Why ESPN ranks Lance as NFL's only 'supernova' breakout candidate originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Less than a month away from officially beginning his first season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, the Trey Lance hype train continues to gain steam.
On Monday, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked the top candidates to rise as breakout stars in the 2022 NFL season. The 22-year-old Lance was slotted in the top tier -- dubbed “bench to supernova” -- all by himself.
The biggest reason Barnwell cited for predicting Lance’s lonely leap to stardom was his partnership with coach Kyle Shanahan. Since Shanahan took over the 49ers’ sideline in 2017, the team arguably has unleashed the most creative offense in the league, propped up by versatile players like “wide back” Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle.
But featuring pocket passer Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback might have limited Shanahan’s creative juices. Having the athletic Lance extending plays with his legs could unlock a new level of the 49ers' offense.
As Barnwell writes, defenses recently have pivoted to charging the quarterback on bootleg play calls to limit the possibility of explosive passes down the field.
"I'm not sure if Shanahan saw this on tape in 2020 or saw it coming as a solution in the years to come, but having a mobile quarterback like Lance is the ultimate weapon against this defense," Barnwell wrote. "Left one-on-one against Garoppolo, most defensive ends were able to blow up plays. Left alone against Lance, those same ends are going to get embarrassed in open space. He can run past those ends and continue the boot concept, either scrambling for significant gains or finding receivers at one of three different levels.
"The threat of Lance puts weakside ends into a torture chamber."
The early-career arc of Lance is comparable to Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, the No. 10 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, sat behind Alex Smith as a rookie and watched as the team cruised to a 10-6 record. He took over under center the following season, surrounded by those same Chiefs weapons in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. He learned under the tutelage of veteran coach Andy Reid.
Mahomes went on to win the 2018 NFL MVP in his first year as the starting quarterback.
"Likewise, Lance is the perfect fit for Shanahan, whose best quarterback as an offensive playcaller has been Matt Ryan," Barnwell wrote. "Lance unlocks elements of the offense that simply weren't possible in years past and makes life easier for everyone else on the field. He gets to play with the league's best left tackle and the third-best set of playmakers in football heading into the season."
Expectations only add pressure to a young quarterback trying to find his way on football's biggest stage. But Lance is surrounded by a creative coach and the right weapons to cover any expected speed bumps heading the quarterback's way.
It's easy to envision Lance's path to taking the NFL by storm.