The San Diego Union-Tribune
Forecasting NFL Draft Night, former scout Daniel Jeremiah said this week he believes the San Francisco 49ers will use the third pick on former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Football debates will rage, perhaps for years, if Jones in fact pulls on a “SF” cap Thursday night during a three-day event that last year attracted about 50 million viewers.
Jeremiah, who isn’t alone among draftniks in pairing Jones and the Niners, said the fit between Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers offense and the recent fourth-year junior would be a good one. Jones would have a lot of success, he added.
However, the NFL Network analyst has Jones ranked as his 32nd prospect in the 2021 draft class and said he believes either of two other quarterbacks he projected to be available, Trey Lance or Justin Fields, would provide the Niners greater potential than Jones.
Jeremiah said Jones, who had 41 touchdown passes and four interceptions last season while directing Alabama to a 13-0 record, is just an average athlete for the position and will lack the burst to escape from NFL pass rushers.
He acknowledged that as an outsider, he is less able than 49ers leaders to understand how a prospect would fit into the team’s designs.
“The challenge I have,” the former El Cajon Christian High quarterback said in a media call this week, “is I’m not scouting for a team. … So I’m going to be a little more inclined to take the guys with more upside that I think fits in more places that can do more things.
“I don’t think Mac Jones fits all 32 teams,” said Jeremiah. “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 match-ups and then rely on an accurate, efficient quarterback to function in that system.”
Jeremiah said Lance will need more time than Jones, 22, to adjust to the NFL.
Lance, who will turn 21 next month, is younger than the other four quarterbacks Jeremiah projected to go in the first round. The disparity in talent between North Dakota State and the NFL is greater than for players from major college conferences. Because he backed up Easton Stick, now a Chargers backup, for two years and was limited to only one showcase game by the pandemic last season, Lance played just 17 games in college.
But Jeremiah rated Lance as the No. 7 prospect overall and No. 3 quarterback. He said Lance would be the best pick for San Francisco if in fact Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Zach Wilson (BYU) go to the Jaguars and Jets first and second, respectively.
North Dakota’s offense, which produced a 2017 NFL MVP contender in Carson Wentz, now the Colts starter, shortened Lance’s NFL learning curve by having him operate under center, turn his back to the defense and make “full progression” reads, said Jeremiah.
The former scout described Lance as incredibly intelligent.
“He’s built like a brick house, so he’s going to be durable,” he added. “He’s going to add to your running game because you can use some designed quarterback run game, which he’s built to handle.”
Jeremiah said Lance is less accurate than Jones, who went against much better competition.
The analyst noted Bills quarterback Josh Allen made huge gains in accuracy over the past few years since he was drafted out of Wyoming. He said Lance is working with quarterbacks coach John Beck, who tutored 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert of the Chargers.
His bottom-line projection: “Trey is going to eventually get to the point where he can deliver all the things that Mac can 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.”
Jeremiah rated Lawrence the draft’s top prospect.
He endorsed the Jets drafting Wilson.
He contrasted Wilson with Lance and Fields, the latter his No. 8 prospect and fourth QB.
“Zach plays with a little more urgency,” he said. In addition, he graded Wilson as a “more gifted thrower” who can whip strikes “from every arm angle” and “has some of the quickest hands I’ve ever seen from a quarterback prospect.”
He said the Falcons would do well to take either Lance or Fields with the No. 4 pick.
Jeremiah didn’t pair the Lions with a quarterback, although the rare toughness Fields showed with Ohio State dovetails with the emphasis on that trait from both coordinator Anthony Lynn (the former Chargers head coach) and Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State linebacker who joined Detroit’s front office in December.
Jeremiah said either Fields or Lance would be a good choice by the Broncos at No. 9. He graded both above current Broncos starter Drew Lock’s grade entering the 2019 draft. “I would have Drew Lock over Mac Jones,” he said.
As for the prospect of the Giants trading down from No. 11, the former El Cajon athlete was decidedly skeptical. “We’ll see a right turn in a NASCAR race before we see Dave Gettleman trade back so I don’t see that happening.”
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.