© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
When you look around the league and see Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and an ageless Tom Brady, only to turn around and see Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s time for a change.
That change should be Justin Fields.
Round 1, Pick 3: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
This shouldn’t be that complicated. I believe that Kyle Shanahan has seen the light, and that he’s made it pretty clear that he is well aware of how the NFL is evolving. Could they draft Mac Jones? Sure. I think he’s their safety valve; the guy they know. If Fields and Trey Lance don’t impress them in the lead-up to the draft, they can fall back on and say Jones is juuuust fine.
But it’s impossible not to be impressed by both of those guys, especially Fields. He’s got more available tape and while the brief experience he had with Shanahan at the QB Collective back in high school shouldn’t be viewed as something substantial, Fields said that experience with Shanahan affected how he plays the position, especially setting his base.
Shanahan has pointed out that the ideal quarterback is someone like Patrick Mahomes; a player who operates in the pocket, but has the arm talent, athletic ability and awareness to identify when a play is breaking down and extend it to either make a scramble drill-type throw or run for the yards necessary.
The risk for Fields or Trey Lance are well, well worth it. Fields, though, has faced far tougher competition for two-straight years, has proven himself consistently, and played his best football in the college football semifinal and national championship game. There are innacurate criticisms of his ability to progress through reads, which stem from a structure at Ohio State that often asked him to make a throw depending on how a corner reacted to a receiver; and usually that receiver was open.
There is also, obviously, a race element, where talking heads like Dan Orlovsky peddle (by proxy), the old, outdated sterotypes that get attached to Black quarterbacks every year, questioning their passion, worth ethic, etc. If you watched Justin Fields basically break a rib against Clemson and come back in to finish a 6 TD game, or stand up to the Big 10 as one of the greatest supporters of playing a season in spite of COVID-19 concerns, and you question whether he “wants to be great,” well, you should stop talking.
Fields is, and has been since high school, an elite talent. His legitimate concerns are anticipation and hesitation. He can identify when his receivers are going to come open, but he must improve at throwing those players open the moment he identifies it. That half-second of hesitation can be the difference in the NFL. But when you see everything else that’s stellar about Fields and think about Kyle Shanahan coaching him up and fixing those issues, well, that’s just too enticing to pass up.
Trade with Raiders
49ers receive: Round 2, Pick 48, Round 3, Pick 80
Raiders receive: Round 2, Pick 43, Round 5, Pick 155
The Raiders have back-to-back picks in Round 3, so, while picking back-to-back is nice, this gives them an avenue to feel comfortable trading up. In this scenario, it would be to find their tackle of the future. Whether that’s Liam Eichenberg or Dillon Radunz, someone has to replace their current starting right tackle, Brandon Parker (ranked 77th out of 79 offensive tackles by PFF). The 49ers get the second of those picks, and gives the Raiders the 49ers’ first of three fifth-round picks.
Round 2, Pick 48: Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
Initially, I had Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu in this spot. Melifonwu is a raw, hyper athletic prospect like his brother, Obi, the former Raiders second-rounder who the 49ers signed this offseason. But while Melifonwu’s length, closing speed and 6’3″ frame are all enticing, there’s a certain fluidity and hip-flipping ability that’s missing.
Someone who absolutely has that ability, who plays through the chest of the receiver, and is sticky in coverage without being overly handsy is Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph. When you watch tape on corners, which is exceedingly difficult without All-22 tape from every school, it’s often difficult to gauge anything beyond the line of scrimmage. But what came up time and time again is that Joseph was one of the only people I’ve seen who could cover Alabama’s DeVonta Smith.
Smith is an absurd prospect who burned just about every corner he faced. Joseph, for the most part, kept him in his hip pocket and that’s in large part (pun intended) because of the fluidity of his hips, along with tremendous instincts that match with elite eye placement and timing.
What you want, in an ideal world, is to match what you see on tape with substantial athletic upside. Joseph, very clearly has that, as he confirmed at his pro day.
Height: 5’11” (45th percentile)
Weight: 197 (71st)
Arm: 31 3/8 (51st)
Hand: 9 1/4 (66th)
Vertical: 35 (35th)
Broad: 128 (84th)
40-yard: 4.28 (99th)
That, and crazy fluid footwork and hip movement, is how you stick with DeVonta Smith. That’s not to say you only need to be able to cover Smith, but Jones is a barometer for the fastest and most athletic players you’ll see in the NFL.
Time and time again, when Mac Jones challenged Joseph in an Alabama rout over Kentucky, it went poorly. See here, as Jones throws one of his four interceptions all year to Joseph (who also had four interceptions on the year, seventh-most in college football):
One concern with Joseph is off the field; he was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl when he was at LSU, before transferring to Kentucky for the 2020 season. That’s something that teams will have to evaluate, but the ability is there, and worth the swing, especially in a slight trade down.
Trade with Lions
49ers receive: Round 3, Pick 72
Lions receive: Round 3, Pick 80, Round 6, Pick 194
Detroit has no picks after the early part of round 5. As a team rebuilding, this allows them to get back into the final day of the draft. There’s also an opportunity a little later with the Giants to move up to Pick 76, potentially including a fifth-rounder, which the Giants have none of, and taking one of their two sixth-rounders.
Round 3: Pick 72: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
Amon-Ra is one of the the three St. Brown brothers who are all freaky athletic wide receiver prospects. His brother, Equanimeous, was a sixth-round draft pick by the Packers in 2018.
Their other brother, Osiris, is a receiver at Stanford. It can be easily argued that Amon-Ra is the most polished of the three.
What makes him so enticing, especially from the 49ers’ perspective, is that he has so many of the same qualities that Kendrick Bourne had; short area quickness, strength as a blocker, and the shiftiness to create small gaps in limited windows, which are crucial in third-down situations.
But St. Brown is a much better athlete than Bourne ever has been, and while he doesn’t have that same size that Bourne has, he plays big enough for what the 49ers need in the slot, and has such a great burst and plan of attack off the line that his size becomes a negligible concern.
Height: 5’11” (30th percentile)
Weight: 197 (40th)
Vertical: 39 (83rd)
Broad: 127 (85th)
Bench: 20 reps (90th)
40-yard: 4.51 (42nd)
Short shuttle: 4.27 (41st)
3-cone: 6.81 (75th)
He mostly played in the slot in 2019, and was clearly better suited there than as an outside receiver, but it wasn’t like he was helpless on the outside. To me, his route-running polish and crafty foot- and hand-work give me enough confidence that he can play outside when required, and his ceiling there is much higher than Bourne’s was. To me, he projects as the perfect Bourne replacement.
(Timestamped: poor pass but an identical route to one Bourne so often ran)
Round 3, Pick 102: D’Ante Smith, T, Eastern Carolina
If you watched the Super Bowl, you know that you can never have too much offensive line depth. Smith is a guy who can play just about anywhere on the line, and has genuinely as high of a ceiling as anyone in this draft.
He’s pretty raw in terms of hand placement, and fine-tuning his approach with timing, but his footwork is efficient and clean, and he moves as well as any prospect in this class.
Here are his measurables:
Height: 6’5″ (49th percentile)
Weight: 305 (22nd)
Arm: 35 (80th)
Hand: 9 7/8 (43rd)
Vertical: 29 (55th)
Broad: 113 (92nd)
Bench: 24 reps (58th)
40-yard: 5.29 (33rd)
Short shuttle: 4.81 (33rd)
3-cone: 7.96 (28th)
The problem with Smith is that he played just one game in 2020 after suffering an undisclosed injury, after playing at a school with limited competition. But the Senior Bowl was a revelation, and he showed why he’s worth making the bet on. His footwork, arm strength and fighting through the play are consistently impressive; you can see him get frustrated when his reps aren’t perfect. Take that how you will, but I see that as speaking to his high effort level.
Round 4, Pick 117: Jordan Smith, DE, UAB
Normally I’m not a massive fan of, well, massive defensive end prospects. Nick Bosa is evidence that you don’t need basketball player height to be a dominant edge rusher, and it might actually be preferable not to have that.
But Jordan Smith, who stands at an imperious, more than 6’6″, manages to shrink his frame. Perhaps the first thing you notice, which is a major concern for a lot of the larger edge prospects, is Smiths’ relentless motor. If he loses his one-on-one, gets knocked to the ground or sees the play break through the other side, he’s looking to find the ball and immediately relocate and make a tackle from behind.
While he’s raw, and his hand placement needs work to ensure his not giving up his leverage from the jump, he shows astonishingly quick movement with his hands and triggering with his arm-over and swipe moves. And for a guy who’s playing at that size, his eye placement and play anticipation is phenomenal, especially on options.
I mean, come on:
Yes, you’d like to see him to add some weight to that frame and hopefully develop a bull rush, or consistent speed-to-power, which at this point, he hasn’t shown. He’ll also get knocked for being in his fifth year out of high school, and the idea that his development is limited because his 22-plus years old. I’d say, if you’re finding a guy who’s this quick-twitch and fluid as a rusher in the fourth round, you’re not all that worried about that, especially with Kris Kocurek helming your defensive line, and getting the best out of a similarly-framed player in Dion Jordan last season.
Round 5, Pick 172: Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky
Jackson is in the mold of what the 49ers love for their centers, and now that Alex Mack is in the picture, trying to find a late-round guy to learn from and eventually replace him would make plenty of sense. Jackson was another Senior Bowl standout, but his tape provides evidence of a very mobile interior offensive lineman who drives hard with his legs into every block.
Because he’s on the smaller side at 6’2″ and sub-300 pounds, he’s likely to be available here, but he posses the short-area quickness and anchoring the 49ers tend to prefer from their interior offensive linemen. Drew Dalman, the Stanford center, is another similar option here or a little bit later.
Round 5, Pick 180: John Bates, TE, Boise State
Bates is a big ole dude who pretty much just blocked, and did so very well at Boise State. The 49ers need another tight end, with Jordan Reed still on the market and their room currently consisting of George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner and the unlikely-to-make-the-roster and recently suspended Chase Harrell.
Bates provides a lot of the same thing that Levine Toilolo does in terms of a solid, large blocking tight end, but with much more athletic upside. For a guy who is 6’5″, he possesses astounding short-area quickness.
Height: 6’5″ (80th percentile)
Weight: 250 (46th)
Vertical: 32 (27th)
Broad: 120 (77th)
Bench: 19 reps (44th)
40-yard: 4.80 (33rd)
Short shuttle: 4.36 (56th)
3-cone: 6.85 (93rd)
He’s nowhere near the athlete Kittle is, and clearly he has mountains of work to do as a receiver and ironing out the nuances in route running.
But it’s he’s a guy who you bet on with the same model the 49ers love; high blocking floor, projectible receiving upside. Here’s All-Pro tight end Zach Ertz breaking down his film (weirdly on a dormant channel with 30 subscribers in which Ertz just provides free breakdowns of lesser-known tight ends? Very odd stuff):
Round 7, Pick 230: Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, App State
Jean-Charles is one of my favorite players in this draft, but will drop because he doesn’t have elite speed; his three-cone, especially, will hurt him.
Height: 5’10” (29th percentile)
Weight: 184 (17th)
Arm: 30 7/8 (32nd)
Hand: 8 3/4 (24th)
Vertical: 35 (35th)
Broad: 124 (62nd)
Bench: 19 reps (89th)
40-yard: 4.47 (54th)
Short shuttle: 4.27 (35th)
3-cone: 7.19 (11th)
But he’s everything you want in a slot corner and future K’Waun Williams replacement. He’s relentlessly aggressive in closing down space, keeps receivers in his hip pocket, and contests just about everything.
According to PFF, Jean-Charles forced 27 incompletions over the past three seasons, the most in college football in that span. He gets beat once on this film below and gets too handsy, but his aggression is a net positive. His anticipation to jump the route and break the pass up at 1:10 and play through the ball at 1:47 to break up a would-be touchdown is a thing of beauty. And it might be an aesthetic, meaningless intangible, but it’s hard not to love his personality and energy after every play.
His anticipation (another example here), eye positioning and hand timing will translate to the next level.