Mac Jones. Mac Jones. Mac Jones. Mac Jones. Mac Jones.
It’s the name that’s been on the lips of every NFL reporter, insider, and blogger since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
And I hate it all. I do not want the 49ers to draft Mac Jones.
Jones fits into what many consider to be the prototype of a Kyle Shanahan quarterback: an accurate pocket passer with a high football IQ and limited mobility. Because of this, he’s been compared to past Shanahan QBs, like Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan.
In all the talk of past Shanahan QBs, one quarterback is conspicuously left out of these discussions. His name is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo’s stock has plummeted after another injury-plagued season. But looking back at his 2019 season, his last season healthy, the stats start to show similarities between 2019 Garoppolo and 2020 Jones.
53.5 percent of Jones’ passing yards came after the catch to Garoppolo’s 54.3 percent. Jones threw a whopping 34.1 percent of his passes behind the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo, likewise, makes a lot of hay around the line of scrimmage. The best example of this was last season during Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams, where Garoppolo had 33 pass attempts with just 45 air yards. Garoppolo was also 4th in the league in screen passes in 2019. These easy, short passes for Garoppolo are so common that 49ers beat writer Grant Cohn dubbed them “Jimmy Gimmies.”
While Garoppolo isn’t a perfect comparison for Jones, these stats certainly make Jones feel a lot like Garoppolo: an average to above-average QB buoyed by their surroundings. The same conversation about whether Garoppolo is actually good or was carried by stellar surroundings in 2019 can be had about Jones and Alabama in 2020. The one thing Jones has over Garoppolo is health, but that doesn’t feel like a sure thing. Couple Jones’ immobility with a 49ers offensive line that gave up 39 sacks and 27.1 percent pressure rate in 2020 and Jones may not have that clean bill of health after a few seasons.
Back in December, Shanahan said that when looking for a QB, you want someone who is “better than 98 percent of the people on this planet.” Jones may not even be better than 98 percent of the 49ers’ current QB room. Whoever the 49ers draft at No. 3 doesn’t necessarily need to be the best QB in the draft, but they need to be better than what the 49ers already have under center. Jones is not that.
Taking Jones means that the 49ers are deciding to stick with the status quo. They’ll hope for another 2019, where all the chips fall in their favor, the team surrounding the QB is perfect, and Jones won’t miss an open TD in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. But that’s fool’s gold. I’ve seen this story before. At its best, Jones will have one good season capped by a Super Bowl loss; at worst, he’ll be a below average QB who looks lost without scheme support.
Justin Fields and Trey Lance, while not as refined as Jones, provide much more upside and athletic ability. They can provide the 49ers with an opportunity to move forward and grow. They can expand Shanahan’s playbook and evolve his system in ways that we’ve never seen before. Imagine a Shanahan run game that includes the quarterback and all the ways Shanahan could use the extra blocker that this provides him. Shanahan has had success with the immobile, pocket-passer types in the past. But to assume that he cannot adapt his system to an athletic, mobile QB is selling him short on his play calling ability.
There is one reassuring thing: whichever QB the 49ers select — including Mac Jones — will probably have the best career out of the 2021 QB class. Unlike the Jaguars and Jets, and most teams at the top of the draft, the 49ers are not in the middle of a rebuild. The offense is stocked with playmakers, like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, and the defense has been top-five in yards for the past two seasons. Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in football and will provide whichever quarterback they draft with an explosive and QB-friendly offensive scheme.
In the end, it looks like it doesn’t really matter who the 49ers take at No. 3. A fully formed, top-tier offense and defense can carry whatever quarterback they draft. They may surprise us all and take another defensive lineman. Whoever they take, just please not Mac Jones. Please.
Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama