Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are preparing to make a franchise-altering decision when they select their future franchise quarterback at No. 3 overall.
In one corner, there is Alabama's Mac Jones. Jones is an accurate passer who throws with timing and anticipation but lacks the top-level athletic ability to get outside the pocket and make second-reaction throws. In the other corner is North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Ohio State's Justin Fields, two athletically gifted quarterbacks with elite arm talent.
Given the success of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson and others, most have Fields and Lance ranked ahead of Jones based on the thought that the best way to win in the modern NFL is with an athletic quarterback who can make improvisational plays outside the pocket.
But the trend toward more athletic passers hasn't changed how Shanahan evaluated the current crop of draft quarterbacks. As Shanahan sees it, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Or, play quarterback.
"I think the whole thing of the success of people like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, Deshaun, Lamar, those guys are unbelievable and they can play the position and they are obviously very, very talented at running around and doing stuff," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "But those are those guys. You have to look into a lot of people. There are lots of different ways you can do it. I don't look at it in terms of trends in the league, I look at it as there are some special players and special people. I don't care when Drew Brees comes out whether it's 30 years ago or today, Drew is going to be pretty good. So is Philip Rivers. So are all these guys. Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes they would have been good 40 years ago. Really good. They are going to be good 40 years in the future. You've got to take guys you believe are good enough to do it whatever way that is. There's lots of ways to do it and people are proving that more and more, especially the more high schools, the more Pop Warner, I mean my kid's flag football team goes no-huddle and just shows pictures.
"You've got a lot better athletes who are also learning how to play the quarterback position, so, man, you want to find Drew Brees who can move like Lamar Jackson. Mahomes, he's maybe in the middle, I'm just not being exact. There's no, 'This is where it's going and this is where it's been.' It will always evolve. That's why sometimes the wild cat will be good, sometimes it won't. Sometimes no-huddle will be good, sometimes it won't. Sometimes zone defense will be good, sometimes it won't. Sometimes 3-4, sometimes 4-3, it matters how you group people together, what your choices are and how you plan on using that person. I believe there are five quarterbacks who can be successful in this draft. What do you want to do? How do you want to do it? They are not going to use them all the same way. That's OK. You can use them all in different ways. ... To make this so black and white is not right. It's who is the best quarterback and why? There is lots of different ways. Whatever those whys are, how does that pertain to your offense, what you have, the building you have and what gives you the best chance to win?"
As to the thought that the trend toward the Mahomes or Allen prototypes would lead Shanahan to Lance or Fields, the 49ers coach sees potential in all five of the draft's top signal-callers, it's all about how you want to win.
"That's what was so excited about this year. I did see five guys. No one is ever a slam dunk. Look at the history of this league. But do you see five guys capable of being a starting quarterback and I do. I see them all a little differently, and you have to decide which way you want to play that and it goes off studying what they showed on tape, which is all you have to go off. If you don't do it there, then you have to go off the person and talking to them and what you think they can bring to the table. There will never be an exact answer to that. Quarterbacks can come in whatever way you want them to. Just like receivers. But there aren't 32 people in this world who can play quarterback at an acceptable level for a fan base, for a coaching staff, for a GM, there's not. So when you find a guy who can play at that level then you compare him to the next guy and see which one you want more. And you roll with it."
All signs point to Jones being the QB that Shanahan covets four days out.
If you ignored the capital the 49ers surrendered to jump up to No. 3 and look at Jones and his fit in a vacuum, it makes sense. The star of the 49ers' offense is the offense. The scheme. The ability to create chunk plays with yards after the catch. Shanahan wants a quarterback who can dissect a defense pre-snap and deliver the ball at the precise moment Shanahan's play demands.
That's what matters, Trends and recent history be damned.