© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
When the 49ers traded up for the third overall pick last week, Steve Young thought it had to be for his alma mater’s Zach Wilson, of BYU. After talking to some of the fine folks within the new-look Jets organization, though, Young said believes that Wilson is basically a lock to go No. 2 overall, saying, “they’re pretty committed to Zach.”
Young joined the Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks show on Wednesday to discuss the 49ers’ franchise-altering trade up and what he believes Kyle Shanahan is looking for in his future quarterback.
While Young stressed that processing is the top trait Shanahan needs in a quarterback, he kept going back to athleticism and how both the present and future of the modern NFL is the Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Kyler Murrays of the world; guys who have that processing but are also immensely physically talented.
It’s a question, then, of how much you value the athletic traits of players like Justin Fields and Trey Lance versus the supposedly great processing of Mac Jones. At least that’s the sentiment, and one that’s maybe not entirely accurate.
But that’s why Jones has been such a popular name for the 49ers; people seem to believe that his ability to process the game is elite and that’s what will allow him to translate into a successful NFL quarterback. But is a great processor enough? And what if Fields or Lance are actually better processors than stigma says they are, or simply need a training camp to get up to speed? What if it turns out Jones was just a product of being surrounded by the best of college’s best at every position?
In Young’s mind, while he leaned towards Jones as the pick if the draft were today, he suggested that could change, and someone like Fields might become the pick once the 49ers get through evaluating all their options. A large part of that, he believes, is that trend of the modern NFL quarterback possessing elite physical traits and the 49ers not wanting to get left in the dust.
But it starts with the processing, and Young said he believes that’s where the Shanahan-Jimmy Garoppolo schism began; Garoppolo is far from an elite processor of the game. And that’s where he sees how Jones could fit in.
“I think that a guy like Mac Jones is, is somebody that they have high confidence that’s going to come in and process really well, and frankly, I think that’s what Kyle’s looking for,” Young said.
That doesn’t make Jones the pick, though. It goes back to that view that processing the game very well might just not be enough.
“Now Kyle would say, I would say, in 2021, you need someone who can move better than that and you’re leaving a lot of yards and touchdowns and first downs on the table, because he can’t go get them,” Young said. “And you need somebody who at least can, like, try…
When I talk about what Trevor [Lawrence] and Zach [Wilson] and Justin [Fields] can do, and Trey [Lance], they’re going to go get all those yards and all those first downs that are just available in the 2020s. And I don’t know how you become an elite quarterback today without the ability to go get those. And so for me that’s the problem with Mac.”
So much of the conversation has revolved around “fit” and the idea that Jones is the right “fit” for the 49ers. And while Young sees that fit, he said he recognizes that you need some of that game-changing talent to go with it in the modern NFL.
Young gave an impassioned answer which matched with Shanahan’s rejection of the Kirk Cousins hypothesis; the idea that Kyle prefers solely pocket-passing quarterbacks.
“You know what fits in his offense? Is a good player! A great player! Don’t kid yourself,” Young said. “Because he has Matt Ryan and now Jimmy, who are not the most mobile guys in the world–they’re fine–that’s his system? No! Kyle, he wants a processor, so don’t give me somebody that can’t process. I want that, but if you give me also someone who can move? Kyle would love that!
Do not think that he would be somehow moving away from someone who can move around and be dynamic. That’s the farthest from his thinking. As long as they can do the work in the pocket, give me somebody who can move around too. I’m just more dangerous!
I know his dad feels that way my experience together. Mike loved that I could move around and used every inch of that. So, the idea that Kyle has a style, that’s just ridiculous. In the end, it’s fundamentally, can he can he do the job in the pocket? Yes? And plus, he’ll move around all day long? I’ll take that. That’s what I would love, nothing more.”
While Young didn’t make a definitive determination on exactly who he thought the 49ers will pick, he seemed to indicate that Fields’ athleticism, if he is a solid processor, is absolutely worth the risk, while there are maybe too many unknowns about Trey Lance to feel totally comfortable taking him at that spot. Jones might be the safer pick, but the upside is limited.
Listen to the full, tremendous podcast conversation below.