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2021 NFL Draft: Some view Mac Jones-to-49ers as a lock, but here’s why it doesn’t pass smell test

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Are we all just convinced now that the 49ers are drafting Mac Jones with the third overall selection?

Is that just a thing now? Nothing to see here? All done? Baked into the 2021 NFL draft cake? Because, well, I’m not convinced. And neither are some other coaches and execs around the league.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying Jones won’t end up being the pick. I don’t know one way or the other right now, and it’s up for debate as to whether the 49ers brass has completely made up its mind. One thing is certain – you can’t believe much of what any coach or GM says about the draft this time of year, but for what it’s worth, the “Jones is a lock for the third overall pick” narrative that is all the rage is not passing the smell test of some other teams in this draft.

The 49ers are most definitely using the selection on a QB, that much is for sure. And if the card is in and Roger Goodell says Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance, I wouldn’t flinch. None of that would surprise me at this point; anything else would be a shocker. The 49ers are closely evaluating all three, with Trevor Lawrence a lock to go first overall and Zach Wilson headed to the Jets with the second overall pick.

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And this time of year the more you hear certain narratives – either in the scouting community or parroted in the media, or all of the above – the more they have a way of just becoming the norm. Assumptions tend to become pre-draft “realities” and then get amplified by the overload of mock drafts and by draft night we’re convinced of things that are, in fact, not true.

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So I am continuing to find myself among those skeptics. Skeptics who have evaluated this quarterback class and who find themselves shaking their heads at all of the Field slander popping up all over place. Skeptics who just aren’t buying that Jones, for as well he played this season at Alabama, is a superior prospect worthy of being the third overall selection. Skeptics who think you don’t make a jump like this for a prospect who may be close to topping out, physically.

A year ago you could find any number of NFL people — speaking anonymously, of course — who would have you believe Tua Tagovailoa was going to drop out of the top 10 and perhaps plummet all the way to the mid-teens, if not deeper. Didn’t make much sense from a factual standpoint, but damn if it didn’t become a thing. It was everywhere in the media and numerous thought exercises were put forth discerning how far he would likely plummet if the Dolphins didn’t take him with the fifth pick … and then the Dolphins took him with the fifth pick, which always made a ton of sense before draft silly season kicked into overdrive. Even I eventually talked myself out of just slotting him to Miami in my mock draft despite railing against the Tua trash talk all spring long. Shame on me.

I find myself coming back to that now, in regards to Fields and Jones.

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Is Jones definitely a better fit in the modern passing game under Kyle Shanahan than Fields or Lance? In what way? Did he really have higher highs than Fields in college? Does he truly have more potential and the same athletic ceiling? Perhaps he is more plug-and-play this very moment – but is that why teams make a move as bold as the 49ers to jump up for a QB?

“I don’t buy it,” one AFC executive said. “I think it’s Fields at 3.”

An NFC exec: “I don’t know one way or the other, but I have a hard time seeing Mac Jones as the third player in this draft.”

Another NFC exec: “Doesn’t smell right to me.”

Perhaps this is not an elaborate ruse, the origins of which are not quite known. Perhaps the immediate chatter in the aftermath of the 49ers moving into the top five – over a month before the draft – is in fact the way things will go down. This far from the start of the draft, it’s still more difficult to sort things out than it becomes the week of the draft, when lines of communication between the teams heat up and execs invariably have to tip their hand a little bit here or there about potential trades and trade targets.

Especially with no combine and no private visits and workouts this year, it’s more difficult than ever to get an early bead on some things. This year’s pre-draft run-up is even more bizarre than last year’s on many levels and everything is lagging; medicals, metrics on many key prospects, and certainly the flow of information – all of which makes the prevalence of Jones-to-the-49ers as a fait accompli all the more interesting to me.

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The continued dragging of Fields, despite his historic season at Ohio State, feels all too familiar and oh so lame, and I continue to speak privately to executives I trust who are thinking QB in this draft who do not see him getting outside the top seven picks. They see a potential transformational talent. They see a kid who, if Trevor Lawrence isn’t in this draft, would be locked in to Jacksonville with the first overall pick, no questions asked.

“Maybe teams are seeing things we don’t see,” said a high-ranking official of one team that could take a QB in the first round. “But this kid looks special to me.”

I continue to hear the Patriots and Saints are two teams very high on Jones, and that if he did become the fifth quarterback off the board – which is where most had him spotted when the actual college football stopped being played – things could get interesting. New England could move up a few spots from 15; New Orleans has a steep climb from 28th overall, though that’s where many would have projected his sweet spot to be when his college career concluded.  

Was the heavy 49ers presence for Jones’ workout a bit of a head-fake? Are they relishing in the mystery and all of the sleuth work going on here, and giving a feint or two along the way? We’ll find out in a few weeks, but I’d caution you to keep an open mind about the possibilities of this selection.


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