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The Panthers have a long shot at drafting Justin Fields

But also, this is the Season of Lies, so we should also be prepared for Mac Jones in the third.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

It is widely known that the Carolina Panthers are in the market for a quarterback. Any quarterback, really, that isn’t Andy Dalton. We also know that the draft is their last remaining source for a true upgrade at the position. Let’s all take a minute to assume that the Panthers aren’t interested in mortgaging their future for anybody less than Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming draft. That means, unlike the San Francisco 49ers just last week, they won’t be trading a king’s ransom for the chance to draft the fourth best quarterback coming out of college. Might they still have a shot at the guy everybody used to think was a surefire number two pick, Justin Fields?

The Ohio State quarterback has recently been the odd man out on the pre-draft hype train. Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and even Mac Jones have been getting more ink lately. That has continued with the latest insider nugget from Pro Football Talk’s Peter King. He has it that head coach and general manager of the 49ers will be attending the second pro day for Alabama quarterback Mac Jones over the Ohio State pro day for Justin Fields scheduled for the same day. They will be sending their assistant general manager and a some scouts to Columbus.

With Lawrence going first overall to Jacksonville and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson presumably going second to the Jets, that leaves Fields, Jones, and Lance for the 49ers to choose from at third. Between Atlanta, Detroit, and any possible trades, there is a high likelihood that at least one more quarterback will be drafted before the Panthers pick at 8, but there is also a reasonable chance that one of the top candidates could slip through or that the Panthers could pay big, but not huge, money to trade up to the fifth spot (assuming that Atlanta would never risk the Panthers landing a future with their pick). Options abound, but they are all contingent on what the 49ers do with their third pick.

What we have now is a 49ers team that seems to be prioritizing getting a good look at Jones and a Panthers organization that, after hands-on experience at the Senior Bowl, reportedly doesn’t view Jones as a top ten pick. The other thing we have to remember is that this is the Season of Lies. NFL general managers are notoriously into throwing smokescreens and players agents are happy to use that smoke to inflate their clients profiles in the media. None of this could end up meaning anything come April 29th.

The 49ers have little to gain from blowing smoke right now (which isn’t to say that wouldn’t be doing it). It is unlikely that they could puff up say, Jones, to a level where the Jets (under new management, let’s remember) or the Jaguars (same deal) would take him over their already locked-in targets. Their interest in Jones is probably genuine. The question, outside looking in, is are they sending their top guys to look at him to sign off on a decision their scouting department has already recommended or are they sending them to look at the guy about whom they have the shakier opinion? There is a world of difference implied about their current draft leanings by either, or any other, answer to that question.

If the 49ers do rock the boat, draft Jones, and leave both Fields and Lance sitting there at four then the Panthers will have some unexpected choices to make.