Kyle Shanahan
Stephen Brashear, Associated Press file

Who Will It Be, Mr. Shanahan?

The first two picks in tonight’s draft (and certainly the first overall pick) are relatively easy to predict; The Jags will take Trevor Lawrence and the Jets will take Zach Wilson. The third pick, however, is significantly less clear. After moving up 9 spots in a trade with the Miami Dolphins about a month ago, it is widely assumed that the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan will pick their quarterback of the future with the 3rd overall pick. Who that will be is another question altogether.

The Candidates

I say ‘candidates’ instead of ‘potential picks’ because of the fact that getting drafted by Kyle Shanahan comes with a particular prestige. The 49ers head coach has a prolific reputation for developing young quarterbacks into studs. While most of the picks this high may come with the connotation that the team needs the player more than the other way around (sorry, Jacksonville), Kyle Shanahan’s pick will be as much about whether the player is worthy of his mentorship as it is about what the team needs. So who will it be? It seems that it could go one of three ways: Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields.

Mac Jones, Alabama

Jones is going to be a solid quarterback in this league. The feeling around the league is that Mac Jones is the ‘safe’ pick. After an incredible season in which he led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season and a National Championship, Jones’ draft stock shot up. In terms of playing style, he’s a pocket passer (although he did run an impressive 4.68 40 at his pro day) who makes good decisions and boasts top-shelf accuracy, as evidenced by the fact that he threw 41 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions in 2020. Compared to the Fields and Lance, I would argue that Mac Jones is probably the most pro-ready out of the three. He may even be one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in this draft, second only to Trevor Lawrence, who’s been viewed as the likely first overall pick in this draft since his sophomore year of high school (kinda kidding, kinda not).

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Here’s the wild card. Lance dazzled at NDSU, where he threw 30 career touchdowns against a single interception as well as rushed for 1325 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Make no mistake, Trey Lance played like a monster. Here’s the issue: he played like a monster in the FCS. Standing at 6-4 and 225 pounds, Lance’s physical qualifications are unmistakable. He also played pretty much as well as you could expect someone to play. The problem is that it’s is notoriously difficult to really evaluate FCS guys. The ceiling for Lance is incredibly high. He has as much, if not more talent than any signal-caller in this draft. He has also has a lower basement than any of the other first-round type quarterbacks in this draft. To be fully honest, these FCS guys are always a really tough sell for me. Trey Lance wasn’t even in my top-5 quarterback ranking from earlier this month. Regardless of my thoughts, teams will find Lance’s physical traits and talent hard to pass up tonight, and he is likely to be drafted very high.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

I’ve always been really high of Fields. He’s the second best quarterback in this draft and nobody can tell me otherwise. Fields is potentially the best mix of physical traits, talent, a winning resum√© and stats in this entire draft. Standing at 6-3, 230 pounds and running a blazing 4.4 40, the Ohio State quarterback is an absolute beast. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: let’s not overthink this. He’s got all the tools, he’s a winner and he had the stats to back it up (6834 yards from scrimmage, 86 total touchdowns in 3 seasons). To me, he’s the clear-cut #2 quarterback in this draft, but that doesn’t mean Shanahan agrees with me. Fields will be a first-round pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls. Some analysts even have him falling as far as New England at 15.

So, who will it be, Mr. Shanahan?

In order to get a good idea of who the 49ers will pick at 3, I think it is helpful to take a look at the quarterbacks that Shanahan has a history with. In Washington, Kyle Shanahan made waves as the one behind RG3’s rookie-season success. It is also worth mentioning that the perception is that Shanahan ‘chose’ Kirk Cousins over RG3 in 2015. When you think about it, it did seem sort of like they could have given RG3 a little bit more time. In Cleveland, the perception is that he also Chose Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel. This is a little bit less convincing. While RG3 struggled with injuries through no fault of his own, Manziel’s issues were off the field. On top of that, he never played particularly well. Nonetheless, we can see a trend developing here. Despite a somewhat rocky start, Shanahan and Matt Ryan had some great success in Atlanta. As far as his current team, he chose Jimmy G to be the guy at first. What do Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garapolo all have in common? They’re all (more or less) pocket passers.

Kyle Shanahan’s quarterbacks have come in all shapes and sizes, but he certainly seems to prefer the pocket passers of the world. Shanahan values good decision making and accuracy over big-play ability. Nobody will argue that Manziel and RG3 weren’t more talented than Hoyer and Cousins, but Shanahan didn’t care. His system doesn’t gain as much from a mobile gunsligner as it does from a Brady-esque game manager (for lack of a better term).

I can logically inferred, then, that the pick will likely be Mac Jones. It seems that the Alabama quarterback fits in quite nicely with the types of guys that Kyle Shanahan has traditionally preferred. The only way that I could see it being different is if they think that they can mould Trey Lance while he sits behind Garappolo. The problem with that theory is that the RG3 situation shows that Shanahan isn’t particularly tolerant of injury issues. It is my guess that they want a guy who can actively compete with Garappolo for the starting job; enter Mac Jones.

So, that’s the pick. It’s Mac Jones. Watch it happen.