Many pundits (and fans alike) have been quick to pin a specific "style" of quarterback to Kyle Shanahan given his history with the position. Others, looking at the direction of recent top-performing quarterbacks, foresee a shift in San Francisco's model when looking ahead to Thursday's draft.
The San Francisco 49ers will have their pick of the crop following the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, who are likely to take their choice at quarterback with the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks, respectively.
So, where does that leave San Francisco? After trading up to jump nine spots in the draft, it became apparent the 49ers had zeroed in on one of the remaining top options at quarterback. This year's class boasts playmakers regarded for their mental sharpness, arm strength and some with striking ability with their legs.
Much of Thursday's decisions will depend on the direction Shanahan looks to take his offense. Ohio State's Justin Fields has been regarded as a pocket passer with the ability to pick up yards on the ground when needed. North Dakota State's Trey Lance is another dual-threat quarterback with the arm strength and high-football IQ that many pundits believe will seamlessly translate to the NFL field given time to develop. Similar to Lance, Alabama's Mac Jones boasts mental strengths and quick processing on the field that make him one of the most "pro-ready" quarterbacks in this year's draft. However, unlike the aforementioned prospects, Jones has been knocked for his lack of mobility.
While Shanahan is likely to have his choice at any of the previously noted options, the question remains, which skill set and traits does he believe best suits the future of the 49ers?
Could Shanahan opt for the style of his prior signal callers, or, are the 49ers open to drafting a different kind of quarterback to mold their system around? It's not completely foreign for the latter route to be taken. One of the most recognizable examples of a team catering their offense to the skills of the quarterback is Andy Reid configuring his West Coast offense to optimize the talents of Patrick Mahomes. While there's no guarantee any of the upcoming prospects are a Mahomes in the making, Shanahan believes there's still a premium on a passer who isn't forced to rely largely on his mobility.
"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, that's what you've seen with Mahomes," Shanahan said back in March. "Everybody wants something like that, but there is a risk to everything, and you've got to see that in the draft, you've got to see it in college.
"I do think there are more options coming into the league. But if you can't sit in that pocket and play the position, eventually it's not going to matter. So, they both go hand in hand."
This draft marks Shanahan's first opportunity to hand-pick his own signal caller. Beyond drafting Robert Griffin III with the Washington Football Team as the team's offensive coordinator back in 2012, Shanahan has inherited his quarterbacks dating back to his time with the Cleveland Browns (Johnny Manziel), Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan) and more recently, the 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo received via trade).
With a great deal of San Francisco's future on the line with the No. 3 overall pick (the 49ers gave up three first rounders to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the third-overall pick), Shanahan's looming decision has widely become the topic of conversation: Does the head coach search for the perfect "fit" for his system, or will he look to adjust his offense to favor the skills of his prospect of choice, similarly to Kansas City?
To help understand these alternatives, we looked to NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah to help evaluate San Francisco's weighty decision.
"The thing that's interesting is Kyle has a recent history of saying, 'I've been in two Super Bowls – probably should have won two Super Bowls – running this offense and operating it with this style of quarterback,'" Jeremiah explained. "If (Jimmy) Garoppolo doesn't miss a throw (or) if Matt Ryan doesn't take a sack, then maybe he's got two Super Bowl rings to verify that this is the right type of guy, the right type of player to run this offense and I think (they) can win the ultimate prize.
"I think with Andy Reid, Andy had so much success and hadn't been able to finish the deal. And the one Super Bowl experience he did have was with (Brett) Favre. So, I think in the back of his mind, as good as his offense was with an efficient, accurate quarterback, if he could get somebody with that next level of ability, this can go to a whole new level. So, I always thought the Favre thing was in the back of Andy's mind, and he found that, and obviously maybe more, with Patrick Mahomes.
"That's why I'm intrigued to see what Kyle could do with somebody like a Trey Lance or a Justin Fields. But he's had so much recent success and come so close to winning Super Bowls with his regular style of quarterback that Mac Jones fits into that perfectly. That to me is the decision; do you want to try and believe in what you've always done and continue down that path, or do you want to try and see where this can go from here, which does come with some risk, but that's the ultimate decision they have to make."
Shanahan made two Super Bowl appearances in four seasons, however, fell just short in fourth quarter performances. Those sore memories could play a large role in San Francisco's decision next weeks, with the hopes of the eventual successor finally pushing Shanahan over the hump.