When news broke last week that the 49ers had traded up to the #3 pick from their original #12 spot, you didn’t have to be a genius to surmise that they did so with the intent of taking a quarterback.
And since it’s almost a certainty that both Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be taken with the first two picks respectively, that leaves the 49ers with three options at quarterback in the draft: Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones.
I think in the sports media were assuming San Fran would go for Fields, as he’s generally presumed to be either the 2nd or 3rd best QB in the draft, followed by Lance and then Jones as #5.
It just feels like if you’re trading up to the #3 pick, where you know your options are going to be Fields, Lance or Jones, and you’re deliberately trading ahead of Atlanta, who many suspect are interested in taking the Georgia-native Fields at #4 as the heir apparent to Matt Ryan—it feels like the 49ers are going after Justin Fields.
But what if we’re all wrong here? What if the 49ers have a different plan? What if they didn’t trade up to draft Justin Fields, or even Trey Lance, but Mac Jones?
Chris Simms says he’d be “shocked” if the 49ers didn’t select Mac Jones with the third overall pick.
Simms has been right on a lot of things, but he’s often the guy who says unconventional things that sound crazy when he says them. And then later on, he’s proven right. He goes against the general consensus and challenges conventional narratives, but usually he’s validated eventually.
This is because the guy is well-connected and has sources all over the league. His dad was a Super Bowl-winning QB for the Giants and became a longtime broadcaster. He himself played QB for a little while in the NFL and is now one of NBC Sports’ primary football analysts. He’s deeply connected and tuned in to what’s going on in the NFL.
And he mentioned that he’s close friends with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan before stating that he’d be shocked if the 49ers don’t take Jones at #3.
Simms did offer the disclaimer that he’s only speculating based on his knowledge of Kyle Shanahan’s system and familiarity with his thinking. He made it clear that he wasn’t simply told by his close buddy, who also happens to be coach of the 49ers, that they were taking Jones. Simms made sure not to throw Shanahan under the bus. Obviously nobody believes he hasn’t talked to Shanahan about what they’re going to do with the pick, but he has to maintain appearances and professionalism.
But clearly if you are close friends with someone who happens to be an NFL head coach, you are going to know so, so much more about what’s really happening around the NFL than even the best reporters in the business.
Point is, if Chris Simms says the 49ers are taking Mac Jones at #3, I’m inclined to believe him.
The only reason I’d doubt him is because I personally don’t believe Mac Jones is the third best QB in the draft and worthy of the #3 overall pick. Mac Jones going at #3 goes against conventional wisdom; I mean virtually every analyst on ESPN/Fox/YouTube has Mac Jones ranked as the fifth-best QB in this class and probably going somewhere between picks 10-15.
But just because everyone believes that, does not make it true. It’s possible the sports media is sleeping on Mac Jones big time.
Mac Jones to me is the most NFL-ready of all the 49ers’ possible options at QB. And that really matters nowadays. Because QBs who are considered “projects” usually don’t get any time to sit and develop and grow. These guys are getting tossed into the lion’s den early on. And if they’re not ready, they’re going to get ripped to pieces. When this happens it’s going to ruin their reputation around the league and probably tank their confidence, and it could kill the trajectory of their career.
It sucks, but that’s how things are done now. Teams draft quarterbacks expecting them to be able to start from day one, even if everybody knows they’re not ready. “Figure it out on the fly” is the mantra now. Sink or swim, rookie.
The 49ers aren’t looking for a project. They’re not looking for a guy who might realize his potential three years down the road, like Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. They want a guy who is ready to play now. Justin Fields, as talented as he is, is something of a project. It’s going to take time and coaching to realize his potential. Mac Jones is more NFL-ready.
I’m going to go into more detail on Mac Jones in my draft QB rankings—spoiler alert, I have him at #4—but I will say that I could definitely see him having a long, productive NFL career.
He’s not going to be Tom Brady or Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, but he could definitely turn into a rock-solid, classic-style pocket quarterback. I think he could absolutely become a Philip Rivers or an Eli Manning. I could see him anchoring a franchise and playing for 15 years. I could see him making several Pro Bowls over the years.
He’s not going to set the world on fire and redefine the position, but I do think Jones might be the safest QB pick other than Trevor Lawrence.
You can’t throw Mac Jones onto a team like the Jets and expect him to single-handedly turn the whole franchise around. In order to maximize his potential, you need to surround Mac Jones with competence and talent. He will be able to steer the ship from there, and I could absolutely see him winning a Super Bowl or two in his career if he’s got a good coach, quality weapons around him, and a good defense backing him up.
Again, he’s not Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or Mahomes. He’s not even Justin Herbert or a Matthew Stafford. He’s more like a Kirk Cousins, a Joe Flacco, or even a Matt Ryan.
And remember, Matt Ryan won an MVP when Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator.
I think Kyle Shanahan sees Jones as a clear upgrade over Jimmy G, and I would have to concur with that assessment. You know I am not a believer in Jimmy G, I think he’s basically a replacement-level QB or at best slightly above that.
I think Mac Jones can be a plus-QB, an asset. A guy who makes the team better. I think he projects as a tier or even two tiers above Jimmy G.
But here’s what I don’t understand: why did San Fran feel compelled to trade all the way up to #3 to secure him? I think almost people in the sports media believed Jones would be available at pick 12.
Maybe the conventional wisdom in the sports media about where these QB prospects stack up to one another is wrong. Maybe there’s a disconnect between the sports media and actual NFL GMs, coaches and decision-makers on the draft value of Mac Jones. Maybe NFL insiders like him a lot more than the sports media does, and the 49ers know he will not be available at the 12th pick, or even the 4th pick.
Peter King reported over the weekend that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch aren’t even attending Justin Fields’ pro day at Ohio State tomorrow. They’re sending their assistant GM Adam Peters to Columbus, while they head to Tuscaloosa to attend Jones’ pro day.
This to me speaks volumes about the 49ers intentions here. Actions always speak louder than words, and the 49ers are clearly signaling their preference for Jones over Justin Fields here.
It looks like the 49ers are going to take Mac Jones at the third spot a month from now.