Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt Warner dives into 49ers draft mindset, states his preference for pick three

Apr 24, 2021 at 12:18 PM--

Like most of us, NFL Network analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner doesn't know for sure which player the 49ers will choose when the time comes to reveal their selection at pick three of the 2021 NFL Draft. But he does have a personal preference for that pick, along with some thoughts on what factors the 49ers have been weighing throughout the decision-making process.

Warner was a guest on The Rich Eisen Show Friday, days before he and the NFL Network will head to Cleveland, Ohio for this year's NFL Draft. Warner took several minutes to discuss what could happen at pick three, saying he believes the 49ers' decision could come down to what direction they'd like to take from current starter Jimmy Garoppolo. In particular, Warner thinks Alabama quarterback Mac Jones could be the 49ers' choice if their primary goal is to find an NFL-ready quarterback who will be a more reliable option for the oft-injured Garoppolo healthwise, while Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance will come into the picture if the 49ers want to expand what they're capable of doing from the quarterback position.

"I don't know if they're looking at it more like 'Hey, Jimmy hasn't stayed healthy and we need to find another guy to place in here with all our pieces,' and I could definitely see Mac Jones go there," Warner said. "But I could definitely buy into those other two guys."

Many analysts believe the 49ers should go the second route and take a quarterback with more athletic upside considering the direction the NFL has moved in due to the emergence of multi-faceted players such as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Bills quarterback Josh Allen. There's also a commonly held belief that the amount of draft capital the 49ers gave up to move from pick 12 to pick three should lead to them picking the quarterback with the highest ceiling. But Warner says there's still plenty of room for a cerebral pocket passer like Jones, especially during the postseason when the margin for error shrinks significantly.

"When you start to play good teams week after week in the playoffs, you better be able to make the layups," Warner said. "You better be able to see the field, process, get the ball out, and win on time, and not expect to be able to win with athleticism... We know (Mahomes is) physically gifted and he does crazy things with his arm. But I've made the argument for two years -- what makes him special is what he does with his mind. His creativity to see things and play on schedule and then do the extra is what's made him so unique."

That said, there remains some question over how high Jones' ceiling will be in the NFL due to his level of athleticism. Warner isn't sure where Jones fits on the athletic spectrum, or if he'd be giving the 49ers anything new when compared to Jimmy Garoppolo.

"I like Mac Jones. I think Mac Jones plays the game very much like I did, from a cerebral standpoint and processing information and understanding how to make different throws," Warner said. "But there is a limit there to what he is physically. Now I don't know what that limit is. I've kind of likened it in some of the interviews I've done to kind of myself on one end because that's how I played the game, but I believe that I had kind of a bigger upside physically where I could make some of those special kinds of throws even though I wasn't a great athlete. I could play the position a little more athletically.

"And then you have an Andy Dalton, who plays the game very similar to that and is a starter in this league, has won a lot of games and played in playoffs but doesn't have that upside physically that I believe can carry a team and get a team to that next level. He needs that help around him to be able to do that. And so, where does Mac Jones fit in that mix? Is he more Kurt Warner? Is he more Andy Dalton? Somewhere in between? But what is his physical upside? I compare him to a Jimmy G and say what are you getting from Mac Jones that you aren't getting from Jimmy G?"

So what would Warner do at pick three? He feels Lance might have the best upside of any of the available quarterbacks but that Fields would be the best choice for the 49ers given his combination of talent, potential, athleticism, and experience.

"As much as I could see Mac Jones going there, I don't think it is (the pick)," Warner said. "And I simply (think) that because I have Jimmy G. It looks to me like they made this move to go get something different and something they believe they can be more. Now, that puts me at Justin Fields or Trey Lance, and I just believe Justin Fields is the better of the two quarterbacks based on what I've seen in college. (In terms of) complete upside, Trey Lance could be the best of these five when it's all said and done because he's got all the things that you want, but it's just not as seasoned yet. So, to me, if I'm picking between those other two guys, based on what I've seen to this point -- the consistency, playing at a high level, what he did the past couple (seasons) -- I'm going Justin Fields there at number three because he gives me a little bit something different than what I have in Jimmy G, but he's got a body of work and a level of consistency that to me puts him a little bit ahead of Trey Lance at this point in the game."

Warner's interview can be heard below, with the discussion on the 49ers beginning shortly after the one-minute mark.

The 49ers will announce their selection after the first round of the NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Thursday night. All three days of the draft will be aired on the NFL Network, ABC, and ESPN.

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