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Fields best draft fit for 49ers in analytics-based pairing originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
A number of factors can be utilized in measuring the potential of an NFL draft prospect. There is game film, background information from those closest to the prospect, conversations with coaches and teammates, and both basic and advanced statistics, all of which paint a picture as to how productive said player might be at the next level.
Cynthia Frelund, NFL Media's analytics expert, took a stat-based approach to determining the best landing spot for each of the five quarterbacks expected to be selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Frelund believes the player whose win shares would be maximized most with the 49ers at the No. 3 overall pick is none other than Ohio State's Justin Fields.
"Fields' ability to hit deep passes (50 percent completions on throws of 20-plus yards since 2019, per PFF, ranking sixth-best in the FBS), produce off play-action (146.4 passer rating in 2020, per PFF, third-best in the FBS) and connect on attempts of 10-plus air yards when his base is not set (55.5 percent since 2019, per my computer vision) is extremely promising for his NFL projection, particularly if he goes to a team like San Francisco with a strong offensive line," Frelund writes.
"Also, the Ohio State product's 630 rushing yards on scrambles since 2019 (with five TDs) create even more upside when paired with the playbook and personnel potential of the Niners. With Kyle Shanahan's disguised rushing concepts, pre-snap motions and consistent fullback usage, San Francisco feels like a perfect landing spot for Fields."
The 49ers ensured that strong offensive line remained in place this offseason, as they inked Trent Williams to a monster contract extension, making him the highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL.
Shanahan hasn't had a quarterback with above-average mobility since he was the offensive coordinator in Washington with Robert Griffin III, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. However, he also turned Matt Ryan into an NFL MVP in 2016 when he was the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, and made Jimmy Garoppolo into a signal-caller that could lead a team to the Super Bowl in 2019.
The 49ers head coach has found success with various types of quarterbacks, and it's not hard to imagine that he could make any one of Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Fields into a good if not great NFL QB.
Which one makes the most sense for the 49ers? Many experts were tabbing Jones as the favorite in the days following the 49ers' decision to trade up to the No. 3 pick, but after an outstanding pro day in front of Shanahan, 49ers general manager John Lynch and QB coach Rich Scangarello, Fields now is the betting favorite to be the 49ers' selection.
Frelund's numbers also point toward Fields being the optimal choice, but none of us will know the organization's true preference until draft night rolls around on April 29.