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The 49ers Can Achieve Their Goals with a Rookie QB

Brian Renick
Aug 4, 2021 at 2:11 PM

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The 49ers have a Super Bowl-caliber roster, and it's obvious after the first week of camp that the players and coaches are hungry to prove that their Super Bowl run in 2019 was not a fluke. On its roster, the team still has quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the player who piloted that 2019 offense. But the 49ers also traded three first-round picks this offseason to move up to the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and selected quarterback Trey Lance out of North Dakota St.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has consistently said that there is no quarterback competition for the starting spot, but the chatter coming out of camp is that Trey Lance has looked very impressive, while Garoppolo has looked good, if unspectacular.

Many have argued that Lance is not ready to start in the NFL due to his inexperience at the college level. North Dakota St. competes at the Division 1-AA Football Championship Subdivision level and had its 2020 season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Lance only has one year of college experience. However, during his lone year, he went undefeated and led the Bison to an FCS National Championship, while completing 66.9% of his passes for 2,786 yards, 28 TDs, and 0 INTs and rushing for an additional 1,100 yards and 14 TDs.

The Bison also run a play-action-heavy, pro-style offense and put a lot on their quarterback's plate, including calling his own protections at the line. While Lance may only have one year of starting experience, at a lower level of competition, he has experience doing a lot of what Kyle Shanahan asks of his quarterbacks in his offense.

I would like to acknowledge a point here before we continue: a rookie quarterback has never led his team to a Super Bowl. In fact, only three rookie quarterbacks have led their teams to a conference championship game: Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger (a fourth, Dieter Brock, led the 1985 Rams to a conference championship game, but he was 34 years old and had spent the prior eleven seasons in the Canadian Football League).

Just because something hasn't happened before, does not mean it can't happen. There is always a first time for everything.

I would also like to point out that Kyle Shanahan has succeeded with a rookie quarterback in the past. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the 2012 Washington Football Team, which drafted and started Robert Griffin III out of Baylor and compiled a 10-6 record to win the NFC East. During his rookie season, RGIII completed 65.6% of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 TDs, and 5 INTs, while adding 815 rushing yards and an additional 7 TDs. Unfortunately, the rookie QB was injured during the first-round playoff matchup against the Seattle Seahawks and the Football Team lost the game.

Comparing Rosters

The makeup of this current 49ers offensive roster is similar to that 2012 Washington offensive roster but arguably better. The 2012 team had an impressive rushing attack, eating up 2,709 yards on the ground, led by Alfred Morris' 1,613 yards and RGIII's 815 yards. It also scored 22 TDs on the ground.

On paper, the 49ers' current rushing attack offers more talent with Raheem Mostert, rookies Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell, veteran Wayne Gallman, and Jeff Wilson Jr. (once he returns from injury). Not to mention the 6'4", 225 lb. rookie QB.

The 2012 receiving corps was led by 26-year-old Pierre Garçon, who caught 44 passes for 633 yards and 4 TDs. The offense also featured 33-year-old Santana Moss (41/573/8), Leonard Hankerson (38/543/3), and Josh Morgan (48/510/2).

The 49ers' current receiving corps has more talent at the top with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, but it may not have the same depth with Mohammed Sanu, Trent Sherfield, Richie James Jr., Jalen Hurd, and Jauan Jennings fighting to establish themselves in the WR3 role.

However, where this 49ers squad has a distinct advantage is at tight end, where George Kittle has established himself as the best all-around player at the position and a weapon in both the running and passing games. The 2012 team had Logan Paulsen, who accounted for 25 receptions, 308 yards, and 1 TD. It's safe to assume, barring injury, Kittle will far exceed that production.

The other area where this team has a distinct advantage over the 2012 Washington Football Team is on the defensive side of the ball. That 2012 team ranked 22nd in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed. This 2021 49ers defense may not reach the heights it did in 2019 (8th in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed), but it is poised to be a top-10 defense with the return of defensive end Nick Bosa, a revamped and stacked defensive line, and a new play-caller in DeMeco Ryans' who has promised to be a more aggressive and attacking defense.

The 2012 Washington Football Team won its division while starting a rookie quarterback, and there is no reason to believe that this 49ers squad could not do the same.

Jimmy Garoppolo was good in 2019 and sometimes great. The team would not have made it to the Super Bowl without his performances in the games at Arizona and New Orleans, and his steady play in the division-clinching game against the Seahawks, in Seattle, during Week 17.

However, the weaknesses that Garoppolo has in his game, namely his inability to escape the pocket post-ACL surgery, his seeming unwillingness to consistently throw down the field, and his penchant for turning over the ball, are strengths in Lance's game. Add to that Lance's ability as a weapon in the running game, and you have a quarterback who expands the offense in new and exciting ways.

The 49ers have Super Bowl aspirations for the 2021 season.

They can reach that goal with Trey Lance at quarterback.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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