Heading into Thursday night, the San Francisco 49ers nearly have their pick of the litter of top options coming out of this year's draft. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear they are looking for a starting quarterback following their pre-draft trade to jump to No. 3 overall, and they admitted to liking five options who may (or may not) be there by the time San Francisco is on the clock.
NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah compiled his final list of the Top 50 prospects heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Here's a look at where Jeremiah ranked the top signal callers and their possible fit in San Francisco.
Jeremiah: "Lawrence is a tall, long and athletic quarterback. He has a long delivery, but he still gets the ball out quickly and it explodes out of his hand. The Clemson offense features a lot of quick screens and quick hitters. He showed excellent touch and placement on those throws. He can really drive the ball down the field when called upon and he also has the ability to layer the ball (over linebackers/under safeties) in the middle of the field. His overall accuracy is excellent at all three levels. He does need to improve his pocket awareness. He doesn't always feel back-side pressure and needs to speed up his clock versus front-side pressure. Outside of his final game with the Tigers (College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State), I was impressed with his decision-making. He is a dangerous runner because of his build-up speed and toughness. Overall, Lawrence is ready to start right away, and he has the tools to ultimately emerge as a top-five player at his position."
While it seems apparent Lawrence will be off the board by time the 49ers select third overall, Kyle Shanahan alluded to liking five quarterbacks in the draft. It's almost certain Lawrence, who has been regarded as the best player in the 2021 draft class, is one of them, but not a likely choice at No. 3 overall.
Jeremiah: "Wilson has average height and a lean/narrow frame for the quarterback position. He's an excellent athlete and generates several wow plays in every game I've studied. Wilson has a dynamic throwing motion. He carries the ball low, but once his hands separate, the ball comes out in a hurry with a high level of RPMs. He's extremely accurate from a variety of platforms and arm angles. He makes some incredible throws while fading away with both feet off the ground, and he can drive the ball to the boundary from the far hash. He also uses his quickness and creativity to buy time to let his targets uncover. He's effective on designed QB runs, but that part of his game will need to be limited at the next level due to his lack of size. My only real concern with Wilson is durability. He's already been through shoulder surgery (after his freshman season) and he doesn't have an ideal frame. If he can stay healthy, his upside is enormous."
Wilson has been projected by most analysts to be off the board with the No. 2 overall pick. The New York Jets are in the market for a quarterback following their trade with the Panthers to send former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold to Carolina. Barring any surprises, it doesn't appear likely Wilson falls to San Francisco, but anything can happen between now and April 29.
Jeremiah: "Lance has a thick/sturdy frame for the quarterback position. He only started 17 games at North Dakota State, but there is plenty to get excited about. He split his time between under center and in the shotgun. He plays with excellent patience and poise, taking what the defense gives him. He rarely puts the ball in jeopardy (he didn't throw an interception until his final collegiate game). He shows the ability to change ball speed and trajectory underneath, while also displaying the velocity to fit the ball into tight windows on intermediate throws. His deep-ball accuracy needs to improve, though. He has a bad habit of sinking his weight before he throws, which impacts his placement. He is very strong in the pocket, routinely shrugging off rushers and creating plays. He is ultra-competitive on designed QB runs, displaying build-up speed and power. Lance is going to need time to develop, but I'm going to bet on his skill set, competitiveness and decision-making."
Beyond Lawrence and Wilson, Lance is the third-highest rated quarterback on Jeremiah's Big Board. The 49ers have been tied to Lance through several mock draft projections given his schematic fit to Shanahan's offense. Despite only starting 17 games throughout his collegiate career, pundits foresee Lance as an ideal fit behind Jimmy Garoppolo to develop to the NFL level for a year or so.
Jeremiah: "Fields has good size, excellent arm strength and remarkable athleticism for the quarterback position. He has produced monster numbers both passing and rushing in the Buckeyes' spread system. He is at his best when he throws on time and in rhythm. The ball jumps out of his hand, and he can deliver it accurately at all three levels. When the defense takes that initial target away, he's had issues quickly aborting that opportunity, which has made him late on throws and also resulted in sacks. He has shown flashes of quickly getting deeper in his progressions (see: 2021 Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson), but that part of his game is still a work in progress. He's dynamic as a runner. His first step is explosive and he pulls away from defenders with ease. He's also incredibly tough, as evidenced by his performance after getting drilled in the semifinal game against the Tigers. Overall, I think Fields has a chance to be special, but it's going to take some time for him to speed up his clock in the passing game."
Fields has moved as high as No. 2 and as low as No. 4 on pundits draft boards, but has been tied to the 49ers since making the trade to No. 3 overall. Fields is a dual-threat quarterback that excels as both as a pocket passer and on the move with quarterback rollouts and quarterback-designed plays. He has been regarded as one of the most precise passers in this year's draft class and could add another new dimension to Shanahan's offense.
Jeremiah: "Jones has average size and athleticism for the quarterback position. He's operated out of the shotgun and pistol, showing incredible accuracy, efficiency and poise. He is a high-effort thrower, with slightly above-average arm strength. He's at his best on touch throws, where he can anticipate and place the ball on the proper shoulder of his target. He shows toughness to hang in versus pressure, although he rarely faced it with an elite offensive line protecting him."
There's a number of positions between Fields and Jones on Jeremiah's big board, but the Alabama product is the next highest graded quarterback. As of late, Jones has been favored to land with San Francisco on Thursday night. He possesses pinpoint accuracy, excels when passing in the pocket or off play-action, both known as staples in Shanahan's offense, and has the physical and mental toughness the 49ers look for out of a signal caller.