With two weeks left until the 49ers make a franchise-altering decision with the No. 3 overall pick, all signs point to Mac Jones.
The Alabama quarterback has been viewed as Kyle Shanahan's expected favored target ever since the 49ers made their blockbuster move up the draft board. While the 49ers' fan base has fallen in love with Ohio State's Justin Fields, and would gladly accept North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Jones looks to be in the lead as we enter the home stretch.
Yes, it's smokescreen season, so there is a chance all of the Jones-to-the-49ers noise is a bunch of nothing. But ESPN's resident draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. believes the odds lean heavily in Jones' favor of being the 49ers' pick.
"All the buzz I've heard is that 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan traded up nine spots because they covet Jones," Kiper wrote in his latest draft mailbag. "They see him as the perfect fit in Shanahan's system and the quarterback to put them over the top. This is the way it works sometimes with quarterbacks -- teams find their guy, and they pull out all the stops to get him. Jones is my fourth-ranked quarterback and is No. 12 on my Big Board. I don't see superstar potential from him, but he could be a very solid starter.
"So to answer the question directly, here's how I'd lay out the percentages as of today: 80 percent to Jones, 15 percent to Lance, 5 percent to Fields."
The Jones-Shanahan pairing could be an ideal one. I've long been a believer that Jones will be a good NFL quarterback, and with Shanahan pulling the strings, I like his chances even better. He's a throwback pocket passer who throws with great timing and anticipation, is a quick processor and has great in-pocket mobility that allows him to extend plays with subtle movements.
It's easy to see why Jones might be the guy Shanahan wants running the show in Santa Clara.
But while I like Jones, he's not even on the same level as the guy Kiper gave the worst odds to.
Fields is a tremendous athlete with an elite right arm. He's the most accurate passer in the class and has the arm strength to put the ball anywhere on the field. Fields is tremendous on play-action, a good thrower on the run and would be lethal in the 49ers' offense that asks its quarterback to make throws from outside the pocket on bootlegs or rollouts.
While Jones is a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect, Fields has the highest ceiling of any QB in this class. He has truly transcendent talent that if harnessed and polished could make him the NFL's next great star.
Putting Fields in the 49ers' offense would give Shanahan a whole new bag of tricks to play with, as Fields' mobility, speed and long-ball prowess could allow the 49ers to both incorporate the QB run game and stretch the field vertically more off play action.
Lance, like Fields, has athletic gifts that Jones can't match and he's got great arm strength, is a high IQ quarterback and a tireless worker. At 20 years old, Lance will need time to sit and develop. He's a ball of clay that still needs to be molded, but his ceiling also is tremendously high if he lands in the right place.
Jimmy Garoppolo's presence would allow the 49ers to take a swing on Lance, allowing the rookie to sit for 2021 and maybe even 2022 before turning the offense over to the NDSU star. But both Shanahan and Lynch believe the 49ers' roster is primed to win now.
That's why Garoppolo is expected to start in 2021, with the new face of the franchise being ready in 2022.
That could be Lance, but both Fields and Jones are ahead of him on the NFL-ready scale at the moment.
All signs are pointing to Jones, at the moment. And Kiper doesn't think it's close.