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Q&A with John Middlekauff on who should be 49ers’ QB choice

I caught up with the former NFL scout to discuss his thoughts on which QB the 49ers should take with the No. 3 overall pick and Jimmy Garoppolo

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

We are officially two weeks away from the 2021 NFL Draft, which is when we will finally get the answer on who the San Francisco 49ers will select to be their QB of the future.

Ohio State’s Justin Fields threw in front of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch on Wednesday, while North Dakota State’s Trey Lance will show his stuff to the Niners’ brass on April 19.

Some NFL Draft pundits think San Francisco will take Alabama’s Mac Jones, while others aren’t convinced the 49ers would have traded all of that capital to select a prospect like Jones.

Current NFL analyst and former scout for the Philadelphia Eagles John Middlekauff is one of those who is skeptical about Jones. Middlekauff hosts the 3&Out podcast on Colin Cowherd’s network and recently shared his thoughts on why the Niners should pass on Jones at the 3:40 mark.

I caught up with Middlekauff to discuss how Jones, Fields, and Lance will fit with the 49ers and what could happen with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

Q: You don’t think the Niners should go with Jones at No. 3. Why do you think it’s not a good idea for the 49ers to take him third overall?

Middlekauff: I just think, relative to the other guys they can take, to me, if he was the only guy there, I would understand it. But when you factor in trading up to get a guy with a pretty limited skill set, it just doesn’t make sense. I mean, he doesn’t have the ability to become some all-time dominant player because he doesn’t have a great arm, not a great athlete, not that big.

I just think you’d be passing on guys with the physical skill sets that have a really high end, and if you look what’s playing in the NFL right now, it’s high-end talent, right? I mean, recent memory shows it’s the Josh Allen’s, the Patrick Mahomes, even Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson, the younger guys that are killing it, Carson Wentz a couple of years ago when he was playing well. I mean, really physically gifted guys, and that’s basically the opposite of what the Niners would be signing up for if they take Jones.

Q: When you look at a prospect like Fields, why do you think he would be a good fit in Shanahan’s offense?

Middlekauff: I think part of it with Fields is just the physical. A guy that you can mold into this offense that has really good players around him, right? He’s used to playing with a lot of talent at Ohio State. Well, he comes here he’s got Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert. Obviously, George Kittle and a re-signed Trent Williams, plus they have other draft picks. Their [the 49ers] second-round pick is still relatively high because they didn’t have a great record.

The teams gonna be really good. It’s a unique landing spot for a rookie quarterback. Whatever his flaws are, whether it’s processing all the reads and stuff that any young quarterbacks are going to go through, that’s where coaching comes in, and that’s why Kyle Shanahan gets paid a lot of money, and most people view him as one of the best coaches in the league because he’s a great offensive mind.

So, if I could get anyone with Kyle Shanahan, I want to get a really talented guy. We’ve seen what he’s done with Kirk Cousins, Matt Schaub, and obviously, Jimmy Garoppolo. When you get a guy with physical attributes that blow those guys out of the water, it’s safe to say the sky’s the limit.

Q: Lynch and Shanahan will be at Trey Lance’s second pro day on April 19. He might not have the seasoning of Fields and Jones, but how realistic of a chance is there that the 49ers would select a prospect like Lance?

Middlekauff: I think it’s very realistic. He’s one of those kinds of shooting for the stars prospects. Big, physically gifted guy who needs a lot of work because he’s only started one season. You know he’s coming from a smaller Division 1-AA, but drafting him and keeping Jimmy for a year and letting him kind of mature a little, Patrick Mahomes style would make sense.

I just think there is some risk involved there. But if Kyle really wants to take a swing for the fences, and they already have once they made this trade. I think you could see them go and select Lance.

Q: You mentioned Garoppolo. How do you think this will play out? Will Garoppolo be the starter in Week 1?

Middlekauff: It depends on who they take. If they take Mac Jones or Justin fields, Jimmy’s got to go. You don’t draft Mack Jones and have him sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo; they’re the same player.

Justin Fields is a two-year starter at Ohio State. If I draft Justin Fields, Jimmy’s got to go the next day. It doesn’t make any sense to draft a bluechip 5-star guy from Ohio State, a multiple-year starter, and then have Jimmy around.

Now, even Trey Lance? I would get rid of Jimmy no matter what. Because the best benefit for these quarterbacks is their rookie contract, and the clock starts the moment you pick them. Even if you got to go through some growing pains with Trey Lance, which will probably be the most, I can live with it because you really benefit in a couple of years.

But with Justin Fields, he’s ready to roll right now. Now, obviously, you have to work on stuff, and he’s going to improve, but I think it depends on the selection. There would be a lot of pressure if they drafted the Justin Fields from the fans, that they don’t want to watch Garoppolo anymore, let’s get the rookie in there.

Q: You’re a former NFL scout, but if you put your general manager/head coaching cap on, who would you take with the third overall pick if you were in charge of the 49ers?

Middlekauff: You know I said Trey Lance the other day, and now I’m kind of leaning towards Justin fields. I go back and forth between those two guys. I mean, if I knew, I’d put a lot of money on it; I just think it’s gonna come down to those two guys.

I know there’s been a lot of Mac Jones buzz, but I think they knew when they made the trade. Because they ultimately know people with the Jets. They knew they were going to trade Sam Darnold and that they love Zach Wilson.

Between the three guys, they have their guy picked out. Now, potentially has that changed over the last month? Maybe, but I doubt it.

I think it’s gonna be Trey Lance or Justin Fields. I said Trey Lance on a podcast a couple days ago, and then I just talked to someone today, now I’m kind of leaning towards Justin Fields. That’s a hell of a question, but I guess Justin Fields. I think he will be the guy they draft.

Q: You mentioned the talent the 49ers have already in place. Do you think they could win a Super Bowl with a rookie QB?

Middlekauff: I just think in this day-and-age, you never know. Conventional wisdom would say no chance. I think in 2021, with a team as good as the 49ers, their roster, and Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback, they absolutely could.

But, you know, it’s hard to win a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, heck it’s hard to with a Super Bowl with Tom Brady. But could they compete in the NFC? For sure, assuming the rookie is going to be good.

I mean, they can compete with Jimmy Garoppolo, but if you go with Trey Lance, it would probably be pretty difficult coming from Divison 1-AA and only started one year. But I think with Justin fields for sure, they could compete to even win the division. I mean, that’s first and foremost, you get home playoff games and then kind of go from there. I think the entire NFL world is eager to see who Shanahan and Lynch take with the pick.

Middlekauff hosts the 3&Out podcast with Guy Haberman, which you can listen to here.