Smoke and Mirrors in San Francisco
A month ago, the San Francisco 49ers shook up the NFL by trading away three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for the number three overall pick in the draft. Their intentions were clear. The front office does not have faith in quarterback Jimmy Garappolo to lead them back to a Superbowl. and as a result, wanted the quarterback of their choosing from this draft. Initially, the consensus was that they had traded up for Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
However, reports started to come in that the 49ers, and specifically head coach Kyle Shanahan, are infatuated with Mac Jones. For the last month, people have debated whether or not this was the 49ers trying to hide their intentions. Over the last few days, we have gotten even more information from NFL Insiders, but they have not helped the cause.
The first thing to figure out. Why are the 49ers even trying to get a rookie quarterback? Jimmy G took them to a Superbowl just last season but was injured this year. He also missed most of 2018 with injuries. There was also speculation that the infamously missed touchdown in the 4th quarter of Superbowl LIV decreased the faith Shanahan had in Garappolo. Here is a quote from their presser that gives a bit more insight into why the 49ers are doing this.
So, it sounds like the 49ers are looking for an injury insurance policy, but also someone they believe could step in and start. So the question remains. Why did they decide to trade up to the third overall pick? Luckily for us, Shanahan also answered this question in his presser.
And now, the most important question of all. There is a slim chance that the 49ers traded three first-round picks without knowing who they wanted to pick at that spot. However, we have not gotten a straight answer from them about this, which is expected. The answer Shanahan gave was vague but did seem to confirm that they did have someone in mind.
Over the past few days, however, we have gotten some reports from NFL Insiders that have given light to this situation. From Todd McShay, we got this quote:
I’m told that many in the 49ers’ personnel department have pushed for North Dakota State QB Trey Lance but that coach Kyle Shanahan wants to draft Alabama’s Mac Jones.Todd McShay
This belief was seemingly confirmed by Tom Pelissero this morning on Good Morning Football, where he gave this mini spiel on the quarterback situation. We also have a clip from Schefter on his podcast, saying similar things.
So, we now know what the insiders have heard about the 49ers. Case closed? Not quite.
There is a popular belief that what these insiders have been reporting has been purposefully leaked by the 49ers to throw the league off from their decision. This could be because they want to pick Justin Fields or Trey Lance. The belief is that the 49ers are notorious for not leaking information. This comes from the anecdote of general manager John Lynch holding the 49ers to secrecy about his interview to see how much he could trust the organization before taking the job.
However, we have some evidence that their draft targets have been guessed out before. Arif Hasan on Twitter today showed some examples of the 49ers’ interest in Aiyuk being well known, and Kinlaw was an already popular pick for the 49ers at the 13th spot last year:
There is also a belief that Kyle Shanahan has worked with less mobile quarterbacks, such as Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, and Jimmy Garappolo, so he would want someone with the mobility of Fields or Lance and the upside they would bring. He also would have seen Sean McVay struggle with Jared Goff last season, while Mike LeFleur had Aaron Rodgers win an MVP in the same scheme. The mobility that Fields and Lance offer would allow him to run plays that he has not since he was an offensive assistant for the Washington Football Team when they drafted Robert Griffin III.
On the other hand, Jones is considered by many the most pro-ready quarterback as of today. While he may not have the upside of the other quarterbacks in the league, there is a belief that if you want a week one starter, Jones could be the guy. It is tough to tell what the 49ers are doing here, and we will likely only get an answer on how much of what we have heard is right on the day of the draft.
Forecasters versus Evaluators
At the end of the day, who the 49ers will pick comes down to whether or not you believe NFL forecasters or evaluators. Forecasters, having access to NFL front offices and personnel, only know as much as they are told. So if a team purposely gives out wrong info, they would not know any better. If the 49ers are committed to selling Mac Jones to these forecasters, this could be why people like Ian Rapaport, Schefter, Pelissero, and McShay believe that the 49ers will be taking Mac Jones.
However, if you believe the evaluators, who solely look at the game film and make their decisions on that, you likely would think there is no way that the 49ers would pass up on Fields or Lance. However, knowing the recent history that people have had in predicting the 49er’s draft targets, it does seem that Mac Jones will indeed be the pick on Thursday night. Whether that would be the correct pick, only time will tell.