Monday night’s national championship will feature upwards to 20 players playing on Sunday’s, and that’s not counting some 5-star freshmen who are currently buried on the depth chart for either team.
The San Francisco 49ers have probably begun their NFL Draft process. Last week, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’d spend all of January watching players—both free agents and draft prospects. Here are five potential targets for the Niners in the NFL Draft who are playing tonight’s game.
QB Mac Jones
Let’s get what’s obvious out of the way. While the 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo under contract, they could bring him back next season and draft a quarterback, or they could move on from Jimmy and do the same. Either way, it’s safe to say the Niners will add a quarterback this offseason regardless of what happens with Garoppolo.
Jones and the Crimson Tide offense has been video game like this season. Jones has thrown 36 touchdowns compared to four interceptions for over 4,000 yards on 11.3 yards per attempt while completing 77% of his passes. That’s all you need to know how easy life has been for Alabama this season.
Jones, the prospect, arguably has performed better than Tua Tagovailoa did a season ago, but there’s fools gold when it comes to Jones. Here are some pros about Jones:
- Knows where to go with the ball
- Keeps the offense ahead of schedule
- Doesn’t panic under pressure
- Knows how to manipulate/move in the pocket
- Good accuracy on deep throws
The most difficult part about watching Jones is separating his skill from Alabama’s offense. Jones is great when everything is going as planned. As a passer, he’s not someone who has shown he can make plays off-script, lacks any elite trait, and doesn’t strike you as a high-end starting quarterback. At this point, Jones is one of those “is who he is” quarterbacks. High-quality college QB who is a low-tier starting QB in the NFL who needs everything to go according to plan.
QB Justin Fields
Everyone was quick to point out how fields struggled against Indiana and Northwestern or how he missed this one throw this one game. Nobody ever, ever brings up how Trevor Lawrence throws it to underneath linebackers, makes boneheaded decisions, or looks human at times.
Fields isn’t QB1, but he isn’t far off. Fields is a special talent and athlete that will buck the trend of Ohio State quarterbacks failing in the NFL. Jones is probably limited to or best suited for a West Coast offense. Fields’ fits in any offense. The first thing you’ll notice about Fields is his arm. He has an absolute cannon and can hit receivers in stride 60+ yards down the field or 20 yards away on an out route to the far side of the field.
Fields will have plays where he is a tick slow to get the ball out. That’s where he gets himself in trouble, whether it’s taking a sack, late on a throw, or he’s waiting with the ball in his hands, and Ohio State is flagged for a holding call because of it.
Fields has thrown 585 passes in his career. He’s still inexperienced. After his performance against Clemson, if the 49ers want Fields, they’ll have to trade up. He’s a franchise quarterback that’s just getting started.
CB Patrick Surtain
If the 49ers elect to stick with Garoppolo and don’t feel like there is a quarterback worthy of selling the farm, they could stand pat in the first round and take the top position of need available. That could be Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain. The 6’2”, unanimous first-team All-American and 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year finished the season with eight pass breakups and an interception.
I have a confession: I don’t think Surtain runs well at the combine. This prediction could look dumb when the NFL Combine happens in March, but I’d guess Surtain runs somewhere in the low 4.5’s.
Alabama plays a ton of “press-bail, so you don’t get a good feel for Surtain’s speed when you watch him. What you do get a great idea of is Surtain’s technique and patience in coverage. He’s sound, and his length allows him to make plays when the ball is in the air—Surtain also plays the ball well in the air.
Surtain is a willing tackler, which you cannot say about most cornerbacks. There aren’t many flaws to his game. The biggest question is his long speed, which will be answered in March.
C Josh Myers
Ohio State’s center is the player on this list who I’d like the Niners to draft. Obviously, Fields would be fun, but say goodbye to all of your draft capital if you want to trade up to No. 2. Myers is more plausible and comes at a position of need.
Bama’s center Landon Dickerson was named first-team All-America, but Myers fits what the 49ers do on offense like a glove. I don’t want to get too technical with the offensive line terms, but Myers is an athlete who has no issue getting to his spots and “reaching” defensive linemen lined up a full gap away from Myers.
In pass protection, Myers was instrumental in Ohio State’s ability to pick up stunts and keep fields clean in the pocket. He’s a heedy player who gets the job done and his man blocked. Myers isn’t a mauler and won’t confuse you with a Terron Armstead type of level, but offensive lineman don’t have to fit in a stereotypical box. Myers is plenty athletic and had his fair share of pancake blocks this season. I’m a big fan and would love if the Niners snagged him in the second or third round.
CB Shaun Wade
This is a player I’d steer clear of. Wade played well in the slot during 2019 but wasn’t asked to do much. He made plays, but they were all near the line of scrimmage. This year, Wade has been asked to play outside in Ohio State’s scheme, and it has not gone well. I’ve seen mock drafts list, Wade, in the top-15, and I’m not sure why. He shouldn’t be taken before the third round.
I’m not sure how fast Wade is, which is a bad start, but when you see how Wade looks against competent receivers, it isn’t pretty. His technique is off. You’ll see more cornerbacks stay in phase on the routes where Wade has issues. Ohio State has been a cornerback machine in recent years, and Wade is benefiting his predecessors.
He asked for Devonta Smith. Be careful what you wish for. If I’m Bama, I’m isolating Wade and targeting him early and often Monday night.
Best of the rest
You already know about the receivers in this game, and it’s unlikely San Francisco spends another premium pick on a wide receiver. Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Chris Olave will all be catching passes in the NFL next year. Waddle raced Henry Ruggs last offseason and beat him if you’re wondering how fast he is.
Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood was a first-team All-American. I don’t have a strong take on him, and the last thing I want to do is regurgitate info from a scouting report that’s probably wrong anyway.
I’ll be watching Ohio State’s offensive line. Not just for Myers, but Wyatt Davis, their right guard, is also supposedly a Day 2 draft pick as well.
Who will you be watching?