The NFL’s premier insider has left little doubt where the San Francisco 49ers are headed with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter appeared on ESPN Radio’s DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg show on Tuesday, April 6, to answer questions about who 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and company will target when the 2021 NFL Draft goes live on April 29.
“It’ll be Mac Jones,” Schefter said.
“That’ll be the pick,” he continued. “And they will keep Jimmy Garoppolo this year.”
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Jones Is the Likely Heir Apparent to Garoppolo
Michael McCorkle “Mac” Jones is about as decorated a prospect as college quarterbacks come.
The Alabama passer capped off his collegiate career in 2020 with his second national title as a member of the Crimson Tide on the way to winning the Manning Award, afforded annually to the top signal-caller in the country.
A team captain during his first year as a starter, the redshirt junior also won the Davey O’Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award before finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting behind his favorite wide receiver target and winner, Devonta Smith, and projected No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Jones’ list of accolades continues on that way for another few paragraphs and can be read in its entirety on his official Alabama football bio.
A trophy case full of awards is not unique following a season highlighted by 4,500 yards passing and 41 touchdowns, then punctuated by hoisting the National Championship Trophy. But the real question is can Jones, who has only one full year of experience starting under center in college, step into the same role for the 49ers with immediate success?
While his experience is limited compared to a prospect like Lawrence, Jones is no stranger to walking into situations characterized by immense pressure and lofty expectations. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound quarterback followed NFL starters Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at one of college football’s premier programs in Alabama, and he did not miss a beat.
His next test will be as the likely successor to Jimmy Garoppolo, who led the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl victory only two years ago and in whom the 49ers still have faith.
Schefter has previously predicted that Garoppolo remains slated to start Week 1, which indicates San Francisco is not willing to part with its four-year starter for anything less than first-round draft capital.
Is Jones Overhyped?
Much the same as his time at Alabama, Jones appears poised to receive at least some time to adjust to the next level of football before taking the reins in the Bay Area.
But in the modern-day NFL, three-year preparation windows no longer exist. Sooner than later, the 22-year-old will be called upon to captain one of the most storied franchises in league history.
Will he be ready? Not everyone thinks so.
On Tuesday, Pro Football Focus echoed NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who has more or less said to forget the third pick in the draft — Jones should not even be selected in the first round.
“I don’t know why Jones is being viewed as a first-round prospect, much less a potential top-five pick. The top of the draft should be reserved for superheroes; Jones’ lack of superpowers should keep him out of that range,” Brooks wrote in his April 2 Scout’s Notebook.
Speculation around the league indicates that Lawrence will come off the board first, headed to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bleacher Report has noted that all signs point to the New York Jets scooping up BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second pick.
That would leave Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields available for the 49ers with pick number three, and passing on Fields is risky business. He is rated third on PFF’s list of top draft quarterbacks, ahead of Jones who is slotted fifth.
PFF noted that Jones showed himself to be highly accurate last year at Alabama, finishing the 2020 season with fewer negatively rated throws downfield than any quarterback since the site began tracking college football quarterbacks seven seasons prior.
A primary criticism of Jones, however, is that he was surrounded by immaculate circumstances at Alabama, with a highly touted staff led by head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, as well as a Heisman Trophy winner in Smith lining up at wideout on every play.
It can be argued San Francisco mortgaged its future to move from 12th up to the third slot in this year’s draft, offering up first-round selections in the next three drafts, along with a compensatory third-round pick in 2022, as part of the team’s blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins on March 26.
Whomever the 49ers select when they are put on the clock will not only define the quarterback position for at least the next five years, but potentially define the success or failure of the entire franchise for a decade to come.