Most everyone is convinced about how the first two picks of the 2021 NFL Draft will unfold. The Jaguars, up first, are set to take Trevor Lawrence. The Jets, right behind them, are widely expected to take Zach Wilson. Everyone also expects the 49ers, who traded up to No. 3, to choose a quarterback. The difference: No one is entirely sure which signal-caller San Francisco will select.
Alabama's Mac Jones has easily received the most buzz of any possibility there. A lot of that has to do with the fact he's arguably the most NFL-ready prospect of this year's QB class -- a Crimson Tide product with the accuracy and pocket-passing resume of previous Kyle Shanahan hits like Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins. But Ohio State's Justin Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance have drawn significant attention from 49ers brass as well, and both seem pretty close to locks as top-10 picks.
So what should the 49ers do on draft night? We polled 11 of our NFL experts here at CBS Sports. The opinions were nearly unanimous:
Pete Prisco, senior writer:
They should take Justin Fields. He is the quarterback after Trevor Lawrence with the highest ceiling in this draft. He would fit perfectly into the Kyle Shanahan offense. Mac Jones would be the safe pick. Fields would be the pick with the most upside.
Jonathan Jones, senior reporter:
Trey Lance. If they're serious about keeping Jimmy G for 2021, let Shanahan groom Lance to take over in a seamless transition. He'd flourish in that offensive system, as he has the best blend of brains and brawn in this class.
Cody Benjamin, NFL writer:
Draft Justin Fields or Trey Lance. Mac Jones may prove everyone wrong five or 10 years from now, and his characteristics might make him a quicker, safer sell in Kyle Shanahan's offense. But Fields or Lance have the tools to be weapons rather than just point guards. The gut says San Francisco knows this, which is why it moved to No. 3, not No. 6 or No. 9.
John Breech, NFL writer:
If we assume that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are going off the board with the first two picks, I think Justin Fields is the best fit for Kyle Shanahan's system out of the quarterbacks who will be left on the board.
Jordan Dajani, NFL writer:
Draft Justin Fields. He is arguably the second-best quarterback in this class, and never lost a Big Ten game as a starter at Ohio State. He's an athletic player with a big arm who should fit in Kyle Shanahan's offense nicely.
Jared Dubin, NFL writer:
The 49ers should pick the highest-graded quarterback left on their board when they come on the clock. You don't give up two first-rounders to move up to No. 3 and take a non-quarterback, and you don't do it to take a quarterback who isn't the best guy available. This is not a situation where you prioritize fit over talent. Mold the system to the player.
Josh Edwards, NFL Draft writer:
Justin Fields. I think Mac Jones can be a good NFL quarterback, but I do not see his ceiling as a player worthy of being taken at No. 3 overall. Fields offers that opportunity as an accurate quarterback capable of running a 4.4 40-yard dash. I envision more designed quarterbacks runs than what he showed at Ohio State, à la Josh Allen.
Jeff Kerr, NFL writer:
Draft Justin Fields. The 49ers can't overthink this. Fields is the second-best QB in this draft (yes, over Zach Wilson) and he is a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's zone-read offense. Fields is the QB the 49ers must take here.
Chris Trapasso, NFL Draft writer:
The 49ers absolutely should pick Justin Fields. We've been made to believe Mac Jones is such a good fit for Kyle Shanahan's system, and he is. But Fields would seamlessly transition into that play-action roll-out system, and he can elevate those around him because of his high-caliber athleticism and big-time arm talent.
Patrik Walker, NFL writer:
While there are plenty of rumors surrounding the 49ers and Mac Jones, I don't believe they can justify passing up on a talent like Justin Fields. They both have the ability to be QB1s in the NFL, but not all starters are created equal. Everything Jones has in his tool set, Fields either matches or exceeds -- from arm strength to speed to the ability to read the entire field and deliver an accurate ball at any distance. This is a decision, for me, between a potentially capable starter and a dynamic one, Fields being the latter.
Ryan Wilson, NFL writer:
It's close for me because I think Mac Jones is going to be drafted in the top 10, but I think Justin Fields makes the most sense for the 49ers. To put it simply: if you took everything the best young quarterbacks in the NFL do and made a player, it would be Fields. If that happens, I wouldn't be surprised to see several teams try to move up for Jones.
The final tally
- Justin Fields (9)
- Trey Lance (2)
- Mac Jones (0)
As you can see, the notion that Jones could be the apple of Shanahan's eye doesn't convince even a single one of us that he should be the pick at No. 3. Only Jared Dubin leaves open the possibility of Jones warranting the selection if he's the highest-graded QB on San Francisco's board, but even his caveat strongly steers in the direction of Fields or Lance, valuing talent over "fit." Might Mac Jones end up being a really good NFL QB? Perhaps, though the history of first-round signal-callers is even worse than you might think.
Still, the consensus here is that Fields is far and away the most logical (and most enticing) option. As CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli once argued, the Buckeyes product possesses literally every attribute of a typical candidate to go No. 1 overall: Size, speed, accuracy, experience. He just so happens to be part of a top-heavy QB class featuring a generational prospect in Lawrence. Lance, on the other hand, is also favored over Jones. Critics point to his lack of experience without acknowledging that Jones has literally started the same amount of college games, and the NDSU phenom offers arguably just as much athletic upside as Fields, only at a younger age.
Only time will tell which QB is worth a top-three investment, but one thing is clear: If you left it up to us, the 49ers' choice wouldn't be the popular projection. It would be one of the obviously more gifted athletes: Fields or Lance.
Who will be the first non-QB off the board? And which running back will get drafted first? Get 10 best bets and five longshot value plays on NFL Draft props from SportsLine's No. 1 NFL expert, who is 7-3 on his top five NFL Draft picks over the last two years and hit Baker Mayfield going No. 1 at 25-to-1 odds in 2018!