Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports

Searching for hidden gold: 5 overlooked QB draft prospects who might pan out for 49ers.

Don Atkinson
Feb 19, 2021 at 4:44 PM0

Winston Churchill once said, "There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction." This is so in football, as much as in everyday life. With a slew of free agents, a tight salary cap, and roster questions at many key positions, the 49ers are indeed about to change. Nowhere is that more true than at the quarterback position.

Rumors suggesting the release of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a blockbuster trade for Houston's star quarterback Deshaun Watson, and a host of potential free agent signings have swirled since the close of the team's 2020 season in January. Nothing yet has happened, and in fact it may not any time soon.

But ready or not, the NFL draft is approaching, and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will have some major decisions to make as to how best to use the team's draft picks to solve the quarterback issue, in the event no changes via trade or free agency are made.

Certainly, the NFL draft is always an exercise in wheeling and dealing, and the 49ers have shown they are not opposed to making multiple moves on draft day to get the players they want. No one knows for sure how it will play itself out, and it's still too early for even Shanahan and Lynch to know. There are, however, a few things we can count on.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is certainly the first player to go at number one, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, there may be a few surprises here or there, but seeing quarterbacks Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Zach Wilson (BYU) still available after the first seven picks isn't going to happen. Trey Lance (N. Dakota State) is also highly prized, and may be gone somewhere before pick 12, when the 49ers are on the clock.

Mac Jones (Alabama) is a cumbersome option for the 49ers, as he is probably not elite enough to truly justify the expense of a number 12 overall pick. But he is good enough to be gone by the time the 49ers pick again at number 44. If the 49ers trade back to select late in the 1st or early 2nd rounds, Jones might get a solid look.

There are some elite players -- offensive tackle Penei Sewell (Oregon), receiver Ja'Marr Chase (LSU), and linebacker Micah Parsons (Penn State) among them -- who may disrupt the quarterback feeding frenzy a bit. But a frenzy there will be, at least during the first dozen picks, and that leaves the 49ers in an unfavorable position.

Of the eleven teams slated to pick before San Francisco, only the Bengals (with Joe Burrow) seem to be wholly out of the quarterback market. The Jets, Panthers, and Broncos will all be gunning for a new guy, and so may the Dolphins and Eagles, depending on how secure those two teams feel going into 2021 with very inexperienced quarterbacks. The Falcons will certainly be looking for Matt Ryan's replacement, and with Dak Prescott still unsigned in Dallas, no one knows what will transpire with the Cowboys.

This leaves little elbow room for the 49ers to get a top tier player from where they sit at number 12, unless they are fortunate enough to catch Trey Lance on a soft drop.

What then do the 49ers do? Beyond the first option of clutching the rabbit's foot when number 12 rolls around, they can trade up to compete with the other QB-hungry sharks, or trade back to increase their draft capital and look for a better value beyond Round 1. It is this last option that could prove the most intriguing.

Even past the 2nd and into the 3rd round, there is still going to be premium talent available. Players like Azeez Ojulari (LB, Georgia), Rashad Weaver (Edge, Pitt) and Landon Dickerson (OL, Alabama) may well be available at the start of Round 3, and that's often where the greatest roster gems are found. Quarterbacks who might satisfy Shanahan's urge to experiment are also in those secondary rounds, and even a few beyond.

Who then should the 49ers be targeting if their 1st-round quarterback dreams do not work out? Here is a quick look at some attractive possibilities.

Kyle Trask (Florida, 6'5", 240)
Projected Draft Round: 2

One of the bigger, stronger (and perhaps smarter) quarterbacks in this draft is Kyle Trask. With a decent arm and good pass velocity, Trask can zip the ball where he needs it to go, and given quality receivers, he would likely prove to be a powerful force in moving an NFL offense. While his ability to throw downfield is perhaps less than it could be, he seems to handle the short- to mid-range passing game effortlessly.

Though less experienced than some other quarterbacks in the draft, Trask developed quickly in college --- a sign of a keen football mind that is attuned to good coaching. Most NFL teams hope for a strong, tough, cool-headed pocket passer who can withstand defensive pressure, and Trask checks all those boxes.

Trask's downside comes mostly in his lack of mobility and in his tendency to make some troubling decisions at times by forcing the ball into aggressive coverage. This makes for turnovers – something that can prove to be a significant liability in the NFL. He also can have difficulty in working through his reads. Still, it is hard to hate Trask, who projects out to be a more prototypical NFL quarterback than most of the others in the draft class.

Depending on what happens between now and the end of April, Trask may be a value pick in the early 3rd round, as his draft stock has dipped a bit in the last few months.

Kellen Mond (Texas A&M, 6'3" 217)
Projected Draft Round: 3-4

Kellen Mond is a remarkable athlete. He has a rifle arm and is impressive when he runs. Indeed, Mond's ability to throw the ball deep and make plays with his legs is certainly captivating. And with three seasons as a college starter, Mond also has the valuable experience that could make him a quick study in the NFL.

Despite his downfield ability, however, Mond is a bit robotic in his throws and can sometimes struggle with shorter and mid-range passes. He also has the tendency to get nervous, sometimes frantic, under pressure. That is something that may or may not disappear with pro experience, but it will be a red flag for any team wanting to give Mond a try. And it is likely the reason why Mond will not go higher in the draft.

Unlike Lawrence, Fields, and Wilson, Mond is probably not ready to be an NFL starter right out of the gate, but his arm strength is certainly very appealing and with some quality coaching he could prove to be a contender for the starting position in the not-too-distant future. It would be a mistake to throw Mond into the deep end of the pool too soon, but with the right coaches and development he could pay off a huge dividend a season or two down the road.

Jamie Newman (Georgia/Wake Forest, 6'4", 240)
Projected Draft Round: 3-4

One of the larger framed quarterbacks on the list, Jamie Newman has the body structure to absorb big hits – a huge positive for an NFL signal-caller. He has superb athleticism and is blessed with both decent arm strength and superior running skills. He is smart, his pocket awareness is good, and he is cool under pressure. He has the definite ability to elude both pass rushers in the pocket and tacklers when running free.

Newman's biggest liability is his lack of experience. He opted out of playing last year and has just one full season as a starting quarterback. This could keep him from being drafted earlier than he otherwise might be. So much the better for the 49ers, who will be looking to cherry-pick underrated players in the later rounds of the draft. Newman has talent to burn and if the 49ers are looking for the biggest bang for the quarterback buck in this draft, Newman just might be the guy.

Davis Mills (Stanford, 6'4", 225)
Projected Draft Round: 3-4

Over the years, the 49ers have proven to be skilled at finding great players later in the draft. If they want to continue that trend, Lynch and Shanahan would be well-advised to keep a tight watch on Davis Mills. There is probably no greater "dark horse" in the 2021 quarterback draft class than Mills, who seems in many ways to be much like Kyle Trask, though he gets far less attention.

If there is any rookie quarterback on the board beyond the first round who has the look of an NFL caliber player, it may be Mills. Possessing a quick and efficient delivery, Mills' throwing mechanics seem to be much more advanced than some quarterbacks who will undoubtedly go earlier in the draft.

Like Jamie Newman, Mills is big. But also, like Newman, he is short on experience. With just one full season as a starter in three years, he has thrown a scant 438 passes in his college career (just about one-third the number of the passes thrown by Kellen Mond).

But experience or not, Mills seems to have all the traits any team would want its starting quarterback to have. He's big, he has a superior football mind, and he's got a powerful arm. If he is still on the board in the late 3rd or early 4th round, and if the 49ers have not by that time been able to snatch up a quarterback they like, they would be foolish to pass Mills by.

Shane Buechele (SMU, 6'1", 207)
Projected Draft Round: 5

He gets very little press, but Shane Buechele has some skills that may turn heads. He's sharp and is an efficient and accurate passer with a quick release. Not necessarily known as a deep passing threat, Buechele can still get receivers the ball downfield, though his ability to throw tight spirals at distance is in question.

What may really push the argument in favor of Buechele is his intelligence and character. He has, by all accounts, a quick football mind, and his decision-making and leadership on the field are notable. He makes few mistakes (23 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions in 2020) and seems to handle intense pocket pressure well. He is not a running quarterback, but he possesses enough agility to escape a pass rush when needed.

Buechele's downside isn't massive, but it is there: He's not overly athletic and he's more lightly built than Trask, Newman, and Mond. If the 49ers are looking for a big-bodied QB with legs and a rifle arm, Buechele isn't going to fit the bill. But if understanding Shanahan's offensive plans, implementing them and avoiding bone-head mistakes is a priority, the 49ers could do well with a young quarterback like Buechele.

Clearly there is no perfect scenario for getting the players needed in one draft to balance out a roster. But the 49ers are holding a basket of picks and that means they will have the ability to move around a bit and target the players they really want. They may not get that media-hyped quarterback who many within the fan base might covet. But that certainly does not mean the team's future is not going to look brighter at that position moving ahead.

In this draft, there are some gold nuggets hidden there beyond the 1st round. If the 49ers are looking to return to the Super Bowl soon, they just need to do a little old-time prospecting.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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