Trey Lance is the key to another successful season for the San Francisco 49ers, but not everybody is convinced the second-year quarterback deserves the keys to the kingdom.
Lance was taken off the board third overall in the 2021 NFL draft, but one reporter focused on a rival team believes the Niners drafted the wrong passer. Specifically, a podcast host connected to San Francisco’s NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals thinks another sophomore signal-caller is already “leaps and bounds ahead of” Lance as a starting QB.
Naturally, the argument is a contentious one, but there were worrying signs for the 49ers based on how Lance fared in the final week of the preseason. To make matters worse, the quarterback the Niners passed on in favor of Lance produced a star-making display.
Fellow 2021 First-Rounder Already Ahead of Lance
Cardinals reporter and PHNX Cardinals host Johnny Venerable has identified Chicago Bears’ starter Justin Fields as superior to Lance:
Venerable made the statement after Fields shone against the Cleveland Browns in preseason on Saturday. The 11th pick a year ago threw three touchdowns passes after completing all-but two of his 16 throws.
Fields’ successful plays weren’t merely brief snapshots in a small and isolated sample size. Instead, the 23-year-old showed the ability to be a field general by keeping his offense on track for scoring drives covering “80, 52 and 62 yards” during a 21-20 win, per ESPN’s Field Yates.
The precision and efficiency evidenced by Fields’ numbers was in sharp contrast to the meagre production Lance mustered against the Houston Texans. A stat line relayed by Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area made for bleak reading:
For his part, Lance isn’t going to dwell on any problems for long, per Cam Inman of The Mercury News: “Some ugly stuff out there, for sure. It definitely wasn’t our best night. We’re not going to make too big of a deal from it. We’ll watch film, learn from it and get better. These 17 days (of practice) will be super important for us for Chicago.”
There’s something fitting about Lance opening the season against the Bears and Fields on Sunday, September 11. It’s an ideal opportunity to test whether the 49ers made the right choice trading up for Fields and overlooking Fields.
49ers Betting Big on Lance
The trade, which sent three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins, allowed the 49ers to move from 12th to third in last year’s draft. They had the chance to make Fields the third quarterback taken off the board after Trevor Lawrence went to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets drafted Zach Wilson.
Instead, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan chose Lance. It was the first instance of the 49ers gambling on raw potential.
The second occurred earlier this offseason when Shanahan named Lance his starter ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo. Lance’s ascension to the starting job was seen as inevitable, but Garoppolo, despite his critics, had led the 49ers to a pair of NFC Championship Games and a place in Super Bowl LIV.
Lance has superior arm strength to Garoppolo, but he needs to prove he can master the mechanics of exploiting coverage and consistently throwing with accuracy. Those things weren’t evident during the 17-0 shutout loss to the Texans, with Jordan Elliott of SB Nation’s Niners Nation highlighting this glaring missed connection:
Plays like this are a concern, particularly when compared to the way Fields is finding his receivers freely in Chicago. One of his best throws was this touchdown to tight end Ryan Griffin, a pass that caught the eye of ESPN analyst Matt Bowen:
The bigger concern may not be the difference in accuracy between Fields and Lance. What’s more worrying is how Lance is struggling with a superior supporting cast to his fellow first-round passer.
Fields is throwing to a thin wide receiver group headlined by Darnell Mooney. Lance is surrounded by Brandon Aiyuk and All-Pro duo Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
On the surface, Lance should be further along, although Fields got more experience last season by starting 10 games as a rookie. Fortunately for the 49ers, there are caveats to the Fields and Lance debate.
The first is it’s only preseason. Many players have thrived in exhibition games only to fall flat when the real action began, while an equal number floundered at this time of year before delivering once the games mattered.
Another feature of preseason football concerns how teams often show little of their playbooks. Kittle promised there’s more to come from a scheme designed around Lance, per David Lombardi of The Athletic:
It’s safe to assume Shanahan, one of the most creative designers of offense in the league, will put together plays ideally suited to Lance’s particular brand of dual-threat magic.
Of course, fans of the 49ers’ rivals will hope Lance is being held back by more than just “vanilla” strategy. The reality will go a long way toward defining the Niners this season and beyond.
Mr. Dudko, this was both a poorly written and poorly researched piece. Lance was the NFL’s 3rd overall pick. That’s easily fact-checked. Your sentence structure was remedial and your grammatical errors were abundant. You lost me after that sir; but such is the sad state of sports journalism today. I agree with the assertion that Fields is the superior prospect. Time will tell.