2021 NFL Draft: Why Mel Kiper ranks Justin Fields ahead of Zach Wilson

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Josh Schrock
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Why Kiper ranks Fields ahead of Wilson, Jones and Lance originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

With one month until the 2021 NFL Draft, most people believe that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be the first two players selected, leaving the 49ers to choose between quarterbacks Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Trey Lance at No. 3.

Fields entered the college football season as the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback in the class behind Lawrence, but he was passed in many scouts and evaluators' eyes by Wilson.

That isn't the case with ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., though. On his recent NFL draft big board, Kiper listed Fields as his QB2, followed by Wilson, Jones and then Lance.

"The Georgia transfer needs to get better at going through his progressions, but that can come in time," Kiper says of Fields, who he ranks as his No. 6 overall prospect. "He's still young -- he started only 22 college games. Before the season, I said I wanted to see Fields improve as a decision-maker in the pocket and on off-platform throws, and though he has improved there, he needs to take a bigger step forward at the next level."

Fields dazzled at his pro day Tuesday, showing off his incredible arm talent and elite athleticism, both of which gel with how 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has said he views the ideal dual-threat quarterback.

Kiper has Wilson right behind Fields as the No. 7 overall prospect, showing how close the race to be the No. 2 overall pick is.

"Wilson has a stellar arm and can climb the pocket to find the open receiver. He was too inconsistent in 2019, bordering on reckless, but he was the opposite last season," Kiper writes of Wilson. "Wilson shows anticipation on throws. He's the complete package."

RELATED: Comparing Fields' Jones' pro days, stats as 49ers' choice looms

Jones checks in as Kiper's QB4 and the No. 12 overall prospect in the class. The Alabama signal-caller held his second pro day Tuesday and showed off his accuracy and quick decision-making, as well as an ability to make throws outside the pocket.

"In short: He just keeps improving. I have been so impressed by his deep-ball accuracy and ability to stand in the pocket and make throws under pressure," Kiper writes of Jones. " ... Yes, he had elite playmakers around him, but I'm a believer in his talent. He can make every throw."

As the 49ers mull over their decision at No. 3 overall, Jones and Shanahan both offered a glimpse as to why they could be an ideal pairing when discussing how they view the quarterback position and what the most important traits for a signal-caller are.

For Kiper, Lance rounds out what is a loaded QB class as the No. 13 prospect, right behind Jones.

"Lance is a huge wild card in this draft. But the more you watch his 2019 tape, the more there is to like about him," Kiper writes of Lance. " ... The other thing to note: Lance was born in 2000 -- he's going to be 20 when he gets drafted in April. He's not a finished product by any means."

The 49ers appear to be deciding between Fields and Jones at No. 3 overall. It's a decision between the prospect with the highest ceiling (Fields) and an ideal scheme fit (Jones). How Shanahan answers that question will define his tenure as 49ers head coach.

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