jones said laughing Monday. “I know what you’re saying in terms of wide zone boot and stuff like that. And actually, going back, that’s one of my favorite plays to run. I know we didn’t do a lot of it this year because we didn’t have to, but if you ask coach [Mike] Locksley about that, I was always like, ‘Hey, can we get a naked [bootleg play] right here?’ We’d start the scrimmage off with a naked bootleg play, which is the bootleg you’re talking about.

“So, we didn’t do a lot of it, and I don’t know if it was because I inherited a little bit of Tua’s stuff and what they were doing there, but I can do it all. Obviously, there’s not a ton of tape on it, but in high school, I ran the Wing-T, so there was a lot of moving and throwing on the run. It’s all stuff I’ve done in the past, and it’s something I’m working now, and it’s something I’ll get to show tomorrow as well. It’s just something that we didn’t do a crazy amount of with the scheme we had, and what we wanted to do this past year.”

RELATED: How Jones feels about potentially being 49ers' draft target

It's easy to try and explain away the Jones-49ers noise as pre-draft smoke. Fields certainly is in the conversation, and any talk of the Ohio State star being an athlete playing quarterback couldn't be farther from the truth. Fields has incredible arm talent and the play-making ability with his legs that will have many teams salivating.

But the 49ers made this move because Shanahan and Lynch wanted to control how their story with the 49ers is written. They know they can win with Garoppolo, but he doesn't allow them to be the best version of the 49ers. It's a lot like being in pretty good shape but still scarfing down a bag of Kettle Chips three times a week. Obtaining peak performance with suboptimal tendencies is hard.

So, Shanahan wants to remove the question mark and bring in someone he can truly mind-meld with. Someone who can understand what he draws up, anticipate when to pull the trigger and deliver accurately. Someone he can fully trust.

You can get in trouble chasing what other teams have. There is an inherent risk in the NFL draft, especially drafting quarterbacks. Projecting what players will become is a tricky business that gets a lot of coaches and executives a pink slip.

 

So, as the 49ers embark on a franchise-defining evaluation period, what matters is not Madden ratings or Twitter video clips. It's just Shanahan, and what he wants to work with. Who he thinks is the ideal trigger-man for an offense that can be the most potent attack in the NFL.

Both Jones and Shanahan gave you a glimpse Monday into why their pairing might be destined. Now, on Tuesday, Jones will go out and try to show Shanahan that he's got everything the 49ers coach covets and is the right man for the No. 3 pick.

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