Maiocco: 49ers drafting QB Justin Fields with No. 3 pick would 'surprise me'


In less than 24 hours, the San Francisco 49ers will select a quarterback -- in all likelihood, not named Lawrence or Wilson -- with the No. 3 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft.

And while the team has kept its plans close to the vest, there's a growing belief around the league that Ohio State's Justin Fields is no longer on the 49ers' radar, and their quarterback options have been narrowed down to Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco joined The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday to discuss San Francisco's draft strategy, and also offer an explanation as to why the team's interest in Fields has reportedly waned.

"Just kind of reading the tea leaves, I think [the 49ers drafting Fields] would surprise me. And maybe it shouldn't -- he's still probably the guy that the fanbase wants more than anyone else," Maiocco said. "I think the 49ers fanbase would be ecstatic with Justin Fields. I think they would be really happy with Trey Lance. And I think they would be disappointed, yet, 'Ok, let's see how this turns out' with Mac Jones... They're not going to win draft night by taking Mac Jones. The only hope for [head coach] Kyle Shanahan and [general manager] John Lynch, of course, is that, over time, he proves to be the right choice. And if the 49ers win football games, it's the right choice. If they don't -- regardless of who they pick -- it's the wrong choice...

"The 49ers made this dramatic move to go up from No. 12 to No. 3 to signal, 'Hey, we're going to get a quarterback.' They gave up a first-round draft pick in 2022, a first-round draft pick in 2023, and a third-rounder in 2022. So, they have, in essence, really stuck their necks out on this one. And if the quarterback that Kyle Shanahan selects fails, and the 49ers fail, and they don't win football games in the next three or four years, then Kyle Shanahan might've wrote his own ticket out of town."

Fields, who turned 22 in March, is the third-overall prospect and third-ranked quarterback on Pro Football Focus' NFL Draft Big Board. Due to the pandemic and a restructured Big Ten conference schedule, he only played in eight games this past season. But, Fields made the most of his opportunities on the field, as he threw for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns, rushed for five scores, and led the Buckeyes to a national championship game appearance.

No one can dispute San Francisco's fascination with Jones. Just four days after shaking up the draft order via a trade with the Miami Dolphins in late March, Shanahan and Lynch were in Tuscaloosa to watch Jones -- the fifth-ranked quarterback, per PFF -- throw during one of Alabama's pro days.

But, the question still remains: why isn't San Francisco intrigued by Fields' numbers, skillset, and winning pedigree?

"I don't know that we'll ever really find out," Maiocco said. "This is not to say anything bad about Justin Fields, but when you spend time with Mac Jones and with Trey Lance, what I'm hearing there is, the energy, the positivity, the connection, being extroverts, that's kind of their personality. And I think that's kind of the personality teams want to see from the quarterbacks. Someone who's engaging and somebody who can really connect with teammates and be a team leader. I don't know where Justin Fields falls in that, and I know that's just one area that I'm talking about.

"The other stuff would be the football side of it -- the mechanics, the footwork. Kyle Shanahan's very much into footwork and getting the ball out in time, getting the ball out in rhythm and with anticipation and with accuracy. And Justin Fields was very accurate. But the one thing I can kind of point to -- if you want some numbers -- Justin Fields took a lot of sacks... That would be something that doesn't fit what Kyle Shanahan wants, which is a quarterback who can avoid sacks by making the right reads and getting the ball out quickly."

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 49ers' move up to No. 3 marks just the fourth time in the past 30 drafts that a team has traded from 12th overall or later into the top-three. It's also the highest pick San Francisco has acquired in a trade during the common era.

The entire NFL Draft conversation between Maiocco and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.

You can follow The Zach Gelb Show on Twitter @ZachGelb and Tom Hanslin @TomHanslin.