Trading up from 12th spot to third in the 2021 NFL Draft, all eyes are on the San Francisco 49ers.
With a draft chock-full of quarterback talent, four of the class’ high-end passers is worthy of a top-five pick.
Analysts believe Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will go first and second, leaving the 49ers making the call at third.
After the 49ers finalized the trade with the Miami Dolphins, rumors circulated head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch favored Mac Jones.
All signs point to the 49ers targeting Jones over Justin Fields, despite the Buckeye’s favorable scouting report.
Additionally, Jones’ and Fields’ performances at their televised 2021 Annual Pro Day demonstrated a clear disparity between the two quarterbacks.
Fields reminded NFL teams of his athleticism, arm strength, accuracy, and his 4.44 40-yard dash while carrying a 227-pound frame.
As the 49ers opted to attend Alabama’s Pro Day on March 30th, Shanahan and Lynch missed an outstanding show by Fields.
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) March 30, 2021
Although Shanahan and Lynch was not in attendance, an unnamed scout that watched the Ohio State pro day stated:
“That was the best QB workout I’ve seen in a while.”
Just had a scout text me from the Ohio State pro day.
“That was the best QB workout I’ve seen in a while”@justnfields
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 30, 2021
Having passed on OSU’s first pro day, San Francisco will get another opportunity to personally see Fields perform in April.
Both candidates are worthy of top-five draft selections; however, the March 30th workouts exposed glaring differences amongst their physical talents.
Although no pro day should be the “end-all” factor, Fields will give the 49ers something to consider on April 27th.
Scouts saw the Ohio State QB post a blazing 40-yard dash and showcase his arm by throwing with speed and accuracy.
In contrast, Jones recorded 4.72, 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, missed multiple receivers, and struggled to move the ball downfield.
Numbers from Alabama QB Mac Jones' pro day submitted to the league:
Height: 6-2 5/8
40-yard dash: 4.72, 4.68
Vertical jump: 32 inches
Broad jump: 9 feet, 8 inches
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 23, 2021
The New QB Standard
Traditionally, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan favors QBs that execute within his offensive scheme; timing, anticipation, and touch.
Just as he lead Alabama’s talented unit, there is no doubt Jones will fit nicely in Shanahan’s offense and deliver.
But as the game changes, Shanahan has done the same and made needed adjustments to keep ahead of the curve.
For example, in 2012, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III changed the QB position.
Shanahan adjusted his offensive scheme to match Griffin’s strengths, which improved the team from last place to a wild-card berth.
But due to ownership allowing the rookie to have too much latitude, the Washington Football Team had a falling out with their superstar.
As Washington’s offensive coordinator from 2010-2013, Shanahan spoke on the Griffin situation to CSN Mid-Atlantic in 2017:
“We feel like we did as good as we could to give him a chance to be successful. And the hard thing about that, that I really don’t blame Robert for, is that the way we felt gave him a chance to be successful, the organization didn’t back him. And they allowed Robert to choose what he wanted to do. Do you blame a 23-year-old for that, or do you blame the people that allowed him?”
The breakup was not a result of RG3‘s skill set nor Shanahan’s famed outside-zone scheme, but rather it was the ownership’s poor decisions.
Justin Fields is “That Guy” for Shanahan
Shanahan learned that an athletic quarterback can be more valuable to an offense if he is in the right situation.
The 49ers head coach expressed in a 2018 interview the importance of having a quarterback with physical agility:
“Is your quarterback good enough at running with the football to make them commit to stop it? And once they do, is he good enough to make the passes that he has to that they just opened up? If he is, that’s a huge issue. It’s tough to find that guy.”
Shanahan again emphasized his high value of a quarterback’s natural ability to reporters in 2020:
“How I evaluate everything is always changing. Things change, people change. You start to see you can win football games with any type of quarterback as long as they are good enough and you can be good enough in hundreds of different ways. So, I evaluate quarterbacks in terms of trying to find people who can have a chance to be one of those elite-type guys and there’s lots of different ways to do it. You’re just trying to find a guy who is better than about 98 percent of the people on this planet or in this country and when you find that, you get him and you adjust to him.”
With untapped potential and legitimate athleticism, Ohio State’s Justin Fields fits Shanahan’s concept of that “elite-type” quarterback.
Having raw agility, lower-body strength, elusiveness in the pocket, and sheer toughness, Fields possesses a dual-threat to defenses.
Good ball placement, combined with a quick and accurate trigger, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year will fit nicely in San Francisco.