Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

49ers draft: Justin Fields has best chance to be better than Jimmy Garoppolo, says ESPN

Apr 21, 2021 at 6:24 AM--

In eight days, the San Francisco 49ers will draft a future replacement for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has played well for the team but has durability concerns. He has missed 23 games over the past three seasons, including missing 10 games in 2020.

Justin Fields of Ohio State, Mac Jones of Alabama, and Trey Lance of North Dakota State are the best options for the Niners, who own the No. 3 overall pick following the massive trade last month. While Fields is the betting favorite to be the selection, and most "experts" have the team adding Jones, no one can say with any certainty who the pick might be.

Analysts Seth Walder and Paul Sabin of ESPN went through the exercise of projecting each quarterback's long-term chances of being better than Garoppolo. The impending rookie with the best chances is Fields. Although, his chances increase following his rookie year.

Obviously, a rookie who is new to the playbook and the speed of the NFL probably isn't going to be the best option to jump right into head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense and immediately do the things that Garoppolo can do. That's why the 49ers plan to keep Garoppolo for the upcoming season, allowing a rookie time to sit and learn.

Fields has just a 35 percent chance of being better than Garoppolo in 2021, per ESPN's quarterback projections based on each player's statistical performance in college, Scouts Inc. grade, and age. In 2022, those chances jump to 44 percent.

By comparison, Jones has a 24 percent chance in 2021 and a 35 percent chance in 2022. Lance has a 23 percent chance in 2021 and a 34 percent chance in 2022.

Obviously, ESPN believes that Fields is the best long-term option to replace Garoppolo. He has the most upside and would have a significantly smaller salary-cap hit than the veteran. Although, Walder and Sabin acknowledge that the former Buckeye is likely to be worse for the 49ers in the short term. Also, the projections don't factor in durability. Being more available in the long term could certainly have the biggest impact.

Then you have what the 49ers surrendered for the chance to get someone like Fields. The team surrendered its first-round picks over the next two years and a third-rounder to move up nine spots from its initial No. 12 draft slot. The ESPN analysts have to consider that while projecting the team's long-term success with a new quarterback.

"A rookie quarterback, on average, hurts San Francisco in the short term but helps in the long term -- but the significant draft capital discarded to move up also will hinder the franchise down the road," wrote Walder and Sabin. "Theoretically, the 49ers could keep Garoppolo and play him in 2021, but that doesn't make much sense. The roughly $25 million they would save is exactly the kind of money they'd need to spend in 2022 or 2023 to make up for a lack of a first-round pick."

Giving up so much draft capital for a player you don't intend to play is a questionable move, in the analysts' eyes. That makes the decision at No. 3 that much more significant and that much riskier. It'll be the most important draft pick during Shanahan's and general manager John Lynch's time with the 49ers.

Added Walder and Sabin: "No matter who San Francisco selects, it has a chance to improve the team. But the 49ers paid an awfully high price for the right to take that chance."

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