The 49ers were one quarter away from Super Bowl LVI last season. Despite returning most of the key players from last year’s club, the national perception of San Francisco has been clouded by a transition away from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the unknown commodity with quarterback Trey Lance. An offseason full of talk about how Lance wasn’t ready left the 49ers behind or on the back burner in discussions about this season’s Super Bowl contenders.
Now as the preseason winds down and preparations begin for the regular season, the 49ers are making their way back into the national spotlight. A few former NFL players-turned-analysts are banging the drum for the 49ers as Super Bowl contenders.
Former defensive lineman Chris Long, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and Eagles and now hosts the Green Light Podcast, wrote for the 33rd Team that Lance’s insertion into the 49ers offense makes the team a contender this season. Via the 33rd Team:
Last year in those snaps that Lance was in for, he threw the ball deep more often than Jimmy Garoppolo. They will take more shots, and you know for a young guy, those are better areas to make mistakes in. If you are going to throw an interception, take a shot. Throw that interception deep and outside or deep and over the middle of the field.
Every time Garoppolo dropped back, I felt there was a collective nervousness in that anything could go wrong in whatever part of the field he was working. I think this really opens this offense up a lot and makes them a contender if Lance is a decent passer who throws in a lot of wrinkles.
Another former Patriots OL, Rich Ohrnberger who’s now with XTRA 1360 in San Diego, joined 95.7 the Game in San Francisco on Thursday to explain why he thinks the 49ers could be in contention for the Super Bowl this year. Like Long, his answer points to Lance, although his expectations aren’t as high for the second-year signal caller.
“All he has to be is better than Jimmy Garoppolo for the Niners to be a serious Super Bowl contender,” Ohrnberger said. “And I mean, Jimmy Garoppolo, I don’t want to underrate how difficult it is to be a starting quarterback in this league, and how well he handled that. Is he elite? No. He’s not a top-10 quarterback. He’s not really even a top-15 quarterback. But is Jimmy Garoppolo one of those guys who isn’t gonna really hurt you and understands the offense well enough to orchestrate game-winning drives and keep his cool under pressure? Yeah.
“… But he has a lower ceiling than Trey Lance. We’ve already seen it this preseason. Some of the plays that Trey makes, Jimmy just can’t make. He has a bigger arm, which can open up the playbook a little bit, and he’s very early in his maturation process. So, out of the gates, where you’re gonna set the bar is where the last guy was. If Trey Lance can be at least as good as Jimmy Garoppolo, they’re a serious playoff contender. If he can be better than Jimmy Garoppolo, which again the bar isn’t being set astronomically high, they are a serious Super Bowl contender assuming health along the other pieces of this roster.”
Another former defensive lineman, Chris Canty, is more definitive with his take. During a segment with bold predictions on ESPN’s Get Up, Canty put the 49ers in Super Bowl LVII.
“The 49ers are going to the Super Bowl,” Canty said. “They will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I believe in Trey Lance. More importantly, I believe in Kyle Shanahan getting the most out of the players on this team. They have a really good offensive line, a top-five run game, a top-five skill position corps, and a top-five defense. All of the pieces are in place for the 49ers not only to win the division, but actually do damage once they get into the postseason.”
Canty’s take leans less on Lance than the other two. The former Giants defensive lineman faced Kyle Shanahan’s offense when he was the coordinator for Washington in 2012 during Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. He’s well-versed in what Shanahan’s capable of with a mobile quarterback and believes their offense will take off even if Lance isn’t superb.
A good run game and good defense can carry a team in the modern NFL, it’s just going to be up to Lance to move the sticks, convert red zone trips into touchdowns, and hit on big play opportunities.
The 49ers are running a risk moving on from a QB that took them to two NFC championships and a Super Bowl, but as the preseason moves forward that risk looks smaller. Conversations are shifting now from whether Lance is ready, and instead focused on how high the ceiling is for San Francisco out of the gate. Long, Ohrnberger and Canty are already climbing aboard, now the 49ers and their first-time starting QB have to play well enough to prove them right.