NFL Draft 2021: This edition of the NFL draft really started with the no. 3 pick. We all knew the Jaguars would take Trevor Lawrence first congrats, Jacksonville! And we knew the Jets would draft Zach Wilson a slightly smaller congrats to Jets fans! But the third pick? That’s been a mystery throughout the entire draft process, dating back to when it belonged to the Dolphins.
When the Niners sent a wheelbarrow of picks to Miami in late March in exchange for the no. 3 pick, we still didn’t know exactly whom they were eyeing. Probably a quarterback, right? Would they take Justin Fields, who was widely regarded as the second-best player in this class? Would they take tight end Kyle Pitts and pair him with George Kittle, creating Kittle Kong and Pittzilla? Recently, most rumors centered on the premise that they would take Mac Jones out of Alabama. But earlier this week, other reports came out that the Niners still didn’t know whom they’d be taking.
Clearly, the Niners relished the mystery. On Thursday, team CEO Jed York sent a series of overly cheeky tweets about how he didn’t know whom the team’s actual brain trust had decided on. During a press conference last week, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he liked five quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. (He didn’t name them, just to throw people off the scent. Maybe one of them was Ian Book from Notre Dame!) Rather than comment on a potential QB move, Shanahan commented that he couldn’t be sure that he or anybody else would even be alive after the draft.
Clearly, the Niners had a strategy to make sure nobody knew what they were going to do. When you predict an apocalypse rather than say you know whom you’re picking, you really want to sell the idea that anything could happen.
And it worked! Even as I refreshed Twitter incessantly Thursday evening, I didn’t know who the pick would be until Roger Goodell said the words “Trey Lance, quarterback, North Dakota State.” Following the selection, Shanahan indicated that he and general manager John Lynch had secretly prioritized Lance all along. He added that for all York’s tweets, the CEO had known who the pick was on Wednesday, but that they hadn’t told any coaches or scouts to prevent a leak.
There is, hypothetically, a good reason for all this subterfuge. In 2017, the Niners were successfully able to conceal their desires with the no. 2 pick, goading the Bears into trading up from no. 3 to take Mitch Trubisky even though the Niners had absolutely no interest in taking Trubisky.
But this year, they didn’t really need to do this. Lawrence and Wilson were locks at nos. 1 and 2. The Niners could’ve done whatever and ended up with their guy! But it’s always fun to catch people off guard. I feel confident knowing that if Kyle Shanahan ever decides to throw me a surprise party, I will be mortified when it turns out all my friends are secretly hiding inside my living room.