The 49ers have replaced one question — what direction to take at quarterback — with another: What quarterback do they take with their new, shiny No. 3 overall pick?
But there is only one right answer for the 49ers: Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
Of course, it’s not totally the Niners’ call. The New York Jets, who have the No. 2 pick, could take Fields, but the likelihood is that they’ll go with BYU’s Zach Wilson.
And, of course, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will go No. 1 to Jacksonville.
Three quarterbacks in the first three picks, with the Niners getting the third. That might sound like a bad situation, but for San Francisco, it’s ace.
Fields is the only logical choice for the Niners at No. 3 because he gives the 49ers the best chance at competence now and upside in the future.
Well, aside from Lawrence, that is.
Wilson is a fantastic prospect — certainly worthy of the No. 2 pick. But he’s also small, played behind a dominant offensive line, and didn’t play all that well against mediocre competition (watch his performance against Coastal Carolina, which is hardly Alabama).
Wilson’s arm is truly special, though — game-changing, not just for the team, but perhaps the league — and while this isn’t something the 49ers need, he has a swagger that can turn a franchise around.
He’s the boom-or-bust prospect. Outside of Lawrence, no one has more upside than Wilson. But if he fails, it will likely be in a dramatic fashion.
If he’s the best remaining option — if Fields goes No. 2 — then the Niners will likely take him. That arm …
But if Wilson’s gone at No. 3, San Francisco should still celebrate.
As for the other options at No. 3 — North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones — the conversation is contrived. They’re not on the level of the three aforementioned quarterbacks.
I just don’t see it with Lance.
Unless the Niners believe that he has more upside than Wilson and are hellbent on keeping Garoppolo for a lame-duck year — two things I am skeptical of — he doesn’t work for them.
His competition level was too low in the FCS and his performances too inconsistent. He needs to take a redshirt year to cut it at the NFL level and even then, I’m not sure he’ll make it.
Lance seemed like a stretch at their former draft slot, No. 12, so it’s far too big a leap to go take him at No. 3. I just can’t see that in the cards.
I am unquestionably the most bullish member of the Bay Area media on Jones. I suggested a few months ago that the Niners consider him at No. 12. (I want credit for that!) He’s polished and I love his accuracy. I think he could start right away.
But there’s no upside with Jones. He is what he is.
The Niners just traded away three first-round picks to move up to No. 3, and Jones represents a marginal upgrade over Garoppolo at his very best.
That doesn’t seem like a smart value play.
Especially when you didn’t have to move up to No. 3 to land him.
The Niners might be all-in, but they’re not stupid — they didn’t toss in an extra first-round pick to be 100% sure they can land Mac Jones.
No, Fields is the play.
The knock on the Ohio State quarterback is that he’s a stiff. That he locks onto receivers for too long and that he doesn’t see the field that well.
The 49ers know all about a quarterback who does that. They’ve won with a quarterback who does that. The difference is that Fields just turned 22 years old — Jimmy Garoppolo is going into his age-30 season. He’s a work in progress.
And Fields has a few things that cannot be taught: toughness (shown in the College Football Playoff), an extremely catchable and accurate ball that comes with a repeated motion, enough zip to hit the sidelines and deep routes with ease, and the ability to extend plays with his feet.
Garoppolo can’t match any of that.
In fact, few quarterbacks in the NFL can.
We’ll see if it translates to the league, but in watching Ohio State film, it’s easy to see how Fields will fit into Shanahan’s 49ers offense as soon as Week 1.
He might not ever change the sport, but his upside represents a dramatic improvement at the quarterback position for the 49ers. My goodness, the RPO and quarterback run game on top of the 49ers’ current offense? It might be unstoppable.
The downsides exist, no doubt, but the floor is pretty high. One could be bold and argue that he’s a better quarterback than Garoppolo right now.
The Niners are a team that’s in a championship-contending window and their biggest question was the quarterback.
That’s still the biggest question, but in drafting Fields come April, they’ll extend that window by a few years.
After a big splash, he’s the logical choice for San Francisco.