The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly set to choose between two quarterbacks when they make their selection with the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday, with Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance reportedly the frontrunners to become their quarterback of the future.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported as such on Sunday, seemingly suggesting that Ohio State star Justin Fields is out of the running to be the heir apparent to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Removing Fields, who displayed remarkable accuracy to all levels of the field and twice outplayed presumptive number one pick Trevor Lawrence during his career with the Buckeyes, is a bemusing move by a team that has had to cope with a quarterback with limited downfield and athletic upside in Jimmy Garoppolo.
But, if Fields is indeed not in the mix, it leaves the Niners with a choice that, at least from an outsider’s perspective, should be an obvious one.
There is great appeal to the thought of Jones in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense because of his ability to deliver rapidly and accurately from the pocket and win against pressure through intelligent movement when things begin to break down around him.
At this point, though, it is no secret what Jones’ limitations are, with his lack of elite athleticism for the position making him an awkward fit for a modern NFL that is being dominated by dual-threat signal callers who can with their legs as well as their processing abilities.
In that sense, it is Lance who should be the selection. Many believe Jones is a superior processor to Lance at this stage in their respective careers. However, Lance’s film is littered with examples of him pointing out protections pre-snap while teams that have spoken with the Bison star are said to have been “blown away”. NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah, per The Washington Post, said on a recent conference call that Lance has been described as “incredibly intelligent”.
That praise of his mind suggests Lance will quickly adapt to the Shanahan offense and further develop his processing to execute it at an extremely high level, having accounted for 42 touchdowns and thrown zero interceptions in 2019 at the helm of a run-heavy offense that compares well with what the 49ers do in the pros.
Fourteen of those touchdowns came on the ground and it is Lance’s exceptional athletic traits that should give him the clear edge over Jones. Though not as consistently accurate as Jones, Lance has a vastly superior arm that makes throws at all levels of the field available to him, and he can complete high-difficulty passes on the move without a throwing platform, having consistently demonstrated the ability to escape the pocket with his legs and do damage as both a thrower and a runner.
A wrecking ball in the open field who can beat defenders by building up speed and by using his frame to run them over, Lance’s downfield upside and his dual-threat ability would add untapped dimensions to the San Francisco offense that Jones does not have the skill set to open.
With the 49ers’ adamant Garoppolo is in their plans for 2021, they would have the time to bring Lance along at their own pace and set themselves up to win now and in the future with a quarterback whose physical tools tick all the boxes for where the league is going at quarterback.
When a team trades three-first round picks to land a quarterback, it is to get one who gives them something they do not have and can take their offense to new heights. Of the two San Francisco is seemingly choosing between, Lance is the only one with that potential.