(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Matt Maiocco interview, connect to the following attachment: Ep 39: NFL Draft, Jimmy G, Patrick Willis, and the 49ers With Mike Maiocco | Spreaker)
Now that the San Francisco 49ers have moved into the third spot in the 2021 NFL draft, it’s safe to assume they take a quarterback. The only question is: Which one?
Well, it’s also pretty safe to assume that Jacksonville drafts Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the first pick, and the New York Jets choose BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second. So that leaves Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones for the 49ers.
So where do they go?
We asked Hall-of-Fame voter Matt Maiocco of NBCSports Bay Area that question on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast, and he told us that while “(coach) Kyle Shanahan has three quarterbacks he’s in love with,” having Shanahan and GM John Lynch attend Mac Jones’ workout Tuesday is a clue where they’re headed.
“My thinking,” Maiocco said, “is that it would be Mac Jones because I think Kyle is so supremely confident in his ability to draw up plays and get guys open all over the field that all he wants is a guy to do as coached, to anticipate, to read defenses, to throw the ball where it should go and throw it accurately.
“The running element is something that isn’t part of Kyle’s system because he sees the ability to run for a quarterback as kind of a bail-out. And in his offense he doesn’t need to bail out because guys are going to be open.”
Of course, that leads to another question … which is: What does this mean for Jimmy Garoppolo, the team’s starter the past three years. As Lynch told the “Eye Test for Two” a month ago, Garoppolo will remain the starter this season. But, Maiocco added, he probably won’t be there in 2022 when the plan – at least for now – is to move on to this year’s draft pick.
“Even with the trade to go up to number three (in the draft),” said Maiocco, “the 49ers still expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starting quarterback in 2021. They’re using the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes template (where), in the case of the Kansas City Chiefs, (they) have Alex play one season, with Mahomes watching (and) taking notes.
“Alex had his career year that season, and then they traded him to Washington and Alex ended up getting a huge contract from Washington. So that’s what they’re selling to Garoppolo: You’re still the quarterback. You do it the right way, and you’ll cash in next season. Somewhere else. But you’ll cash in.’ ”
Of course, that was the idea in 2004 in San Diego when the Chargers drafted Eli Manning with the first overall pick, then traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers (the fourth overall choice) and three draft picks. Rivers was supposed to supplant then-starter Drew Brees that season, but it never happened. Brees unexpectedly turned into a franchise quarterback, leading the Chargers to a 12-4 finish and their first division championship since 1994.
Rivers didn’t start until two seasons later, or after Brees left for New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent.
Nevertheless, the idea now is that Garoppolo starts for one season … or until he’s hurt again (he missed 23 of the past 48 games with injuries) … and replace him with this year’s draft pick – with Jones the frontrunner at this point.
“People here don’t necessarily want them to go with Mac Jones,” said Maiocco, “but one of Kyle Shanahan’s best friends in life is Chris Simms (of NBC Sports), and Chris has repeatedly said that he would be shocked if it’s not Mac Jones.
“That’s not a real sexy pick here because people see him as he is. He’s a pocket passer but the kind of guy who really appeals to what Kyle Shanahan is doing. But, by and large, the fan base likes the dual-threat element that a Justin Fields provides, a Trey Lance provides.”
Except that Lynch and Shanahan didn’t attend Fields’ workout Tuesday. They sent assistant GM Adam Peters to see him, while they studied Jones. Significant? Yes, said Maiocco.
“I do read something into that,” he said. “Kyle made the comment on Monday that he doesn’t like going to Pro Days. He wants to hide what they’re doing, and he says, ‘Now, there’s not as much to hide because there are only two teams picking in front of them.’ So if they love the three quarterbacks right now, they’re going to get one of them, regardless of who goes first and who goes second.”