49ers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

49ers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have already bet big on the 2021 NFL draft. They mortgaged multiple first-round picks to move up from No. 12 to No. 3. 

    The move is to presumably pick a quarterback of the future. The quarterback position is the only one that would be worth giving up that much capital to secure. 

    With Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson presumably going No. 1 and No. 2, the draft really starts with the Niners at No. 3. 

    The question of which quarterback they will take is intriguing, but there's added pressure to nail their other early picks. They are also scheduled to be on the clock at No. 43 in Round 2 and have the 102nd selection in Round 3. 

    Here's a look at who some of the top targets will be for Kyle Shanahan and Co. with their early picks. 

The Trio of Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The decision the 49ers face at No. 3 is one that will determine the fate of the organization for years to come but this is why they traded up. 

    On April 6, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the selection would be Alabama's Mac Jones. The Crimson Tide quarterback doesn't have the most impressive physical tools in the draft, but he was at the helm of the most explosive offense in college football. 

    His ability to make reads and get the ball where it needed to go could be appealing to head coach Kyle Shanahan. Fields and Lance are more athletically gifted, but Jones' processing and accuracy could be a deciding factor. One NFL coach told Tom Pelissero of NFL.com that he's "an exact fit for what they do."

    Meanwhile, an NFL executive told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports he believes the Niners will take Justin Fields out of Ohio State. The Buckeye passer threw for 63 touchdowns to nine interceptions in two seasons in Columbus. 

    That production paired with his great athleticism and arm talent would make sense as a prospect to move up the board to get. 

    Then there's Lance. The wild card in the class, Lance has a big arm and is big-bodied enough to survive the NFL. If Shanahan has watched the emergence of Josh Allen as the franchise quarterback in Buffalo, he could see a similar upside to Lance. 

    He's also been connected to the Niners in the rumor mill, setting up one of the most anticipated picks in the draft. 

Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    With the departure of Richard Sherman, and Jason Verrett only playing on a one-year contract for his age-30 season, the 49ers should be looking at cornerbacks once they select the next starting quarterbac. 

    Fortunately for the Niners, there are several cornerbacks who project to be available in that range. Asante Samuel Jr., Kary Vincent Jr., Elijah Molden and Eric Stokes all rank between 32 and 64 on Bleacher Report scouting department's big board. Jaycee Horn, Greg Newsome II and Caleb Farley all rank just ahead of that group. 

    The chances that at least one of those guys falls to the team at No. 43 are good, which is great news for general manager John Lynch. 

    Of the second group, Eric Stokes may be the best fit. Don't let his lack of interceptions fool you. He only had four in his three seasons of starting at Georgia, but he led the team in passes defended and held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 43.6 in his final season with the Dawgs. 

    The Niners might prefer a bigger corner playing opposite Verrett. Stokes checks that box at 6'0" and nearly 200 pounds. He played a bit of slot as well, so he's a versatile defender who would bolster a secondary that needs some promising youth. 

Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    If the Niners are likely to take a quarterback, it isn't going to hurt to invest in a young receiver for him to work with. George Kittle is the de facto No. 1 receiver in the offense. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are a good young tandem. 

    But Kenrick Bourne's departure in free agency leaves a hole on the outside. The Niners could address the need in the second round, but the reality is there should be some talent at receiver in the third round who could still start this season. 

    One such name to watch is Josh Palmer. The 6'1" 210-pound receiver is built like Bourne and brings a well-rounded game to the table. His production at Tennessee was underwhelming, but so is the Vols program right now, and the quarterback play wasn't the best. 

    "He has the right makeup," an NFL wide receiver coach told Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. "He stayed in there and played through what was a pretty toxic situation and with really shaky quarterback play."

    Palmer is the kind of prospect who doesn't create a lot of hype. He doesn't have huge athletic testing numbers, and he wasn't a star at Tennessee, but it won't be surprising if he becomes a consistent performer in a stable NFL situation with the right coaching.