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Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus gives 49ers QB Mac Jones in 2021 redraft

Jun 30, 2022 at 5:03 AM--

Remember Mac Jones?

Jones is hard to forget for any 49ers fans who followed the buildup to the 2021 NFL Draft. There was an air of mystery surrounding what the 49ers would do once they acquired the third overall pick from the Miami Dolphins, with plenty of speculation over whether or not Jones would be the player they chose after making that trade.

But while Jones was coming off a breakout season in leading the University of Alabama to a national championship, many fans weren't enthused with the thought of the 49ers drafting him due in part to the belief he didn't have as high of a ceiling as Justin Fields of Ohio State or Trey Lance of North Dakota State. The 49ers apparently felt the same, selecting Lance at pick 3 while Jones fell to the New England Patriots at pick 15.

Should the 49ers have made the same decision knowing what they know now? Analyst Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus doesn't seem to think so, giving Jones to the 49ers at pick 3 in his 2021 redraft, which was published Wednesday. Monson kept the first two selections of the draft intact (Trevor Lawrence to the Jaguars, Zach Wilson to the Jets) but switched the 49ers' pick from Lance to Jones based on the performance Jones had as a rookie, as well as the perceived interest the 49ers once had.

"There were reports at the time, and have been since, that [head coach] Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers traded up to No. 3 overall with the intention of taking Jones before changing their mind somewhere along the process," wrote Monson. "If there is any truth to that, they would flip the pick based on new information. Jones posted an 80.4 PFF grade as a rookie, by far the best of the first-year passers. He showed he can execute an offense in the NFL effectively and efficiently and likely would have looked even better in the 49ers' system. Trey Lance couldn't take the job from Jimmy Garoppolo in his first year, but Jones would have on merit."

While the Patriots seem satisfied with their selection of Jones, the 49ers would likely say publicly they are happy with where things stand with Lance and that they wouldn't change a thing. Shanahan denied Jones was their main target last April after making Lance their selection.

"We've been very high on Trey since the beginning, since day one," Shanahan said, per 49ers.com. "Yes, the person everyone else was speculating about, we liked him, too. Just honestly, to go through this whole process where no one has known, my friends, coaches, anybody, how [general manager] John [Lynch] and I feel and how we felt this whole time. We do that because you don't want to sway people in this building. You want everyone to give you, just work their butts off and give you their honest info and that's why we don't share at all how we felt about our conversations when we were on vacation talking in the first two weeks of January about these quarterbacks and comparing them to NFL guys. When we made the trade, we knew exactly where we were going and what we were doing. Now, we wanted an opportunity to go and look at everybody, but I think just looking at this whole process, I think I was in Mexico the day we made the trade and within hours, there's at least two people who are out there speculating that their opinions are they think we're taking Mac Jones and ever since then, I've kind of just watched every single person assume that that was accurate and that those weren't opinions, those were facts. We didn't feel that way from the beginning.

"I wouldn't have said there's no chance we wouldn't have. We were going to go through this process and I would never have said it couldn't have ended up being him, but I know how we felt about Trey the whole time. To watch that happen and to kind of watch everyone just assume, because a couple people say something, that's exactly how you feel, we weren't going to work to correct that. At all. I thought that could be an advantage for us, especially when you look into stuff that just came out today. Stuff that, I mean, you never know with this league. If the whole NFL is assuming you're doing one thing and you're not doing that, I'm not going to work hard, and John, we're not going to work hard to correct that. So, let that be, and whatever way that went, it was going to go and it was crazy to watch where it all went, but no one has known anything but us."

Jones finished his rookie season with 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while helping the Patriots to a postseason berth. Lance, meanwhile, spent most of the 2021 season learning on the sidelines while Jimmy Garoppolo held the starting duties throughout the 49ers' run to the NFC Championship game. It might be tempting for some to look at those results and wonder if the 49ers should have picked Jones, but given the fact Jones was considered a more ready-to-play quarterback while Lance was a raw prospect without the type of experience Jones had against high-end competition, it's not a big surprise to see how each player's rookie seasons turned out. The next chapter of the story will be written when Lance takes over full-time starting duties for the 49ers in 2022, after which it'll be easier to say whether or not they made the right choice.


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