Kim Klement/Mark J. Rebilas/Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement/Mark J. Rebilas/Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Roundtable: Who do the 49ers draft at No. 3 with Lawrence, Wilson off the board?

Apr 2, 2021 at 2:00 PM1

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Last week, the San Francisco 49ers shocked the NFL world by trading up to the No. 3 spot in this month's draft. There is an overwhelming belief that Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Zach Wilson of BYU will both be off the board by the time general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are on the clock. If that is how things play out, what will be their move?

We asked the 49ers Webzone staff to predict who the Niners will select at No. 3 overall, should Lawrence and Wilson be unavailable. Below are the responses in the order in which they were received.

Justin Wong

Justin Fields, Ohio State

For the 49ers to aggressively trade top draft capital and move into the No. 3 spot likely means they have one quarterback in mind—with the assumption that Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson are off the board. Despite the recent draft chatter, I doubt the 49ers are looking at either Trey Lance of North Dakota State or Mac Jones of Alabama considering the small sample size of 17 starts apiece.

The pick has to be Ohio State's Justin Fields, as he offers a good blend of ceiling and floor upside to be groomed as the 49ers' quarterback of the future. It also helps that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan worked with Fields in 2017 during the high school QB Collective and already has some familiarity with him.

That being said, I'm okay with the 49ers banking on high-ceiling prospects like Fields and Lance over Jones. I'm sure Shanahan's coaching ability is able to put either of these prospects in good standing to succeed but I'm hoping the actual pick is Fields. Just what exactly is the Shanahan quarterback archetype heading into 2021? I'm excited to find out.

Levin T. Black

I believe it is a toss-up between Fields and Lance, with a small chance Shanahan is truly so stubborn that he takes Jones.

All three can play on day one. Although, they'd benefit from sitting. Yes, Lance is ready to play right away. People saying he needs time are basing it solely on him coming from an FCS school. The film says otherwise.

If Shanahan forces Jones, who has a more limited upside than the other two, it would be right to question his ability to weigh the costs of getting a specific player. We know No. 6 overall could have been had for one fewer first-round pick.

Brian Renick

Justin Fields, Ohio State

Justin Fields is the pick at No. 3 for the 49ers if Lawrence and Wilson are off the board. The athletic package and tools that Fields offers are far too tantalizing to pass up, and his production on the field warrants a selection this high as well. Not to mention, head coach Kyle Shanahan has worked with Fields previously at the QB Collective, a camp for high school quarterbacks that was founded and run by Shanahan's agent Richmond Flowers.

Fields is an incredible athlete with a solid build and is tough as nails. He only missed one snap after taking a huge hit to the ribs against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl this past season, stating after the game that throwing the ball even ten yards was painful, but "[i]t's the game of football we play. I signed up for it." For a franchise with a current starting quarterback who has missed 23 games over the past three seasons, toughness and availability should be traits that are high on the team's board during evaluation. While Fields can do a lot of damage with his legs, he looks to win from the pocket first. This trait is paramount for success in Kyle Shanahan's offense. He wants a quarterback who will execute the plays he designs and throw with accuracy (Fields has a career 68.4 completion percentage). After getting beat by quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, et al., it seems he is now looking for a quarterback who can also bail him out if he calls the wrong play or if the play breaks down.

Too many talking heads think that Kirk Cousins is the model QB for the Shanahan offense. They're wrong. The model QB for the offense is John Elway, who won two Super Bowls under Kyle's dad, Mike Shanahan, and was one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to play the position. Fields is probably a better athlete than Elway was, and there is no telling the heights the 49ers offense can reach with Fields under center. A rookie has never led a team to a Super Bowl victory, but with the roster the 49ers have built and the big-game experience that Fields has from playing at Ohio State, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the former Buckeye could be the first to do it.

Kirk Larrabee

Who they'll pick: Mac Jones, Alabama
Who they should pick: Justin Fields, Ohio State

It's tough to say at this point what the 49ers are going to do. As with others in the media, my gut reaction to the trade when it happened was, "This feels like it's for Mac Jones." I came away with the same conclusion after hearing Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch speak at their recent press conference. Still, it's hard to believe they'd trade all those assets to select a player whose ceiling and physical traits are visibly subpar to those of Justin Fields and Trey Lance. And while so many reporters have been citing league sources as saying Jones is the guy, Lynch and Shanahan have been very successful at pulling draft smokescreens before (even if there isn't as much reason to do so now). So, who can say for sure?

Ask me again in three weeks, and I might have a different answer, but for now, I'll stick with my gut and say the pick will be Jones. As for who they should pick ... well, either of the other two over Jones (or three, if Zach Wilson happens to slip a spot). But if I were making the call, I'd select Justin Fields. There are some aspects of his game he needs to work on, but he'll have an entire season to do it if the 49ers keep Jimmy Garoppolo (and if Jimmy manages to stay healthy). I don't buy some of the hot garbage takes that have been circulating about him this week for a single second. He's got all the tools he needs to be an elite starter, he shined and succeeded at high levels of competition, he's prepared for the spotlight, and I believe he has the drive to win that an NFL quarterback needs.

I think the 49ers will eventually regret it if they pass up Fields or Lance in favor of Jones. But I'm prepared for it to happen because I think it very well could. For the record, I think there's much to like about Mac Jones and feel he may well turn out to become a quality NFL quarterback. I just don't like the thought of sacrificing two future first-round picks to take him over Fields or Lance.

David Bonilla

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

I can't even begin to fathom that the 49ers gave up that much draft capital to trade up for Mac Jones. I can't even wrap my head around that. Assuming Justin Fields and Trey Lance were both gone by No. 12, fine. I can buy into selecting Jones at San Francisco's initial first-round slot. It just seems like you are giving up too much value at No. 3 for a quarterback who may never develop into anything more than a solid player. There seems to be too much upside with the other prospects.

That being said, would the selection of Jones surprise me? Probably not. I simply can't envision the blockbuster move being for the Alabama product. Plus, he didn't seem to wow anyone—including Kyle Shanahan—during his pro day outing. Not that pro days—good or bad—should be a significant deciding factor in anything.

Remember, the speculation surrounding Jones started with Chris Simms, who has since admitted that his belief wasn't based on anything he's heard from his friend, Shanahan.

All the chatter surrounding Jones feels like a ruse. If you keep Jimmy Garoppolo around while adding a rookie quarterback, I have to believe you take the player with the most potential, no matter how raw he is now. He'll have time to sit and learn. To me, that equals Fields or Lance. If I had to pick one, I would go with the bigger long-term project, potentially having the higher payoff—Lance. It just seems to make too much sense.

But honestly, I think Fields and Lance both make far more sense than Jones. They are both capable of taking Shanahan's offense to a different level. If you think the Solomon Thomas pick in 2017 was a poor choice, missing out on a quarterback after surrendering first-rounders in each of the next two years could be devastating for the franchise.

Tim Sprinkles

Justin Fields, Ohio State

The choice is clear, if Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are off the board, there can only be one pick. Justin Fields is the quarterback of the future for the San Francisco 49ers.

What has Shanahan always valued in his quarterbacks? Accuracy. Fields is extremely accurate at all three levels. His 2020 season posted an impressive 69.9% completion percentage, which followed his 2019 campaign of a 66.8% completion percentage. That completion percentage is outstanding, and then you have to factor in that he did it against the most formidable defenses faced out of the consensus top four quarterback prospects. Usually, a high completion percentage means low-risk, quick, shallow passes, but Fields was never scared to push the ball deep. He showed off his arm during his pro day, repeatedly completing passes of over 50 yards down the field. His pro-day performance alone might have been impressive enough to make him the No. 3 overall pick.

If you listened to Kyle Shanahan in his latest press conference, you might have heard him say, "You want an elite player, and of course, if you can get a guy who is elite with his arm and can play in that pocket and do everything and still run around and make off-schedule plays. I mean, that's what you've seen with Mahomes." Kyle is looking for an elite thrower and an elite athlete. Fields is that guy. He posted a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and that speed shows up on tape as well. His first touchdown at Ohio State came on an untouched, 51-yard run against Florida Atlantic University. He has playmaking ability with his arm and legs.

The next pick for the San Francisco 49ers will be the quarterback from Ohio State—Justin Fields.

Zain Naqvi

Justin Fields, Ohio State

This will most likely be how it goes down. The Jets seem committed to Wilson, and everyone knows Trevor Lawrence will go first overall. After that, there are three names in play: Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones. It's no secret that the Niners traded up to No. 3 to select a quarterback, and those three guys should all be on the board.

Let's start with who I don't want to see in red and gold—Mac Jones. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch were in Alabama this past week for Jones' pro day. Spoiler alert: he wasn't great. He was routinely overthrowing receivers, didn't show a ton of athleticism, and looked out of shape. I can't imagine Niners brass giving up two years' worth of first-round picks (after this year) for a guy like that. Even on tape, nothing really stands out about Mac Jones. He's solid but unspectacular. When you trade up to No. 3, you need spectacular. There's so much more, but I'll let my colleagues chime in.

Now we get to the hard part: Justin Fields vs. Trey Lance. Let's start with Fields. Justin Fields has all of the physical tools you'd want out of a franchise QB. He's big, tall, can run like the wind (he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash during his pro day), and can make any throw that you ask of him. He's also incredibly tough.

Lance is a couple of years younger and is considerably less experienced, with only 17 starts to his name at North Dakota State. Lance did run a pro-style college offense, which makes him an attractive choice, but he struggles with throwing the ball on intermediate/deep routes. He's going to require more work and will likely not be ready to start in Year 1 (which would actually work out well since Jimmy Garoppolo is seen as the bridge quarterback at the moment - more on this in the latest No Huddle Podcast with myself and Al Sacco).

It's a tough choice, but I'm leaning towards Fields because his skill set fits what Kyle Shanahan wants to do on offense, and he's a little more accurate overall than Lance. Honestly, I'd be thrilled with either. But please, no Mac Jones.

Patrick Tulini

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

I think it's going to be either Justin Fields or Trey Lance. If I had to choose, I would go with Lance because I think he is arguably the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft due to the style of offense at North Dakota State and the responsibilities he had to operate that offense. I think there are many similarities between the Bison offense and the one run by Kyle Shanahan.

North Dakota State's offense has some elements of the West Coast offense. Trey Lance takes snaps under center, runs play-action and bootleg concepts, and utilized a fullback. Obviously, he's raw and needs some coaching, but I'm looking at the long-term view. I think the talent is there, and he would have an easier transition to Kyle's offense than people think.

Don Atkinson

Justin Fields, Ohio State

It's just been a matter of a few weeks since the volatile discussion dominating the stage — what trade or free-agent signing will the 49ers complete to change the quarterback room? Leave it to the 49ers to instantly change the NFL landscape by making a major draft pick swap, moving from No. 12 to No. 3 overall, functionally ending that trade and free agency discussion in one swift move.

The first two moves in the draft seem almost pre-ordained — Jacksonville will take Clemson's Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has no choice. Passing up Lawrence for any other player would be the career equivalent of swallowing a hand grenade. The New York Jets hold pick No. 2, and it's difficult to imagine they don't make an immediate change at quarterback by taking BYU's Zach Wilson. Head coach Robert Saleh isn't likely to let current quarterback Sam Darnold's presence get in the way of their rebuild.

With both Lawrence and Wilson off the board, the 49ers are still sitting in a great position to get themselves a true rookie talent in either Ohio State's Justin Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance. Pundits and NFL insiders have embarked on a campaign to force Alabama's Mac Jones into the mix, though that third option is far less attractive than the first two for several reasons.

It's true that Jones is skilled and has some pro-ready qualities, and in that way, maybe he gets a bump. He has the look of a quarterback who could find some success as an NFL starter. The question, of course, is whether losing three premium draft picks is a fair price to pay for "some" success. The answer should be obvious. The blather about Jones fitting Shanahan's scheme is just that, and the 49ers need to decide whether keeping an unwarranted vision of a system quarterback is more important to them than winning Super Bowls.

While Jones might be a profitable selection for a quarterback-needy team in the second half of the first round, taking him with Fields and Lance still available seems not just clumsy but horribly misguided. There's a talent gap between Jones and the other two, and it's not by a small degree. Both Fields and Lance have the potential at least to be elite quarterbacks, and that's not something honestly visible in Jones' body of work so far.

Both Fields and Lance are extraordinary athletes. Both have the ability to electrify an offense. However, Lance's experience as a starter is concentrated into one season, and that season happened over a year ago. For that reason, an air of uncertainty lingers about his transition into the NFL. Fields doesn't have many more starts, but his games were over multiple seasons, and he's been consistently playing throughout. Both have played brilliantly.

Shanahan and Lynch are bold, and they could roll the dice with the supremely talented Lance, even with his lack of extensive game experience. But with Justin Fields available, it seems like an unnecessary risk. Fields has been under the microscope since exiting high school as one of the country's best young quarterbacks, and his abilities are crystal clear. He's done the work, reached that level of superior skill, and only looks to get better. With this coaching staff, he could be a transformative piece that elevates the 49ers not just to a Super Bowl but rather to a string of them.

Chris Wilson

Justin Fields, Ohio State

I'm still a little salty about this move because — barring any inside information from the Jets' new head coach, Robert Saleh — Lynch and Shanahan made this blockbuster trade blindly, without knowing who would be available at pick No. 3. of the 2021 NFL Draft. The only way this trade makes any sense is if the 49ers' front office is confident each of the top-3 quarterback prospects is a franchise quarterback-caliber talent, despite history telling us otherwise. Regardless of whether Shanahan has delusions of grandeur, or this is a one-of-a-kind quarterback draft class, the 49ers are selecting a quarterback — and if Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are off the board, the only player who fits the bill is Ohio State's Justin Fields. Now that the trade has been finalized, the decision going forward is simple. You can't sacrifice the franchise's future by trading up for a long-term project in Trey Lance, who played just one season against subpar opponents at North Dakota State. And you don't trade up for Alabama's Mac Jones — period.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • Chavans
    If the 49ers were to select a quarterback, I would select Justin Fields. On the other hand, I have considered the possibility that the 49ers could use the 3rd pick for an outstanding player like Pitts and still have a quality quarterback who could lead them to the Super Bowl. The best scenario I could come up with would be to trade Garoppolo to the Jets for Darnold, a 2018 3rd pick. I hadn't watched Darnold play before, so I viewed a few videos of him and reviewed the pre-draft report by CBS Sports. I was more impressed with Darnold than I expected to be. He appears to be smart, poised, has a quick release, processes well, quite athletic, mobile in the pocket, bootlegs well, accurate passer, runs well when he has to and is durable. The major knocks on him appear to be too many interceptions and fumbles. Could these problems be fixed? When the 49ers played the Jets, Shanahan was asked by a reporter what his thoughts were about Darnold, and he replied that Darnold was a very good quarterback and would pick you to pieces if you weren't careful. The Jets would then trade Garoppolo to NE in exchange for a pick and the 49ers would select Pitts at No. 3. .
    Apr 4, 2021 at 11:49 AM

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