NFL Draft 2022: 49ers' Trey Lance gamble looks even better after Round 1

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49ers' Lance gamble looks even better after Round 1 of 2022 draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 49ers were quiet Thursday during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. There was no Deebo Samuel blockbuster trade, and the 49ers were without a first-round pick.

The 2022 and 2023 first-round picks were the price the 49ers paid last March to move up to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft. They eventually selected quarterback Trey Lance.

Lance showed flashes of immense potential during two starts and a few brief cameos during his rookie season. But the decision to pay a premium to get Lance last spring looks even better after how the first round unfolded Thursday night.

The 2022 QB class was always going to be weak. That was relatively clear during the 2019 recruiting cycle when guys like Spencer Rattler, Bo Nix, Jayden Daniels, and Ryan Hilinski topped the QB rankings. All four of those QBs have been underwhelming and still are in college. Sam Howell was the No. 6 ranked QB, per 247 Sports. After three seasons at North Carolina, Howell entered the draft but wasn't selected in the first round

Even with the expectation that the 2022 class was low on star potential, quarterback is the most important position in sports. You either have one, or you don't. If you don't, it's imperative that you get one. With Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and Desmond Ridder all being viewed as potential Round 1 picks in a below-average draft, the belief was that several teams could reach early, hoping to strike gold and secure their QB future.

But there was no reaching Thursday night. The Carolina Panthers went offensive tackle, and the Atlanta Falcons took Drake London. The Washington Commanders traded down to take Jahan Dotson, and the Houston Texans moved down for an offensive lineman.

The Pittsburgh Steelers stood pat at No. 20 and took Pickett, the only QB who heard his name called in Round 1.

That Washington and Carolina shrugged their shoulders at the 2022 class and went a different direction shows why the 49ers believed last year was the time to strike.

"Yeah, we always task our college staff with forecasting," general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine when asked if the 2022 class factored into the Lance decision. "What are we looking at next year? Even the year beyond. As you get a couple years out, it's a little tougher. There's so many things that go into that.

"But yes, I think you're not doing your job if you're not doing that. I'll leave it at that."

The 49ers knew they wanted to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo for someone with a higher ceiling and cheaper contract. Once that decision was made, the 2021 draft was the best opportunity for the 49ers to find a quarterback and stay on their Super Bowl timeline.

Pickett's ceiling is "good Kirk Cousins." That's a solid NFL quarterback, but the 49ers wanted more in a franchise signal-caller. Willis has high upside, but the floor could be subterranean if things go sideways.

The 49ers saw the 2021 class as having five good options. They were left with a choice between Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones, all of whom appear to have brighter NFL futures than Pickett or Willis.

Quarterback evaluation is an inexact science. Is there a chance Willis becomes a star or Ridder a perennial Pro Bowler? Sure. But the probability of Lance taking that path is much greater.

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Making Thursday even better for the 49ers was that none of their NFC rivals made significant moves to improve their standing in the conference pecking order.

The Philadelphia Eagles made a splash by trading for A.J. Brown and drafting Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis. But we saw what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did to Jalen Hurts in the wild-card round last year. Hurts has to take a massive step forward as a passer, or the Eagles won't be a legitimate threat.

Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers failed to get Aaron Rodgers the receiver he desperately needs, electing instead to use their two first-round picks on defense. The Bucs traded out of the first round, and Sean McVay was busy enjoying his Thursday night with the Rams not set to have a first-round pick until 2024.

The 49ers went all-in with their decision to trade two first-round picks for Lance. It's early, but that gambit looks even better after Thursday night than it did a year ago.

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