The San Francisco 49ers made a big move trading up to No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and at the time the expectation was that it was to select QB Mac Jones. We now know that was all a smokescreen. The 49ers have selected North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall.
Big-time college football recruiters thought so much of Trey Lance's quarterbacking skills out of high school that they all wanted him to move to linebacker, or safety, or wide receiver. Not what the former three-sport high-school star was hoping for. But Lance didn't want to change positions -- he wanted to be a quarterback despite being a lanky kid out of Marshall Senior High School, about 2.5 hours west of Minneapolis. One school fell in love with Lance: North Dakota State, who recruited Lance on the heels of turning Carson Wentz into a top-two pick in the NFL Draft.
Lance accepted -- and proved them right a year later. As a redshirt freshman, Lance passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns in 16 games, adding another 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. He also set an NCAA record for throwing the most passes (287) without a single interception in a season. It was more than enough to earn him the Walter Payton Award for the best FCS-level player in 2019. He's the only person ever to get it as a freshman.
Lance's remaining time in school was heavily impacted by COVID-19. The Bison played one game in the fall of 2020 (vs. Central Arkansas), opting for a spring schedule instead. Lance played in the game, a showcase of sorts for him, but seemed rusty in the first half before rebounding in the second half for a win. He declared for the draft after that.
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We're breaking down everything you need to know about Lance from a Fantasy manager perspective, including best fits, Dynasty outlook, measurables, scouting report, key stats and an NFL comparison.
2021 Fantasy Impact
There isn't likely a more QB-friendly situation for a rookie than in San Francisco. In addition to getting arguably one of the best play callers in the NFL in coach Kyle Shanahan, Lance will also enjoy an excellent supporting cast. The 49ers have a stable offensive line with arguably the best offensive tackle tandem in the NFL in Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey. They also have the weapons to go along with it. Second and third-year receivers Bradon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, respectively, have their arrows pointing way up. Tight end George Kittle is one of the best in the NFL. And while the 49ers don't have any brand name running backs, Shanahan's wide zone blocking scheme is foolproof and has generated production out of a slew of unheralded backs.
What makes this Fantasy fit even more interesting is the idea the fact that Lance has upside as a runner. In college, Lance was used on designed runs and he also created improvised rushing yardage. That makes him a perfect fit for Shanahan who first made the zone-read game popular during his time with Robert Griffin and Washington. It's likely that Shanahan will now once again reintroduce the zone-read game to a San Francisco offense that hasn't featured it with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Of course, Lance's 2021 impact is entirely dependent on what the 49ers decide to do with Garoppolo. Prior to the draft, there were rumors connecting him to a draft day trade with the New England Patriots, but that remains a rumor for now. If Garoppolo is on the roster at the start of the season, he's likely to get the first crack at starting in 2021 with the 49ers likely to use a similar blueprint to what the Kansas City Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes in his rookie season under Alex Smith.
Now that Lance has landed with Shanahan and the 49ers, I've moved him up to QB2 in my rookie rankings. His rushing upside alone gives him an opportunity to be the QB1 in this class, but when you combine that with the supporting cast and Shanahan's play calling, the floor and ceiling here appear to be very high. Lance should be a locked-in first-round pick in two-QB and Superflex leagues. He is also a high-upside pick in standard leagues.
- Poised, strong body that makes him difficult to wrap up in the pocket (or anywhere else).
- Worked in a pro-style offense that saw him line up under center quite a bit. Also worked in shotgun. Did a lot of play-action and RPOs. Prepared to handle any scheme at the next level.
- Excellent field general. Studied, read and understood defensive coverages very well. Actually handled protection calls for North Dakota State as a redshirt freshman. Made great decisions with the football and typically had good ball placement.
- Was very good at reacting quickly to defensive changes post-snap and would shift his eyes and body accordingly.
- Mostly patient in the pocket. At times got distracted by blitzes and would drop his eyes or rush his throws, which led to incompletions.
- Very strong arm. Made every throw including deep far-sideline outs and deep fades. There was consistent evidence of his passes traveling well past 45 air yards downfield.
- Knew when to vary his arm strength. He had very good velocity when he needed to rip a throw into a tight space, but also displayed good touch on shorter passes.
- Good anticipatory thrower. Would throw to a space before his target is there.
- Very good at creating to save a play when things broke down. More often than not he'd rush but was savvy enough to trap defenders by feigning the run to open up a target downfield.
- Was involved in many designed runs to attack defenses. Used his athleticism, good lateral agility and solid-to-good speed to rack up yardage and touchdowns on the ground. His burly body made him tough to wrap up. He could easily contribute as a short-yardage/goal-line option as soon as Week 1, and as a change-up quarterback as soon as this season.
- Comes off as a mature, smart young man. From a football family (father played in the CFL).
- Lack of experience is a biggie. He threw 318 passes in 17 games at North Dakota State.
- Lack of top competition is a biggie. Played in the FCS, never took on any defenses from Power-5 Schools. There figures to be a significant learning curve for Lance at the pro level.
- Footwork and overall body mechanics improved through 2019 to his one 2020 game to his Pro Day, but he's far from a finished product.
- As such, he didn't consistently show the pinpoint accuracy teams crave. Frequently was close enough where his receivers could adjust, but would hit the wrong shoulder or throw a little high or a little wide. He missed some throws every week. Also was off-target on seven passes at his Pro Day despite improved footwork and mechanics.
Advanced stats to know
(all from 2019)*
- Just in case you missed it: Set an NCAA record for most passes thrown in a season without an interception, doing so with 287 in 2019.
- Pro Football Focus tabbed Lance with four turnover-worthy plays. That's it.
- Of his 2,786 yards in 2019, 806 (29%) came on deep passes and 268 (9.7%) came on screen passes.
- Adjusted completion rate: 72.0%
When Lance did something great with his legs, he reminded me of Cam Newton. When he did something great with his arm, or when he manipulated a defense, he reminded me of Matthew Stafford. When he did something terrible with either his arm or his feet, he reminded me of Josh Freeman. Ultimately, the comparison to Newton is strongest -- Lance is a dual-threat quarterback with big size, a big arm and, good-but-not-perfect accuracy.
If given time to learn the game from coaches who know it well and set him up in an offense he's comfortable with, Lance has a very good shot at being a weekly starter. If he can also graduate from the Josh Allen School of Improved Accuracy, then he'll have the upside to be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league.