The San Francisco 49ers dominated speculation about the 2021 NFL Draft, after making the aggressive trade up to No. 3 overall.
With a move like that, most figured that the team had to be set on a quarterback. Trevor Lawrence was already penciled in at No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and while there was a bit more uncertainty at No. 2, most figured the New York Jets had BYU’s Zach Wilson in mind.
No. 3, however, was anyone’s guess. Justin Fields and Trey Lance, the eventual pick, both had moments in which the rumor mill had them tabbed for the pick. For weeks, however, it looked like Alabama’s Mac Jones might jump all the way up to that spot.
According to a report by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, there was good reason for it. The 49ers led Jones and his team to believe that they were taking him with the No. 3 pick.
During pre-draft interviews, 49ers decision-makers implied to Mac Jones that he was their target, sources tell @jeffphowe.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 23, 2021
“49ers decision-makers implied to Jones during pre-draft interviews that he was their target, according to sources,” Howe reports. “The 49ers also did a heavy amount of background work on Jones, speaking to coaches as far back as his high school days in Jacksonville, Fla.”
Instead, they went with Lance, leading Fields and Jones to wait their turns. The Chicago Bears traded up to No. 11 to take the Ohio State star Fields, while the New England Patriots sat firm at No. 15, and landed their guy.
This was different than the approach that the Jets took at No. 2, Howe says. While Wilson was always favored to be the pick, the Jets never explicitly told him that he was their guy.
The 49ers seemed to relish being the subject of so much speculation in the runup to the NFL Draft, and it continues into the season. Jimmy Garoppolo remains the team’s starter, and has played well, but at some point they will likely install Lance. We may not get tipped off ahead of time when it happens, though.