Deja Vu? Trey Lance’s First NFL Start Rivaled That of Russell Wilson

Trey Lance 49ers

Getty Pro Football Focus rated Trey Lance's debut performance the second-best among rookie quarterbacks in 2021.

San Francisco 49ers rookie QB Trey Lance’s first professional start, a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, was a mixed bag.

Lance moved the ball efficiently at times, and finished 15 of 29 throwing the ball for 192 yards and one interception. He was also the game’s leading rusher, gaining 89 yards on 16 carries.

Lance himself told reporters after the October 10 defeat he did “some good, some bad things again.”

It was an assessment echoed by 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who debunked any notion that the job was now Lance’s to lose. Shanahan told reporters that Garoppolo will return to the starting role once he’s fully healed, which could come after the team’s bye week this weekend. The Niners take the field again on October 24 when the Indianapolis Colts visit Santa Clara.

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But lost in all the uncertainty is how Lance’s actual first full NFL regular season game stacks up compared to other rookie signal-callers: The No. 3 overall pick played better in his first game than most other rookie quarterbacks this year.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area, which reported October 11 on Lance’s performance as scored by Pro Football Focus, only New England Patriots QB Mac Jones had a higher quarterback ranking after their 2021 debut.

Lance’s 65.9 passing grade from football analytics website came from a 51.7 pass completion rate that included three drops by receivers on balls that were scored as on-target passes.

Half of Lance’s rushing yards came from scrambles and half came from designed runs – 45 yards came after a play broke down compared to 44 yards that were earned on planned runs. But an impressive 62 of Lance’s 89 rushing yards came after contact.

In all, Lance’s 66.3 offensive score puts him second among the top five rookie quarterbacks in terms of debut ranking.

  1. Mac Jones, New England Patriots – 78.3
  2. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers – 66.3
  3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets – 63.2
  4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars – 57.7
  5. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears – 46.8

But how about outside of rookie quarterbacks this year? How does Lance’s debut stack up? It looks on par – in more ways than one – with that of a perennial Pro Bowler and division rival.

Lance’s First Start Against Cardinals as Good as Russell Wilson’s

Russell Wilson

GettyRussell Wilson played his first regular season game in Glendale, where he moved the ball decently but came up short on points in a one-score loss.

Lance’s first game in Arizona looked similar to another quarterback who made his regular season debut in the desert: Russell Wilson.

Wilson opened the 2012 season in Glendale, his first year in the league, and moved the ball well at times against the Cardinals defense in their Week 1 game. But, as with Lance, Wilson’s drives stalled in the opponent’s territory and the Seahawks ended up losing by four points, 20-16.

Wilson that day went 18 of 34 for 153 yards. He threw for one touchdown, one interception and rushed the ball eight times for 20 yards. His yards per pass and rush, 4.5 and 2.5, respectively, were below Lance’s averages of 12.5 and 5.5, as were Wilson’s total passing yards.

Wilson finished the game with a 62.5 passer rating, similar to Lance’s. Wilson, considered a mobile, elusive quarterback just like Lance, was also sacked three times, whereas Lance was taken down behind the line of scrimmage twice.

This year, the red-hot Cardinals are 5-0 and considered by some to be the best team in the league.

In 2012, after beating Wilson and the Seahawks, the Cardinals started the season 4-0 before the team fell apart and ended up missing the playoffs. But both quarterbacks played a Cardinals team that was playing excellent football when they met.

Lance’s Playing Time Still a Question, Whereas Wilson’s Never Was

Trey Lance

GettyTrey Lance put up similar numbers to Russell Wilson’s debut during his first regular season start against the Arizona Cardinals October 10, but the No. 3 overall pick appears headed back to the bench.

Wilson, however, was never in jeopardy of not playing once he earned the starting position after dominating second-stringers with Seattle’s second-team offense during the 2012 preseason.

While his debut against the Cardinals was a mixed bag, Wilson improved rapidly during the 2012 season. The second time the Seahawks played the Cardinals in December of that year, the ‘Hawks smashed the Cards, 58-0. Seattle would go on to lose in the final minute against the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the playoffs.

Lance hasn’t been afforded the luxury of uninterrupted playing time, at least not yet. Shanahan’s comments don’t do much to suggest that will change in the next few weeks, either.

Lance also sprained his knee against the Cardinals, which Shanahan told reporters could keep him out at least one-to-two weeks.

That leaves the 49ers’ quarterback situation in a perilous position as the team tries to heal before its next game against the Colts. Third-stringer Nate Sudfeld could get the nod. But when Garoppolo returns, the job appears to be his for the foreseeable future.

How Lance’s playing time shakes out and his development progresses is anyone’s guess. But Wilson’s history shows that a mixed bag performance in Arizona is far from an ominous start. It could even be considered promising.

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