SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The drama about which position the San Francisco 49ers would target for their first pick of the NFL draft was erased as soon as they traded three first-round picks and a third-rounder to move up to No. 3.
The question then turned to which quarterback prospect coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will hitch themselves to with that pick.
With Jacksonville set to pick Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick and Zach Wilson appearing to be the favorite to go second to the New York Jets, the Niners will have their choice of Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones to be the eventual successor to Jimmy Garoppolo.
All three offer intriguing traits as well as possible deficiencies, making this a difficult choice that could end up defining the Shanahan-Lynch era because of the heavy price they paid.
“You’ve got to take risks. This is a risk we were willing to take,” Shanahan said. “We looked at how our four years have gone. We looked at how we want the next four years to go and we’ll look to where we’re at in the draft and the options that are there. ... We felt pretty strongly we were going to get left at the altar sitting there at 12.”
Shanahan said there were three quarterbacks he was comfortable taking at the time of the trade in March and said a fourth or fifth could make that list before the draft starts.
Shanahan and Lynch went to watch pro days in person for Jones, Fields and Lance and now have the information to make their pick.
Fields has the most experience of the three with two years as a starter at a high level. He's excelled in big games and has the arm strength, mobility and accuracy to thrive in Shanahan's offense.
Lance is more unfinished having started just one year at the FCS level, but is the best runner of the three even if his accuracy could use improvement.
Jones is most similar to past quarterbacks who have thrived under Shanahan like Matt Ryan as a skilled pocket passer who is extremely accurate but lacks elite arm strength and mobility.
“That’s why I’m intrigued to see what Kyle could do with somebody like a Trey Lance or a Justin Fields, but he’s had so much recent success and come so close to winning Super Bowls with his regular style of quarterback that Mac Jones fits into that perfectly,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “That to me is the decision; do you want to try and believe in what you’ve always done and continue down that path? Or do you want to try and see where this can go from here, which does come with some risk, but that’s the ultimate decision they have to make.”
One of the big questions is how much Shanahan wants a quarterback who can help in the run game. The only time he's had that as a play caller came in 2012-13 in Washington with Robert Griffin III. His QBs have averaged less than two carries a game in four seasons with the Niners.
The Niners haven't invested heavily in quarterbacks in the draft in their history, with their greatest successes coming with third-round pick Joe Montana, and Steve Young, who was acquired in a trade. San Francisco last chose a QB in the first round in 2005 when Alex Smith was the first pick overall, instead of Aaron Rodgers. The only other times in the common draft era that San Francisco took a QB in the opening round came in 1997 (Jim Druckenmiller, 26th) and 1967 (Steve Spurrier, third).
Shanahan has said the plan at quarterback this season is to have the rookie sit behind Garoppolo at least at the start. He says there is no plan to trade Garoppolo and hopes to follow a similar path to what Kansas City used in 2017 when Patrick Mahomes sat behind Smith as a rookie before taking over in 2018 — and winning the MVP and the Super Bowl in his first two seasons as a starter.
San Francisco did a good job bringing back many key free agents this offseason such as left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and defensive backs Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, Emmanuel Moseley and Jaquiski Tartt. The team still has some needs to fill with its eight other draft picks, including three in the fifth round. Adding a young cornerback, getting depth on the offensive line and finding another edge rusher or slot receiver could be the biggest needs.
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