The 49ers went all-in to get the third pick in the NFL Draft, and their next decision will change the franchise

The 49ers went all-in to get the third pick in the NFL Draft, and their next decision will change the franchise
Mac Jones.AP Photo/Vasha Hunt
  • The San Francisco 49ers paid a king's ransom to move up to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
  • Some reports have indicated that the 49ers are interested in Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
  • If the move fails, the 49ers will be paying the consequences for years to come.

The San Francisco 49ers have made their move.

With six weeks to go before the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers pushed all-in, trading the No. 12 overall pick, and their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, as well as a 2021 third-round pick to move up nine slots, receiving the No. 3 pick from the Miami Dolphins.

It's a blockbuster move and one that indicates that the 49ers have their sights set on drafting the player that they believe can be their quarterback of the future.
Advertisement

The 49ers sound like they might take a big swing

As of late March, the consensus among many experts was that four quarterbacks - Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, North Dakota State's Trey Lance, and Ohio State's Justin Fields - stood atop the positional rankings, with some predicting that they'd go as the first four players taken off the board.

But after the 49ers' move into the top three, a fifth name is getting some buzz - Alabama's Mac Jones.

The 49ers went all-in to get the third pick in the NFL Draft, and their next decision will change the franchise
Mac Jones and Nick Saban.AP Photo/Butch Dill
"Where Mac fits that [San Francisco] offense perfectly is that Kyle [Shanahan] will give him one or two clues about what the defense will do on a play, and the results will be top-notch for Mac when he executes the play," NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms told Peter King. "He has Joe Burrow-type reading of the defense. Plus, other than Zach Wilson, Mac is the best bullseye-thrower in the draft."
Advertisement

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter agreed that the 49ers could have their eyes on Jones.

"I think this is what they do. I think they really like Mac Jones. I think they really like Trey Lance. I think they're intrigued by Justin Fields," Schefter said on his podcast. "If the pick were made today, I wouldn't be shocked if it were Mac Jones." The Jaguars are expected to take Lawrence with the first pick, with Wilson going to the Jets next. If true, the 49ers have a clear picture of how the draft will look once they are on the clock.
Advertisement

If the 49ers select Jones, it would be a pretty big swing and come with some heavy ramifications.

Jones is not seen as one of the top quarterbacks in his class

Given where Jones was going in many mock drafts before the 49ers' big trade, the team could be seen as overpaying for him.

Jones had a phenomenal season last year, leading the Crimson Tide on an undefeated run to a national championship and helping teammate DeVonta Smith win the Heisman Trophy.
Advertisement
The 49ers went all-in to get the third pick in the NFL Draft, and their next decision will change the franchise
Mac Jones celebrates with DeVonta Smith.UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

But despite his play, Jones has regularly rated a step below the top four quarterbacks in the coming draft class, with mock drafts often putting him in the mid-to-late-first round. The Patriots, picking at No. 15, were a popular potential landing spot for Jones, while the Carolina Panthers, picking 8th, were considered the earliest.

Looking at mock drafts, it was not impossible to imagine Jones falling to the 49ers if they stayed at No. 12 and held on to their future first-round picks. But according to Schefter, the feeling in NFL circles was that Jones had the potential to go higher.

"Mac Jones is a quarterback who, in talking to another NFC general manager this week, said to me that the media does not have as high a grade on Mac Jones as teams do," Schefter said. "And so when people connect Mac Jones to the 49ers at No. 3, and they can't believe it, I can tell you that teams believe it. Teams believe that Mac Jones is good enough to go No. 3."
Advertisement
Still, moving up to third cost a hefty price. Even the No. 6 and 7 picks, just ahead of the Panthers, would have saved San Francisco draft capital and might have been enough to get Jones.

If the 49ers' gamble fails, they will be paying the consequences for years

Recent years have proven that moves seen as questionable on draft night can still work out.

The Bills were widely seen as reaching when they took Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick in 2018, and he's quickly developed into one of the most dangerous quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson was the fifth quarterback taken off the board that same year, and the Ravens certainly aren't complaining about the investment. This past season, Justin Herbert well outperformed expectations when thrust into the Chargers' starting role.
Advertisement

In the NFL, it is nearly impossible to overpay for a quarterback if they prove to be a franchise player. If Jones winds up a top-tier talent in three years, no one will think twice about what it took to move up in the draft.

But if the move doesn't pan out for the 49ers, the draft capital they gave up will put them at a huge disadvantage if they need to reload again.
The 49ers went all-in to get the third pick in the NFL Draft, and their next decision will change the franchise
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.MSA/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Right now, San Francisco likely believes they are in a Super Bowl window. The 49ers were better than their 6-10 record implied last season, suffering a slew of injuries to their defensive front that forced them to go without several star players for much of the year. With a healthy defense, they should be much closer to the team that made the Super Bowl two years ago than their last-in-the-division performance last year.
Advertisement

If Jones, or whichever quarterback the 49ers ultimately decide to take with the No. 3 overall pick, proves to be the piece that brings them a Lombardi Trophy, every pick they moved will have been well worth it. But if San Francisco doesn't make a run over the next two or three seasons, their trade up in 2021, and the failure to capitalize on it, will be a regrettable turning point.

{{}}