How Justin Fields', Mac Jones' pro days compared as 49ers' QB choice looms

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Josh Schrock
·8 min read
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Comparing Jones', Fields' pro days as 49ers' QB choice looms originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

At this point, it seems like the 49ers' decision on who to select at No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft will come down to Mac Jones or Justin Fields.

If you believe that, then Tuesday was a big day because Jones and Fields held dueling pro days in which they showed what they could do against air while wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

While the 49ers could probably learn more about both prospects from their game tape, there is a benefit to watching them throw in person. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch attended Jones' pro day but do plan to watch Fields throw in person at another time.

So, how did Jones and Fields fare?

Let's break it down.

Justin Fields

The Ohio State star opened his pro day but running a blistering 4.4 40-yard dash time, showing that at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he's got the size and speed to be the ideal dual-threat quarterback at the NFL level.

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Shanahan has previously said that the way to make the read-option game the deadliest is to have a quarterback who can 100 percent beat you with his legs but who has the arm talent to make defenses pay for loading up to stop the run and who has the physical frame to take hard hits NFL defenders will deliver.

Fields checks the athleticism and frame box. Then, he went to work dazzling with his top-level arm talent.

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He capped it off with this ridiculous toss. 

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Fields, by all accounts, had a superb pro day, with his arm strength jumping off the page.

NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah loved what he saw from Fields.

"When we got to Ohio State and see Justin Fields. It was noticeable when you see the ball pop out of his hands," Jeremiah said. "There's just more juice, there's more RPMs on the ball. He was just really able to spin it and drive it. ... When you watch Mac and then you turn around and watch Justin, again, it's like going to the driving range and you're watching somebody work on their short game, and then you come out there and Justin Fields is just bombs away. He was driving and powering the football."

Fields did miss a few throws, but all in all, it was an impressive show from the Ohio State star.

Fields entered last season as the No. 2 QB in the class, but over-analysis has led some to drop Fields behind BYU quarterback Zach Wilson and potentially behind Jones. Questions about Fields' ability center around his ability to make quick decisions and move through his reads efficiently. Those questions mostly stem from Fields' poor showing in the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern where he struggled to find his receiver on the backside who was able to find space on curls and out routes.

However, Fields followed that up by eviscerating Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals, throwing for six touchdowns and only six incompletions. If anything, Fields' issues stem from his overconfidence in his arm talent can that cause him to try and squeeze balls into tight windows to his first read. That over-aggressiveness can lead to bad decisions, but it's nothing that can't be toned down and harnessed by a good coach.

To Fields, the question between him and Jones is no question at all.

“If they do that, then that’s on them,” Fields told NFL Media's Aditi Kinkhabwala after his pro day about a team picking Jones over him. “I think I’m the best quarterback in this draft. If I get a quarterback drafted over me, then they just have to live with that decision and I just hope I get to play that team. I’m just going to leave it there.”

Mac Jones

With Shanahan and Lynch in attendance, Jones wanted to show the 49ers and other NFL teams that he's not as immobile as scouts and evaluators believe.

Jones' second pro-day script had him utilize bootlegs and rollouts to illustrate that he can make throws outside the pocket. Jones missed a couple deep throws early, but settled down and showed off his accuracy and touch during a successful pro day, save the two overthrows that everyone focused on.

He also showed some good touch on his deep ball later on in the script.

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The Alabama quarterback has been criticized for playing in a quarterback-friendly system that only asked him to get the ball out to playmakers and didn't ask him to think or do too much. Of course, Jones went on to note that the 49ers' offensive system is similar in that it also is quarterback friendly.

Jones is a quick processor who is very accurate in the short and intermediate throwing area, has good pocket mobility and is a high IQ quarterback who understands how to operate within the framework of the play and executes the game plan. He doesn't have the elite athleticism or rocket arm that Fields possesses, but his best traits are those that show why he could be a good fit with Shanahan.

After a mediocre first pro day, Jeremiah thought Jones' second showing was much better.

"He's a great scheme fit, a good match with the 49ers with what they like to do," Jeremiah said of Jones. "Some of the movement stuff was just -- I thought he was quicker, I thought he was more crisp, getting outside. Even some of the stuff he did inside the pocket I liked. Now, he overshot a couple balls which was fine, if you're going to miss, miss long. .. With Mac, I thought there was touch, there was timing. You see with these deep balls where he just kind of lays it up and dropped it right in the bucket."

RELATED: Fields-to-49ers fits Shanahan's thoughts on dual-threat QBs

Important stats

As we wrap up what's sure to be the first of a few comparisons between Fields and Jones, let's take a look at a few key stats from their last 13 games. (Jones started 13 games last season while Fields played in only eight.)

Where Jones has really impressed was under pressure and that's shown in ESPN's QBR both under pressure and when blitzed. The QBR stat isn't perfect but it measures a quarterback's total contribution not just throwing, but also rushing, penalties and turnovers.

Per ESPN stats and info, Jones registered a QBR of 78.3 when pressured and a 97.3 QBR when blitzed, which speaks to his ability to quickly process what's in front of him and get the ball out. Fields, who sometimes holds onto the ball too long and struggled against pressure last season, registered a QBR of 22.6 when pressured over his last 13 games and 81.1 when blitzed. For context, Zach Wilson ranked second in the class with a 44.0 QBR when pressured, which is quite good, which goes to show how impressive Jones' numbers are.

When you look at total QBR from inside the pocket and outside the pocket, you'd expect Jones to be good in one area and not in the other. But that's not the case. Jones posted a total QBR of 95.8 inside the pocket and 93.9 outside the pocket, both of which rank first among the draft's top quarterbacks. For comparison, Fields was second (88.4) inside the pocket but sixth (71.2) outside the pocket.

Now, we turn our attention to throws on 15-20 yard out routes which are a key throw on the NFL level.

This is where Fields' arm strength and accuracy shine. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes on 15-20 yard out routes with an off-target percentage of only 4.4 percent on such throws. The average off-target percentage at the Division 1 level is 22 percent on those throws. Jones, however, was no slouch in this category as he topped the class with a 66.7 percent completion rate and only was off-target on 14.8 percent of said throws, which ranked fourth behind Fields, Trevor Lawrence and Wilson.

Jones and Fields present two different paths for the 49ers' future. They have very different skill sets, strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, it'll come down to who Shanahan is comfortable with and who he believes can execute his game plan in the manner he wishes. That ultimately might end up being a gut decision, one that will define the next era of 49ers football.

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