NFL insiders continue to report that Mac Jones is the 49ers' preference with the third pick, while fans continue to clamor for Justin Fields to be the No. 3 overall selection. But not many see North Dakota State's Trey Lance as the QB who will end up in the Bay Area on draft night.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay released his "tier rankings" for the 2021 class Monday, and places Lance in the second tier along with BYU's Zach Wilson. He has Fields and Jones in the tier below, which encompasses players he deems "good NFL starters and are considered strong values in the bottom half of Round 1 in any given draft class."
"I love his big-time arm, the way he reads the field and his ability to run for big chunks of yardage. Those are key areas in today's NFL offenses," McShay writes on Lance, who earns a 92 overall grade from the analyst on a 100-point scale. McShay’s second tier includes players “a notch below the elite class but still considered a plug-and-play NFL starter with high-level potential. Worthy of a top-15 pick most years.”
The third tier features Fields as getting a 91 grade, while Jones was awarded a 90 from McShay.
"Fields is accurate and can hit the deep ball really well, and I like the way the ball jumps out of his hand with zip," McShay writes on the former Buckeye.
On Jones, McShay writes: "Jones doesn't have the same mobility traits as the four previously mentioned QBs, but he shows high-end touch, anticipation and ball placement. En route to a national title with Alabama, he led the nation in many statistical categories, including Total QBR and completion percentage."
McShay has Lawrence in the top tier of his rankings by himself, giving him the highest grade the ESPN writer has dished out since former No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley (97).
The 49ers traded up to the third pick in March, and both coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have made it clear the team is pursuing a quarterback with that selection.
Jones has been the most consistent name mentioned alongside the 49ers in mock drafts since the move was made, but Shanahan and Lynch both will be attending the upcoming pro day workouts for Fields and Lance.
Lawrence and Wilson are the presumed first and second picks, which would line up with McShay's rankings.
The 49ers certainly have their own internal big board of the available QB prospects, which could evolve as the front office carries out its due diligence.
No one outside of the building can know for sure what order that list takes until the pick is announced in a few weeks, but McShay is one of the few analysts out there ranking Lance above both Fields and Jones.