49ers notebook: NFL draft expert makes the case against Mac Jones; two veterans added

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Chris Biderman
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A prevailing belief from many NFL circles hasn’t gone anywhere with just over a week ahead of the draft: many expect the 49ers to take Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the third overall pick April 29.

It’s not a popular sentiment from fans or a number of draft experts who have ranked prospects in their “big boards.” That’s true for NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who ranks Jones as the No. 32 prospect in the class but still projects him to San Francisco in his mock drafts.

It represents an awfully wide chasm. Why would the 49ers, who traded away three picks to move up nine spots in the draft, take a quarterback that isn’t considered the quality of prospect as others who could be available, like Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance?

“I don’t think Mac Jones fits all 32 teams,” Jeremiah said on a conference call Wednesday. “I don’t think he fits all the teams that are in the quarterback market. But I understand why the 49ers value what he does, because this is really an opportunity for San Francisco to duplicate what Mac Jones had at Alabama, which is you have a really good offensive line, you’ve got guys that can win one-on-one matchups all over the field, and you’ve got a very creative play-caller that’s going to find those matchups and then rely on an accurate, efficient quarterback to function in that system.”

The decision made by head coach Kyle Shanahan will be a referendum on his tenure with the 49ers. He’s never going to make a more important call as a coach and the player he settles on will have to compete for Super Bowls or otherwise be considered a failure.

Jones, of course, is considered a similar player to Kirk Cousins, a former fourth-round pick by Washington. Shanahan helped select Cousins as the offensive coordinator in 2012 three rounds after the team traded up to take Robert Griffin III second overall. Shanahan has admitted to planning to sign Cousins in the 2018 offseason before he was presented with the Jimmy Garoppolo trade by the Patriots midway through 2017.

Four years later, Garoppolo can’t be counted on to stay healthy, leading to Shanahan making the trade with the Miami Dolphins, presumably for his next face of the franchise. And the draft discussion has revolved heavily around Jones, while the 49ers have also done work to evaluate Fields and Lance, who had their pro days over the last week which the 49ers were heavily involved in setting up.

Even while Jeremiah understands why Jones would fit with the 49ers, he would go another direction with the pick, which has been a far more popular line of thinking from fans.

“It looks like it points towards Mac Jones,” Jeremiah said. “But if I was there even with knowing how much they value the things that Mac is good at, I would still take Trey Lance because I think Trey is going to eventually get to the point where he can deliver all the things that Mac can deliver in terms of being able to process very quickly, make great decisions, and you’re going to be able to do more with him in terms of getting him on the move.

“Accuracy-wise, (Lance) trails Mac Jones, but I think there are some mechanical things you can fix with him, much like we saw with Josh Allen, and I think you could see Trey Lance get to that level.”

Allen is an interesting comparison to Lance. He also played at a small school (Wyoming) that had many questioning how his game would translate to the NFL after playing against a lower level of competition in college.

Like Lance, the knock on Allen was his accuracy before going seventh overall in 2018. Though Lance is considered a more polished prospect than Allen. He completed 67% of his throws in 17 starts for the Bison while Allen’s completion rate was 56% in college.

Allen’s completion rates were hardly spectacular during his first two NFL seasons when he completed just 53% and 59% of his passes to rank dead last in both campaigns.

But in 2020, Allen took a significant step forward improving his completion rate to 69.2%, good for fourth in the league. He finished second in MVP voting behind Aaron Rodgers and helped the Bills reach the AFC title game. He also torched San Francisco’s defense by throwing for 400 yards, completing 32 of 40 throws with four touchdown passes during a “Monday Night Football” win in December.

Back to the idea of taking Jones, it would be viewed by many as a pick made to satisfy Shanahan’s ego. The thinking would be Shanahan only needs a quarterback to run his system, and that would be enough to overcome all else, even in a league where quarterbacks that excel outside of structure have been the most successful, with the lone exception being Tom Brady.

“I think if you talk to some people around the league, they would say if they take Mac Jones, that’s an arrogant decision,” Jeremiah said. “You always hear, ‘It’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s not the X’s and O’s.’ It’s an X’s and O’s decision. ‘I believe so much in the X’s and O’s, I need somebody that can just see the game through my eyes and make those decisions.’

“But I don’t call it arrogance because I don’t know how you argue with him. You watch the tape every week of these teams and Kyle gets these guys more open than anybody else in the league.”

That might be a strike against taking Jones. If Shanahan is so good at getting pass-catchers open, why would accuracy be the highest priority? Jeremiah also made the point Jones would likely be the worst starting quarterback in the talented NFC West that features Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and former No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray.

“That’s where I struggle with it,” said Jeremiah. “Do I think whoever the 49ers pick he’s going to be successful? Yes. Because Kyle is so good, the roster’s so good, they’re going to plug him in and they’re going to be good. But I just look at it and say, man, Trey Lance or Justin Fields could do what we saw (with) Aaron Rodgers.

“When you saw (Rodgers) plugged into that system and you saw him go, okay, Aaron’s always been good, but now you have him in a great offense, an elite elite player at this position. I think you’re going to see it with Stafford with an elite system and an elite quarterback. You’ve seen it with (Patrick) Mahomes and with Andy Reid.”

Shanahan saw it up close with Mahomes famously in Super Bowl LIV. When talking about the idea Cousins is his perfect quarterback, Shanahan last month said, “You want an elite player and of course if you can get a guy who is elite with his arm and can play in that pocket and do everything and still run around and make off-schedule plays. I mean, that’s what you’ve seen with Mahomes.”

Which leads to Jeremiah’s ultimate point about why he would take Fields or Lance, far more athletic quarterbacks than Jones, who both are believed to have more upside.

“An elite play-caller and a good quarterback, you can win a Super Bowl,” Jeremiah said. “An elite play-caller and an elite quarterback, you can become a dynasty. And that’s why I would lean in the other direction (away from Jones).”

49ers make two roster additions ahead of draft

San Francisco on Wednesday made two moves that could provide depth at key spots.

First, the team signed former Giants running back Wayne Gallman to a one-year contract, presumably to back up Raheem Mostert and replace Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman, who are no longer with the team. Gallman in 2020 had career highs with 147 carries, 682 yards and six rushing touchdowns.

He was a fourth-round pick in 2017 out of Clemson going 19 spots after the 49ers took Utah’s Joe Williams, who never played a snap for the team.

Second, the 49ers signed former Raiders defensive end Arden Key, who was released April 16. Key, a third-round pick in 2018, had three sacks in 37 games for the Raiders, and figures to take on a depth role along the defensive line similar to Dion Jordan’s last season.