The San Francisco 49ers made a franchise-altering move ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. They traded up with the Miami Dolphins, moving into the No. 3 slot in the draft in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick, a 2022 first-round pick, 2022 third-round pick and 2023 first-round pick. With the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, the 49ers selected North Dakota State quarterback, Trey Lance.
With Jimmy Garoppolo already on the roster as the incumbent starter, the debate has already begun; who will be under center for the 49ers in Week 1?
People will point to Lance’s experience, or lack thereof, collegiately as a reason he should not start at the beginning of the season. He started only 17 games at the FCS level, none of which came against FBS teams. The difference in the speed of the game from the FCS to the FBS, let alone the FCS to the NFL, is extraordinary.
However, there is a reason that the 49ers selected Lance as high as they did. Nate Tice of Pro Football Focus believes that Lance will be the starter in Week 1 and I am in agreement.
Lance will bring an added dimension to the 49ers’ offense that Garoppolo didn’t provide with his legs. He ran for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019 on top of the 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns, with zero interceptions, that he threw for. Kyle Shanahan is going to have a blast creating new plays and schemes with a quarterback that can get out of the pocket and create plays with his arms or legs.
That dual-threat ability is something we have seen teams being more open to in recent seasons, as it has led to plenty of success for the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals with Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. Before them, Cam Newton was a force with the Carolina Panthers as a dual-threat as well.
If history is any indicator, Shanahan is ready to move on from Garoppolo as well. During the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl in 2019, Garoppolo had more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). He threw the ball only 58 times in three games for 427 yards as the coaching staff seemed to have little confidence in him to get the job done aerially.
The former Eastern Washington product has also struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career. If you have Lance installed as your backup quarterback, throwing him into the fire randomly in a game if Garoppolo were to go down again would be more of a detriment.
As the starting quarterback from Day 1, Trey Lance would get all of the reps, something that would only speed up his development process. Getting all of that work in training camp and carrying it over into the regular season would only help the team chemistry and cohesion he could build with his teammates.
Also, starting him in Week 1 would cause fewer headaches for the coaching staff. They wouldn’t have to constantly answer questions about when he will become the starter if he is already installed as such from the beginning.