Justin Fields Just Became the Favorite to be 49ers Pick at No. 3. It's Hard to Know Why

Cameron Smith


Justin Fields being selected third overall in the NFL Draft has always made a lot of sense. The sensational Ohio State quarterback has the arm and leg talent to justify a pick anywhere. What's more confounding is trying to ascertain why he's only now leaping above Alabama's Mac Jones to become the favorite to be the 49ers' selection. 

First, a quick assessment of both quarterbacks, and their strengths relative to each other: Fields has, without question, a stronger arm. He's also a far better athlete, with the potential to turn a negative play into a huge positive with his athletic improvisation. Jones has none of that. However, Jones is also clearly a better reader of the field, and is comfortable working through progressions, something about which there have been doubts raised relative to Fields. 

Perhaps the more important question is which skill set is more important to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, whose offense has traditionally focused on accurate dropback passing and a zone blocking run scheme. The passes that 49ers quarterbacks (and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and then-Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins before that) are asked to complete do not require a high-level of physical difficulty, but they do force quarterbacks to make complicated reads and quick decisions. 

That all seemed to point the 49ers to Mac Jones, hence his odds for being selected third overall soaring shortly after the 49ers moved up for the pick. Those odds essentially solidified when Shanahan and 49ers GM John Lynch attended a Pro Day session for Jones rather than one for Fields which was held the same day. Jones became established as the clear favorite for the third slot, which never wavered ... until Fields' second Pro Day last week. That event drew the same 49ers brass that evaluated Jones (as well as the main braintrust for the Patriots and a handful of other teams) and showcased Fields showing off a wide array of difficult passing routes on the move. 

A day after it wrapped, Fields had supplanted Jones as the extended No. 3 pick of the 49ers, now holding -125 odds at DraftKings sportsbook. Why? That's the true mystery here. 

There is neither now nor was there previously much debate about which of the two prime prospects has a greater upside. That's clearly Fields, whose cannon arm and explosiveness have had him as a close second to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in all local and national rankings since both were Georgia standouts. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson may have supplanted Fields in that second position because of his own freakish athleticism and (perhaps in part) because of the general lack of exposure evaluators had to him in his lone season at BYU, but there's little to no question that Fields presents a much more modern and versatile talent than Jones. 

That all begs the question of whether the 49ers simply needed to see that for themselves (and Jones' performance at his own Pro Day was clearly underwhelming compared to what Fields produced twice, or whether this is the public jumping on newly available information that the 49ers brain trust is clearly serious about Fields because of its attendance at his workout. 

Either way, the line movement overlooks the other critical aspect about the Jones-Fields debate: Just because Fields is more versatile with a bigger arm doesn't mean he's a better fit for the 49ers. There is a clear bottom line argument that pertains to Jones and his worthiness of the third pick: If Kyle Shanahan is more comfortable with him running the team's offense, there should be little reason to doubt his legitimate interest to San Francisco. 

That's particularly important to keep in mind as we enter the final two weeks before the NFL Draft. Whether or not Fields makes sense as the third pick needs to be considered regardless of any smoke screens the 49ers may deploy. Remember: This is the team that feigned abject boredom with Nick Bosa ... then selected him with their first pick. It's hard to believe anything they say or leak out. 

Then again, for the betting lines to drop Fields so decisively below Jones in the order (Jones still remains at +130) should be an indication that someone knows something. The real question is whether they have any idea whether what they know is legitimate or another red herring as San Francisco weighs its options.