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The Quarterback the 49ers Should Select Is...?

What better time to provide my final ranking than now.

With the NFL draft only days away, and the 49ers almost assuredly set to take a quarterback with their selection at No. 3, what better time to provide my final ranking than now.

3. Justin Fields, Ohio State – Fields shows some very good skills when playing inside the pocket, he is able to move and reset his feet very quickly. Along with the good footwork, he shows the ability to drive the ball down the field both inside and outside of the numbers. Fields also shows the ability to set protections at the line of scrimmage

The two things that jump out when watching Fields are that he has a tendency to be late with the throw and lock on to his primary receiver. Fields is often able to overcome throwing late due to his arm strength, but it also leads to incompletions or worse, an interception. Fields struggles to hang in the pocket when faced with pressure, especially if the blitz is coming from the side of the field he is looking toward.

2. Trey Lance, North Dakota State – Lance played only one season of college football, leading the Bison to the FCS championship in 2019. During his one season in Fargo, he showed the ability to beat teams by using his arm or legs, but does a good job of hanging in the pocket or buying time before taking off on a run.

Of my top three, Lance is the only one who makes all of the checks at the line of scrimmage without input from the coaches on the sidelines. He is responsible for checking into a different run play depending on the alignment of the defensive front, and also checking into different pass plays based on the alignment of the linebackers and secondary.

A terrific overall athlete, Lance will make a couple of throws or runs per game that make you take notice, however there are a lot of areas that he will need to clean up as he moves into the NFL. His accuracy diminishes the further downfield his receivers get, and has some inconsistencies in his throwing motion that he will need to get cleaned up to be successful at the next level.

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1. Mac Jones, Alabama – The general assumption is that playing quarterback at Alabama is the easiest job in college football. How could it not be? They have top level players at every position. Before turning on the film I was one who fell victim to that assumption.

I’m not going to write that the talent isn’t a benefit. That would be disingenuous. From the moment I turned on the film the talent was evident. Jones isn’t the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, doesn’t have the best arm, but he is the best of the group.

What jumps out most about Jones is his ability to see the coverage, and deliver the ball with terrific anticipation. Time and time again there are examples of Jones hitting his back foot, seeing the coverage and beginning to throw the ball while the receiver has yet to make the break on his route.

Another part of Jones’ game that stands out is his willingness to step up into the pocket. As already mentioned, Jones isn’t the most athletically gifted quarterback, in fact he’s probably the worst of this group, but he does a very good job of climbing up and through the pocket with his eyes still downfield along with being able to move to the open spaces of the pocket. By doing this, Jones is keeping the play alive and able to escape for a scramble if necessary.

Jones doesn’t have a big arm, it’s actually pretty average. Despite the lack of arm strength, Jones is able to make all of the throws, short, middle, deep, between the numbers or down the sidelines because of his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly and on time.

To make sure that what I was seeing was accurate I went back and watched a number of games from 2019 with Tua Tagovailoa running the offense. Going between those Tagovailoa games and then watching Jones against Auburn and Michigan it was clear that Jones was the better quarterback even in his third and fourth collegiate starts. Jones was much more willing to push the ball down the field and, unlike Tagovailoa, was able to beat the rush and coverage by getting the ball out on time without needing to have visual confirmation that the receiver was open.

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