Mel Kiper Jr. believes that the 49ers choice with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft will depend on the criteria Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have prioritized for what they want in their next quarterback.
It is no secret that Ohio State’s Justin Fields is a very different prospect than Alabama’s Mac Jones, and the ESPN NFL draft analyst believes both options could be successful in Santa Clara. The choice, however, is highly influenced but what the decision makers deem as a quarterback’s most important strength.
“Think back to Mike Shanahan having John Elway and Steve Young,” Kiper said Thursday via conference call. “You think about Kyle with Kirk Cousins, Matt Schaub and Matt Ryan. It’s really hard to pinpoint what they really want.
“I would say if you want to go with the dual-threat, you go with Justin Fields or Trey Lance. If you want the pocket guy who is incredibly smart and can maneuver in the pocket extremely well, accurate to every level, off the charts intelligence, it would be Mac Jones.”
The 49ers traded this year’s No. 12 pick, a 2021 third-round compensatory pick, along with their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to move up to the No. 3 spot in the draft. Lynch and Shanahan have been transparent about the move being made to choose a quarterback.
It was a high price to pay for the 49ers, who Kiper hears are leaning toward selecting Jones at No. 3. The long-time draft specialist understands why the Crimson Tide signal-caller is trending to end up in Santa Clara and why the move could end up being worth the cost for the 49ers.
“What makes [Jones] attractive is the incredible intelligence,” Kiper said. “The way he gets the plays, communicates, picks up offenses and concepts -- all the things he does so quickly. What he did at the Senior Bowl was amazing.
“Super, super intelligent. Super, super accurate. Super competitive. That’s all the things that allow Tom Brady to be successful. That’s not saying he’s going to be Tom Brady, he’s the greatest of all time, but who thought he was going to be anywhere close to that when he was a sixth-round pick coming out of Michigan?”
While a dual-threat quarterback could offer another dimension to an offense, Kiper doesn’t believe it is a requirement for the position. Sometimes other abilities outweigh mobility for a team.
“You don’t need to be a dual threat guy to be attractive,” Kiper said. “The way [Jones] moves around in the pocket, even though he’s not the gifted athlete some of these other guys are, he works the pocket extremely well, gets the ball out quick.
“That’s why some of these offensive lineman didn’t have sacks allowed because he got the ball out of his hands. He recognizes coverages so well. There’s a lot to like about Mac Jones even though he’s not the gifted dual threat quarterback.”
Kiper shared that he heard rumors that early on the 49ers had North Dakota State’s Trey Lance at the top of their list along with Jones. Now, just two weeks before the decision is officially announced, the ESPN veteran reports he is hearing the “scales have been tipped" to Jones.