With around 72 hours to go until the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off, the football world thinks it knows who will be selected with the first two picks of the night. But there are differing opinions and expectations when it comes to which QB the San Francisco 49ers will select at No. 3.
Since San Francisco swung for the fences with its trade up from No. 12 to No. 3 earlier this month, the consensus on which QB will eventually succeed Jimmy Garoppolo in Santa Clara has changed by the day, or more accurately, the pro day. First, it was Trey Lance. Then, surprise, Mac Jones was the favorite. Justin Fields had his day or two, too, as a possible surprise choice.
But as of Monday afternoon, San Francisco had narrowed its options to Jones and Lance, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
During their media availability, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan tried to clarify their position ahead of Round 1 and cool down heated discussion and argument amongst 49ers fans regarding the No. 3 pick.
"We think there's five guys and if one came to us at 12, I think that could've looked really good and you don't have to worry about that stuff and everyone thinks you did it right," Shanahan told reporters, explaining San Francisco's move to trade up. "But we made a decision in this process that we felt that we needed a good starting quarterback this year and add that to our team. When we sat there at 12, way back in the day, we wanted to dictate it. We also were worried maybe the one we ended up wanting doesn't fall to 12. Why don't we move up there to the spot where we could take the best look at everyone? We know we'll get one. … We feel we're gonna get the one that's best for us."
Shanahan repeated that the Niners are still comfortable with five quarterbacks at No. 3 (Fields, Jones, Lance, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, alphabetically). With Lawrence and Wilson expected to go 1-2 to the Jaguars and Jets, respectively, San Francisco has been left to make an unenviable decision at the draft's pivot point, deciding between three QB prospects of decidedly different skill sets and backgrounds, each of whom have attracted passionate online defenders.
While Lynch would usually be tasked with making the final call on a major organizational move like this one, the GM told reporters Monday that he is collaborating with, and even ceding final say, to his dais mate.
"Ultimately someone's got to be charged with making a decision, and in this case, it's the both of us," Lynch said. "Everyone has in their contract 'you do this.' The draft is mine. But I told Kyle from the beginning that he and I are doing this together and when it comes to quarterbacks, I'd be foolish, I believe, we have a head coach who's also our offensive play-caller. I will always defer to him."
Deferring to Shanahan could signal that San Francisco is leaning toward Jones. A report surfaced Monday that while Lynch and the front office were in on the FCS signal-caller Lance, Shanahan favored the Alabama quarterback. The coach wouldn't let on Monday where the 49ers were leaning or whether they were leaning at all.
"Do we know exactly who we want?" Shanahan asked rhetorically at one point. "Maybe, probably, maybe not."
Adding to the uncertainty to come this week, Shanahan later remarked that he couldn't "guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday," let alone guarantee if Garoppolo, San Francisco's penciled 2021 starter, would be on the roster on Sunday.
Garoppolo, under contract through 2022, could be trade bait this weekend, especially if a team misses out on the draft class's top five QBs. But Shanahan also said that they feel "very fortunate" to have Jimmy G on the roster with a rookie and eventual starter incoming, a sign that the 49ers would like to hold onto their Super Bowl LIV starter.
The vagaries, morbid as they may be, emanating out of 49ers camp are not surprising from any team this time of year, but are becoming less tropey and more unnerving as draft day nears. After all, the pressure to get the No. 3 pick right and please enough of San Francisco's fan base, though Shanahan and Lynch refuse to publicly admit to feeling any, is very high.
To those 49ers "faithful" who are sure to be critical of San Francisco's decision at QB, Lynch and Shanahan tried to offer some words of assurance before the big day.
"Come Thursday, we'll have a pick that hopefully makes everyone proud, but that will be judged in years to come," Lynch said. "We've done our best to make sure it's a great decision for this franchise."
Added Shanahan, "I'm happy that we're gonna get (a QB) that we like, that we've done it right, and I hope the fans are happy with it.
"But the key is ultimately they're gonna be happy based on how we do in the future, not how they feel that night."