The early drama and intrigue for the 2021 NFL Draft likely begins with the No. 3 selection. And the NFL wants to make sure that the San Francisco 49ers maintain maximum curiosity right up until they make their pick Thursday night.
According to Pro Football Talk, the league is leaning on the 49ers not to leak their plans to reporters and insiders, keeping their choice a secret right up to the point their pick is in. Obviously, such a directive is in the best interests of ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network, the TV partners who will broadcast the draft.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1, followed by the New York Jets selecting BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson at No. 2 appear to be certainties. But it’s not clear what the Niners will do and that’s what fans are likely to tune in to find out.
Yes, all signs point to San Francisco drafting a quarterback. They probably wouldn’t have traded up to the No. 3 pick (trading three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins) in pursuit of a wide receiver or offensive lineman, while keeping Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting QB.
But will general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan opt to select Alabama quarterback Mac Jones or Trey Lance from North Dakota State. The sentiment leading up to the draft is that Jones doesn’t have the upside of the other top quarterback prospects, nor the athleticism to make plays beyond throwing the ball.
However, Shanahan presumably prizes accuracy and decision-making in a quarterback and Jones demonstrated those skills in full during a junior season in which he completed 77 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns (to four interceptions), leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship. The question is how much Jones benefited from being surrounded by receivers like Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, both likely to be top NFL draft picks.
Lance is a very intriguing prospect and brings different elements to his game that could help him succeed in the NFL. In two seasons for the Bisons, he threw for 28 touchdowns and rushed for 16. Yet he completed 67 percent of his passes, which raises a concern. Other questions about Lance concern the competition he faced at the FCS level and playing only one game during the 2020 season due to COVID-19 cancellations.
Reportedly, the Atlanta Falcons are targeting Lance with the No. 4 selection. So if the 49ers select him, that obviously changes Atlanta’s plans. Would the Falcons still select a quarterback, taking either Jones or Ohio State’s Justin Fields? Or would they opt instead for a playmaker like Florida’s Kyle Pitts or LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase?
In turn, that will affect what teams picking after Atlanta would do, including those that might trade up to get Lance like the New England Patriots or Washington Football Team. Clubs that could trade their selections such as the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos would be affected as well.
So you can see why the NFL doesn’t want the 49ers to give away any information that will spoil the drama before they pick at No. 3. It’s the same line of thinking that compelled ESPN and NFL Network to tell their reporters not to tip off draft picks on Twitter before the selections are revealed on TV. Maintain the drama! Keep the fans tuned in.
Will the 49ers be able to maintain secrecy until approximately 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. ET? If the NFL has its way, we’ll have to tune in to find out.