Kyle Shanahan and the Media's "Big Con" at Quarterback

Explaining why the media assumes San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers pocket passers.
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It started early this offseason. 

Rumblings from the media surrounding the No. 12 pick with the 49ers. It was evident the 49ers needed a quarterback -- they were attached to every quarterback this offseason! 

Then it happened. The 49ers traded up with Miami to move into the No. 3 slot. In unison, the NFL media sang, "Mac Jones is a lock to the 49ers!" Soon after, you heard a chorus of groans and four-letter expletives from 49ers fans who felt Kyle Shanahan was once again chasing Kirk Cousins over glory.

But Wait. Shanahan has said nothing. Lynch has said nothing. In fact, the entire 49ers organization has not said much about the type of quarterback they have wanted in a while. Also, when was the last time the media new what the 49ers were going to do? The media said the 49ers were going to re-sign Buckner, but he was traded. The media said the 49ers were going to trade for Mohamed Sanu because of Shanahan’s ties to him in Atlanta, but they traded for Emmanuel Sanders instead. Kwon Alexander was traded without the media catching a sniff. And then  the 49ers traded up to No. 3 without the media knowing of a thing! So now suddenly, the media knows FOR CERTAIN that Mac Jones is going to the 49ers?

How is the media so confident? Where are all these takes coming from?

Unfortunately, the media, and many 49er fans have fallen for the same false narrative. Shanahan only likes pure pocket passers.

If you have fallen for the “Big Con” as well, I don’t blame you. You probably got it from the same place everybody else did. Shanahan’s first year as head coach of the 49ers, the only time in Shanahan’s career when he oversaw a team that needed a quarterback and had the assets to get one at the same time. In the 2017 draft, with Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson both available, the 49ers had the No. 3 pick, and selected DL Soloman Thomas. And then in the third round, they took quarterback -- C.J. Bethard. Yikes!

Later it came out the plan was to trade for Kirk Cousins that offseason, however the 49ers made their move and traded for Jimmy Garoppolo. There you have it, the reason for the Shanahan QB narrative summed up. What he did in 2017 has the media and many 49ers fans believing that Mac Jones is Shanahan’s guy. 

Like most stereotypes, they lack nuance and perspective, and the stereotype of the prototypical Shanahan QB is Kirk Cousins over Patrick Mahomes is no exception.

Reality is, the NFL quarterback picture was much different in 2017 than it is in 2021, lets look at the progression through previous drafts.

2015 NFL Draft

1) Jameis Winston

2) Marcus Mariota

Winston coming into the 2015 Draft was not considered a supreme “athlete." He was a little chubby and slow footed, but had a strong arm and threw from the pocket. Mariota on the other hand was known as an athlete. However, by the time 2017 came around, he was already flaming out as the Titans starting QB.

2016 NFL Draft

1) Jared Goff

2) Carson Wentz

Neither Goff nor Wentz were hailed for their athleticism. Both were considered strong armed pocket passers. Although Wentz was an athletic QB and could make plays with his feet, that wasn’t what was being totted about him during the draft. It was more his arm strength and pocket presence that was being hailed.

2017 NFL Draft

1) Mitchel Trubisky (2nd overall)

2) Patrick Mahomes (10th overall)

3) Deshaun Watson (12th overall)

Trubisky, known as the more prototypical pocket passer with a strong arm, was selected before Mahomes and Watson. In retrospect Mahomes and Watson turned out to be better than all of the previous quarterbacks mentioned, but in 2017 Mahomes didn’t see the field, and Watson started 6 games, with very average numbers.

2018 NFL Draft

1) Baker Mayfield (1st overall)

2) Sam Darnold (3rd overall)

3) Josh Allen (7th overall)

4) Josh Rosen (10th overall)

5) Lamar Jackson (32nd overall)

Once again, Mayfield and Darnold were both considered accurate pocket passers, and drafted higher than Allen and Jackson who have seen more success and shown to be the better quarterbacks up until this point. However, the league still drafted the pocket passer first.

It was not until the 2019 draft, after a year of seeing Mahomes and Watson tear up the league with their combination of accurate passing from the pocket and ability to make off-schedule plays with their athleticism that the league finally got the pick right, drafting Kyler Murray No. 1 ahead of Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins.

So, can we blame Shanahan in 2017 for thinking the way he would be most successful in the league was by going after an accurate pocket passer rather than a player like Mahomes? If so, you can blame pretty much everybody else in the league as well not named Andy Reid, because it was Reid who was the only coach ahead of the curve.

Since then, look at what Shanahan has experienced. In 2019, he saw what the combination of athleticism and arm strength can do, while he watched his lead in the waning minutes of the Super Bowl disappear due to the magnificence of Patrick Mahomes. Four times a year, Shanahan must see two of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league in Russel Wilson and Kyler Murray torture his defense, not because of what they do in the pocket, but because of what they are able to do when they break containment. In fact, the biggest Achilles heel for the dominant 49er defenses Shanahan has been able to create the last few years has been mobile quarterbacks.

So now we are supposed to believe that Shanahan, the renowned offensive genius, does not see the value of a supreme athlete at quarterback? If you believe that, I have a get-rich quick scheme to sell you that requires you giving me your cash app handle. Do not get caught up in the hype, Shanahan is going to pick Wilson, Fields or Lance, and once again the Media will be caught trying to explain themselves on draft day as to why they were so confident that Mac Jones was Shanahan’s guy.