49ers’ Kyle Shanahan explains why he decided on Trey Lance on April 19

May 3, 2021 at 7:09 AM--


On April 19, with 10 days remaining until the 2021 NFL Draft, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, along with general manager John Lynch and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, traveled to Fargo, North Dakota, to watch quarterback Trey Lance work out. A consensus had not yet been reached on who to draft at No. 3 overall, and there remained rampant media speculation surrounding who it might be.

The 49ers were learning towards a player — Lance. They were since trading up on March 26. They were also considering Justin Fields of Ohio State. Mac Jones of Alabama was a safety net, in case plan-altering flaws were found in the other two.

Jones was actually the first quarterback prospect who Shanahan studied as soon as the regular season ended. At the time, he was fine with selecting the Alabama product at No. 12, had he fallen that far. Lance was the last quarterback prospect he studied due to the lack of experience and playing against lesser competition.

Shanahan was won over. Notes that he sent to Lynch said things like: I'm obsessed with the type of stuff we can do with this guy.

But it was that trip to April 19 that cemented it for Shanahan. Lance was the best option of the three. The head coach and Lynch didn't reveal to each other their favorite prospect until a week later when Shanahan asked the general manager, "You ready to go with Trey Lance?"

"You're not messing with me, are you?" Lynch responded.

That was who the general manager wanted, too.

So what was it about that April 19 trip that convinced Shanahan that Lance was the long-term solution for his 49ers at quarterback? Peter King of NBC Sports asked Shanahan that question, and the coach wasn't able to give a quick answer because it was so many things. So he provided a lengthy one.

"His natural ability to play the quarterback position," Shanahan said, "just in terms of how he plays in the pocket, how he can go through the progressions, how, when no one's open, that he gives it a chance, that he recognizes it. And how quick he reacts to turning it into an off-schedule play. He plays on tape like he's a very poised, smart person who's been playing the position for a while.

"Then you look into the other attributes, and you're like, 'Oh, I haven't even gotten to the running skill set.' I haven't gotten to the upside of how much better he can get the more he plays. That's what made me like him so much right away.

"But it's also, once you do that, you see all this, now let's talk about what's wrong. Why isn't this a slam dunk? You hear his school [level of play], the lack of throws, not playing the 2020 season. Those are real things. That's why I'm glad that we had a long time to go through it. Because you love the tape, but just like everyone in the league, there are some stuff you can't just say it's a slam dunk. That's the stuff that worries you about it. But that's what was so cool about the kid, that going through this process after we moved up to where I talked to him so many times, to have him go through the number of tests and stuff that we have them all go through . . . I can't tell you how special of a person he is. It has nothing to do with football."

Many have raved about Lance's intelligence, calling him the smartest quarterback in this draft class. That became evident to Shanahan and the 49ers after repeated conversations with Lance via Zoom during the evaluation process.

"He's extremely intelligent. He knows how to handle situations," Shanahan continued. "He knows how to carry himself. The guy that I see on tape that I tried to describe that I see such a natural quarterback, such a smart player. Well, if I never saw the tape, and I got to hang out with him first, I would've felt that same way with him as a person and been like, 'Man, I hope the tape matches this person!' You know? That's kind of what was cool about it. The first time you watch the tape, 'Man, hell yeah!' But no decision's set in stone in January. That's how I felt in January when I saw him. But I was going to do the process right. Watch everybody—every guy. I can always spend two hours and get myself to like anyone. Then, I go to the time getting myself to not like him. And I see what ends up sticking. That's what was cool about him through the process at the end. No matter what I tried to do to say, It's too risky!, all that stuff kind of went away the more I got to know the person. I went back to how I originally felt about the tape."

Lance changes the 49ers' offense, giving Shanahan a versatile weapon who will make things challenging for opposing defenses. They will have to account for the quarterback's athleticism, along with the other 10 players on offense.

"I've always been intrigued when you can have a guy make the defense play 11-on-11," Shanahan said. "It just slows down the game a little bit. You cannot have a guy that only makes them worry about the run. It's just a matter of time before that becomes pretty easy to contain, and that's not built to last. You've got to have a guy that can do both."

Shanahan also discussed the draft capital surrendered to move up to No. 3, which included first-round picks in each of the next two drafts and a third-rounder next year to go along with this year's No. 12 and No. 3 swap. That is significant.

"Everyone talks about the draft capital, and I totally understand all that," Shanahan said. "I know, growing up, how I felt about first-round picks. Those are such a big deal, and it's true. They are. But I kept making the point just watching teams in our division these last few years, watching Seattle trade two ones for a strong safety, watching the Rams do it where they haven't had one five years in a row, do it for a quarterback, and a cornerback. I think all those were good moves. I think they have helped their teams."





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