The San Francisco 49ers sent shockwaves through the 2021 NFL Draft when they traded with the Miami Dolphins to move up to the third overall pick. Although the motive for the move is obvious, their choice of quarterback may not be. According to sources close to Pro Football Network’s Chief NFL Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline, the 49ers’ target could be Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Talking about the 49ers’ quarterback situation on the March 31 episode of Draft Insiders, Pauline told Pro Football Network’s Chief NFL analyst Trey Wingo, “As difficult as it is for me to believe, people within the league tell me that in their gut, they think that guy is going to be Mac Jones.”
You can watch Pauline discuss this in the clip above. Be sure to join PFN Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline every week on Draft Insiders as they break down all you need to know heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Subscribe to our PFN YouTube Channel and hit the notifications icon so you can tune in live every Wednesday at 9 PM ET.
Did the San Francisco 49ers really trade up to secure Mac Jones?
There is no smoke without fire, and the 49ers are doing nothing to dampen the flames. Both head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were in attendance for both Alabama Pro Days where Jones performed. In fact, the pair eschewed Justin Fields‘ Ohio State Pro Day to spend some more time around the former Crimson Tide quarterback.
Now, Shanahan does has familiarity with Fields through the QB Collective Academy. Therefore, his decision may simply come down to wanting to do his due diligence on the 49ers’ other options. After all, they were also at the North Dakota State Pro Day to study Trey Lance prior to making the trade up to the No. 3 overall selection.
However, Wingo notes that making a move as bold as the 49ers have indicates that they have their “guy.”
“Obviously you don’t make that move up to three unless you have your sight set on a quarterback and maybe even more importantly not A quarterback, not potentially one of three quarterbacks, there’s A guy that they believe will be available to them at three if the [Jacksonville] Jaguars go [Trevor] Lawrence at one, and the [New York] Jets go Zach Wilson at two. You don’t make that move up saying it’s either Justin Fields, or Mac Jones, or Trey Lance. There’s one guy you’re targeting at that point.”
Is the third overall pick too early for the 49ers to take Jones?
According to Pauline, yes it is. Although he’d mentioned previously that Jones was rising in league circles, he told Wingo, “I think that’s over-drafting Mac Jones.”
It’s not an uncommon opinion across the media landscape. In fact, many did not truly believe in Jones as the Crimson Tide starter until this season.
Although he stepped in admirably in relief of an injured Tua Tagovailoa down the stretch of 2019, there was a groundswell of opinion that pointed to freshman sensation Bryce Young eventually winning the Alabama starting quarterback job.
Jones then proceeded to guide Alabama to a national championship while finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Completing 77.4 percent of his passes, Jones threw for 4,500 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in 2020.
Jones posted impressive numbers while surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast
Impressive as the numbers were, it’s easy to point to an offense that boasted two of the top wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class — Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith — in addition to arguably the best running back in Najee Harris.
For the majority of the pre-draft process, Jones has been seen as the QB5 of this class. Yet, it seems entirely possible that the 49ers not only make Jones the third quarterback selected but the third overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. While praising elements of his game, No. 3 still feels too early for Pauline.
“You’re selecting Mac Jones because he’s a field general. He can command the offense because of his decision-making. I love his game. I think he made great strides this year. He was phenomenal at the Senior Bowl, as we’ve talked about numerous times on this show, but No. 3 seems early for Mac Jones. People I’ve talked to, there’s no inside information here, but their gut feeling is that it’s Mac Jones at three.”
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.