Ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, pundits labeled Alabama's Mac Jones as the most likely candidate to be Kyle Shanahan's hand-picked quarterback. And then came draft night, when the Niners opted not for Jones -- or Ohio State's Justin Fields, another consensus top-three QB prospect -- but rather North Dakota State's Trey Lance. While the latter enters the NFL with just 17 career starts under his belt, he is absolutely a justified -- not to mention exhilarating -- pick at No. 3. Only time will tell which of this year's top signal-callers pan out, but as it stands, it sure feels like the 49ers made the right call.
Fields would've been an equally tantalizing addition, what with his combination of size, speed and arm talent. But Lance offers arguably the highest upside of any passer in the draft. He's just 20 years old. He's got a prototypical build suited for the pros. He's got elite running ability -- an obvious plus for a Kyle Shanahan offense. And unlike, say, Jones, he's not so much a "safe" QB as a potential star QB. Rather than offering San Francisco a younger version of incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo, he gives Shanahan the deadliest weapon he's had under center in his entire career as a head coach.
With or without Garoppolo in 2021, the 49ers are instantly a better team with Lance on the roster. Better yet: They offer a comfortable situation for the NDSU product, who becomes just the third Bison QB to ever be drafted after Carson Wentz and Easton Stick. Many first-round QBs end up flopping in large part due to undesirable surroundings, and yet Lance will be joining a Niners team that's just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Yes, someone like Mac Jones may have offered more immediate accuracy, but with Lance, San Francisco can rest easy knowing it may have uncovered the NFL's next best thing under center.
You don't trade all the way up to No. 3 for a base hit. You do it for a potential home run. And the 49ers just swung for the latter.