Nobody in the NFL Draft world has any real idea about what the San Francisco 49ers will do with the No. 3 overall pick after trading a haul of draft capital to move up from No. 12. The scuttlebutt of the last two weeks heavily suggests San Fran is locked in on Mac Jones, the Alabama QB who has rocketed up draft boards in recent weeks. But it is difficult to believe any information that leaks a month prior to the draft, thanks to the organizations' propensity to spread misinformation like they're the CIA trying to install a puppet government in South America.
Still, there is occasionally fire where you see smoke when it comes to draft rumors. Until the night of the main event comes and the Niners prove everyone wrong (or right), we operate with the information available. Such is the job of people like Colin Cowherd, employed to provide analysis on such information for the hungry masses.
The FOX Sports host did just that today. In attempting to dissect why the Niners would prefer Mac Jones (who Cowherd once compared to a Blackberry) over a more decorated college QB like Justin Fields or a more physically talented one like Trey Lance, Cowherd suggested that Shanahan's complete belief in his system is why rumors suggest he is leaning towards a pocket-bound QB who doesn't have a rocket of an arm or the ability to make things happen when the line collapses around him. A signal-caller with top-tier athleticism is more likely to try and improvise, which Cowherd believes is exactly what Shanahan does not want.
It's an interesting take because Shanahan's offensive genius is obvious in a way very few other systems are at the professional level. Watching a Niners game, receivers and running backs alike get the ball with an enormous amount of space to work with simply through the nature of the design rather than every player beating the man in front of them. A system has to be special in a way that few others have been to make that whole idea obvious to me, a person who has never designed a play outside of intramural flag football.
Not only does Shanahan's offense look good, it works, too. The Niners probably won two or three more games than they had any right to last year after losing everyone important to injury off the strength of the head coach's ability to gain yards through sheer X's and O's acumen. It was a big part of the team's Super Bowl run only two short years ago. If Shanahan had the kind of confidence Cowherd suggests he does, it would be hard to blame him.
But on the other hand, Shanahan designed the system because he is a smart football mind, and no smart football mind actually believes having an athletic QB would screw up the system, right? I have to believe Shanahan doesn't because he helped design an offense around Robert Griffin III in Washington back in 2012 that resulted in a playoff appearance. That team fell apart because of Griffin's injuries, not because he was screwing up the "system" as an athletic quarterback.
Cowherd's points about athletic QBs and their propensity to improvise because they can is certainly true. Shanahan probably knows that. But most smart coaches would rather take a chance on a guy who could fit into the system and can make things happen if the system doesn't work on any given down rather than the other way around. Football coaches are a stubborn breed, but we can be reasonably sure Shanahan is a smart dude. If he picks Jones, it won't be because Shanahan thinks Fields would screw up his offense.