Almost immediately after the 49ers traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft, so-called experts began almost unanimously pegging Alabama quarterback Mac Jones as San Francisco's most likely target. Jones, they posed, offered coach Kyle Shanahan the most efficient, NFL-ready arm of the class. The Niners, of course, ended up using their top pick on North Dakota State's Trey Lance. And according to NFL.com's Jim Trotter, Jones was never more than a fallback option for San Francisco, which initially moved up with Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields in mind, and didn't discuss its final decision until days before the draft.
"Did he have interest in Jones?" Trotter writes of Shanahan. "Yes. But nothing was close to being decided (at the time of the trade). In fact, the 49ers made the trade so they could do deep dives on Lance and Fields and be confident of getting either, if that's where the evaluation process took them. Jones was considered a safety net, if you will -- someone they could win a title with but not necessarily a transcendent talent."
Perhaps far more surprising: The fact that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch didn't reveal their QB preference to each other until Monday, three days before the 49ers selected Lance.
Precisely 31 days after making the blockbuster trade, Shanahan looked Lynch in the eyes and asked: "Are you ready to draft Trey?"
Lance was the player Lynch desired for some time, but he kept it to himself to avoid polluting the process. He thought Shanahan felt the same way, but it's one thing to believe it and another thing to hear it. Later that morning, they informed club CEO Jed York, who was equally excited.
49ers brass told the media this week that Lance was always their top reason for moving up to No. 3. Now, it appears that's at least partially true. Jones may have been the most popular projection for San Francisco, but the NDSU signal-caller who wound up becoming the Niners' newest face of the franchise was always more squarely on their radar.