Could Jones be QB 49ers have targeted for No. 3 pick in draft?


The 49ers are all-in on at least one of this year's top quarterback prospects, and they almost certainly view a couple of them as potential NFL stars.

San Francisco's blockbuster trade to acquire the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft from the Miami Dolphins on Friday has photoshops of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields in 49ers jerseys circulating the interwebs.

But what if the real option is behind door No. 4?

Alabama's Mac Jones has all the traits of a prototypical Kyle Shanahan quarterback. He's a smart, accurate passer who throws a good deep ball and has great pocket mobility that allows him to feel pressure and make subtle movements to extend plays.

Jones is, by almost everyone's measure, the No. 5 quarterback in the class, after Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Trey Lance. But a number of analysts floated the notion Friday that Jones could be whom the 49ers are targeting at No. 3.

Don't take this as gospel. All three simply point out that Jones is liked by many NFL scouts and could be the option at No. 3. Just because the draft experts see Jones going somewhere between Nos. 8 and 15 doesn't mean that's how teams evaluate him. They often have a much better gauge of where a player will be drafted, so if the 49ers like Jones and believe he'll be gone between No. 3 and No. 6, then they have to make the move up to grab him.

Now, as for Jones' NFL prospects, I do believe he might be the lowest ceiling-highest floor guy in the class. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make him a safer option than, say, Fields or Lance, who could be superstars but also have higher bust potential.

Jones is coming off an incredible season at Alabama in which he finished with the highest grade of any Power Five quarterback in Pro Football Focus history. Jones is a quick processor who's incredibly accurate in the short and intermediate game, has good pocket mobility and throws an impressive deep ball. His draft stock is skyrocketing despite his lack of elite physical traits.

The Crimson Tide star also is adept when facing pressure. Jones went 56-of-88 passing for 976 yards, 556 air yards and 13 touchdowns with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 131.4 when facing pressure, per Sports Info Solutions.

Some view Jones as a throwback -- a prototypical pocket passer who knows his limitations, won't lose you games and can thrive if given protection, playmakers and a good play-caller. The 49ers, of course, check all those boxes. Others will view Jones as a dinosaur, the last of a dying breed who soon will phase out of the NFL.

Jones isn't a perfect prospect -- far from it. And as it pertains to the 49ers, he might not be the best fit for Shanahan's offense.

As USA TODAY's Doug Farrar noted, on bootleg plays, which are prevalent in the Shanahan offense, Jones completed 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and two sacks for a passer rating of 96.2. Of course, with the wealth of talent around Jones at Alabama, the Crimson Tide weren't exactly rolling him out a lot, and he did make a few plays outside the pocket in College Football Playoff wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State.

RELATED: 49ers must buck trend of teams drafting QB busts after trade-up

The critics will say Jones' lack of athleticism, immobility and relatively low sample size (17 starts) make him unworthy of a high draft pick. But what Jones showed on the field at Alabama was a quarterback with a Matt Ryan-level ceiling if put in the proper position to succeed.

The NFL is going the way of the dual-threat quarterback, and Shanahan appeared open to the idea of having a more mobile starter after the 49ers were torched by Josh Allen this past season. That, plus the huge price it cost to move up to the No. 3 pick, suggest Jones won't be their guy.

But I wouldn't count him out just yet.

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