49ers can draft Trey Lance thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo, but is QB right fit?

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Josh Schrock
·5 min read
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Jimmy G allows 49ers to gamble on Lance, but is QB good fit? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

With three weeks to go until the 2021 NFL Draft, all the talk around the 49ers' decision at No. 3 overall seems to center around Mac Jones or Justin Fields.

But what about what's behind Door No. 3?

After only playing one showcase game last season, it seems most people have forgotten about North Dakota State's Trey Lance. At just 20 years old and with only 17 games of starting experience, Lance is a relative unknown as far as NFL projections. If everything clicks, there is no ceiling to the type of QB Lance can become.

But if things don't go right and Lance isn't given the proper time to develop, he could be one of the first-round picks destined to go boom.

The 49ers, of course, are in a prime position to give Lance the exact type of situation he needs to grow into the superstar many project he can be. The 49ers still have Jimmy Garoppolo, and, barring a trade offer they can't refuse, plan for him to be the starter in 2021 no matter who they select at No. 3 overall.

Of course, that plan is a lot easier to plot out and enact in April than it is in the middle of September after Garoppolo has authored a poor showing in a loss and the fan base is clamoring for the rookie to get snaps.

However, if Shanahan and Lynch are set on Garoppolo being the starter in 2021, building back up his trade value while leading them on a Super Bowl run before handing the keys over to the heir, then, perhaps, Lance fits.

The pluses for Lance are obvious. He's a great athlete with a strong arm who has a high football IQ, is polished in the play-action passing game, can be a real threat in the quarterback run game and is a fast processor who prioritizes taking care of the ball.

On the flip side, Lance still is extremely raw as a prospect. He's only amassed 318 passing attempts at North Dakota State in his 17 starts. That is the same number of starts as Jones, but the competition level is obviously different. Lance ran an offense at North Dakota State that is similar to Shanahan's offense. He booted on 14 percent of his dropbacks utilizing the entire spectrum of naked, deep shots, half rolls and throwbacks.

It's important to note that the Bison did not utilize the play-action game to hunt for deep shots like Ohio State did with Fields, but instead utilized it for the quick-passing game. Lance has a great feel for the quick-passing game, which is a staple of the West Coast offense, and his play-fake proficiency coupled with a live arm and ability to be a real running threat makes him an appealing option. 

There is admittedly a whole lot to like about Lance. Everything listed above seems to highlights someone who would thrive in the 49ers' system and has the galaxy-level ceiling you trade two future first-round picks to acquire.

However, Lance isn't a perfect prospect, and his accuracy issues could lead the 49ers away from him at No. 3.

While he has a live arm, Lance is inconsistent in putting the ball on the money when it's not a quick throw that he sees immediately. When everything goes right with Lance's mechanics he can be extremely accurate, but he has a tendency to get loose with his motion and his footwork, which leads to inconsistency on intermediate and deep throws.

In his 17 starts, only 47.1 percent of Lance's passes were charted as accurate with 24.4 percent being deemed uncatchable. A lot of that has to do with the mini-dip in Lance's delivery, which can be coached out but also will be exploited at the NFL level.

RELATED: Fields fits with what Shanahan likes in dual-threat QBs

It's easy to see the appeal of Lance. He's a 6-foot-4, 226-pound quarterback who can throw it 70 yards and run in the 4.5 range.

In 2017, eight months before the 49ers acquired Garoppolo, Shanahan noted there are very few truly elite throwers in the NFL.

“You’re always looking for one of those seven throwers on the planet, whatever that number is," Shanahan said. "I’m guessing there’s only around seven. So you better not only be set on that, saying, ‘Hey, I need one of those seven guys.’ I hope to get one of those seven guys, but if you don’t, you got to find other ways to win.”

There should be no doubt that the 49ers made the trade up to No. 3 because Shanahan saw three prospects with that plus-arm talent.

Lance has that raw, special arm talent, but it will take time to mold him into what he can become. Shanahan, the quarterback whisperer, might be the perfect guy to fine-tune Lance and send him hurtling toward his superstar ceiling.

Garoppolo affords the 49ers the luxury of taking a swing on the NFL draft's wild-card. But are they willing to be patient with Lance while their Super Bowl-ready roster awaits a star signal-caller? Or are they more geared toward a prospect who can be ready for the bright lights sooner?

How Shanahan and Lynch answer that question will determine whose hands they put the future of their 49ers tenure in.

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