Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing 49ers QB Trey Lance’s rookie season so far

Rohan Chakravarthi
Oct 14, 2021 at 4:00 PM--

When the 49ers drafted Trey Lance at No. 3 overall, I thought that he was specifically for 2022, because I felt the inconsistencies with his accuracy in college just needed to be fixed, similar to Josh Allen when he came out of the draft.

Well, the inevitable happened, as Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a calf strain in San Francisco's Week 4 loss to Seattle, paving the way for Lance to make his first career start.

Up to now, Lance is 25-of-48 for 354 yards, with three touchdowns, and an interception through the air, while also rushing 27 times for 133 yards and a touchdown.

So, where does that place Lance?

Well, in the limited sample size, Lance has primarily been what was expected, and then some. Coming out of college, Lance was a player whose best quality, in my opinion, was the ability to move through his progressions fast enough, which has been substantiated at the NFL level so far.

It was first seen during the preseason, but Lance's quickness through his progressions was much better than I expected at the NFL level from a rookie quarterback, especially one that was tabbed as "not NFL-ready".

Just look at this fairly-simple throw. Lance's first read is on the left side of the field to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, which he quickly gauges before moving across the middle to the two receivers over the middle. Then, while seeing the tight coverage, Lance progresses to his right and fires a strike to Kyle Juszczyk for a short completion. While it doesn't amount to much for the overall game, this type of ability from a young quarterback is certainly impressive to see.

Why are the progressions so important? Imagine if Lance had a full sense of the 49ers offense and grew more comfortable with his receivers. Then, he'd be able to understand their presence on the field, making those progressions even easier, and increasing his trust in himself to deliver the football in key spots, because he knows where his teammates will be down the field.

Lance's ability to fit passes in tight windows is another impressive ability, and his ball placement in those scenarios is certainly eye-catching.

Just look at this beautiful spiral here. Lance throws a bullet to the far shoulder of Brandon Aiyuk with extremely tight coverage, placing the ball exactly where it needs to be to give Aiyuk the chance to make a play. If that ball is anymore on the inside, the defender's left hand is able to defend the throw and make a play on either Aiyuk or the ball. From a rookie, that placement is just impressive.

This throw here was probably the most impressive one of Lance's short career so far. On 2nd-and-25, after a false start and a holding penalty committed by Mike McGlinchey, Lance reads through the left side of his progressions before firing a pass to the far shoulder of Brandon Aiyuk on the right side where, once again, only the receiver can make a play on the ball.

With the defender having inside leverage, Lance needs to throw this towards the outside to give Aiyuk a chance to catch the ball and also protect himself in the process. By delivering a strike to the left shoulder, Aiyuk is able to impressively corral the ball with one hand and convert for a first down.

On another play, Lance rolls out of a collapsing pocket and fires a bullet to Deebo Samuel, who makes an impressive catch for a first down. Once again, Lance puts the ball in a spot where only the receiver can get it, and delivers enough velocity on the pass despite perhaps being a second late to fit it in through the tight window.

It's not all amazing with Lance yet, of course, as the inconsistencies with accuracy still remain from his collegiate days. On the rookie's first career interception, his feet get jittery in the pocket, so he steps up and tries to fire a bullet to a wide-open Travis Benjamin, and it sails on him and into the hands of Budda Baker, who was playing behind Benjamin.

The feet are a work-in-progress for Lance, and using them more effectively would help not only his accuracy, but the length of time it takes in to deliver the ball as well.

Another work-in-progress is Lance's touch on his throws. I highlighted this problem in the preseason as well, but many of Lance's throws are missiles, which are certainly important for some situations, but not all.

On the 49ers second drive of the game, Lance is sitting in a collapsing pocket and eyes the wide open Deebo Samuel over the middle, but there are two linebackers in zone coverage in front of Samuel. So, rather than firing it in, Lance should elevate the ball more, using more touch on the football in order to complete the pass. Instead, he spends extra time on the wind-up for a bullet pass, and it gets knocked at the line of scrimmage.

Offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill needs to remain disciplined on the play as well to ensure Cardinals defensive tackle Leki Fotu's hand doesn't get up, but the touch on his throws is another area of improvement that Lance requires.

The most important aspect that Lance needs to learn: SLIDE. SLIDE. SLIDE.

He rushed 16 times in the Arizona game and reportedly suffered a minor knee sprain, which will keep him out for 1-2 weeks. The 49ers need their prized rookie to limit the amount of hits he takes so that injury concerns don't become a recurring issue.

All in all, if Lance puts it all together, he'll undoubtedly become a key piece in this 49ers offense for years to come. At the moment, with the 49ers having many players on one-year deals, their main focus should be the playoffs, and when healthy, Jimmy Garoppolo is currently the best quarterback on the roster to get them to that spot in this offense.

An interesting point from the game, Lance ran mainly from shotgun formation at North Dakota State, accounting for 70% of his snaps, which was why it seemed the 49ers went with more shotgun than normal Sunday, as well as less play-action pass attempts.

It will be interesting to see whether Kyle Shanahan manufactures his offense around Trey Lance's skillset next year, or if Lance learns more of the system and becomes comfortable with the play-action style.

If we're giving Lance a grade for his early performance, I'd give him around a B to a B- so far. The expectations are high, coming into the league as the No. 3 overall pick, but his timeline wasn't really meant for this season. If anything, I think Lance has accelerated his timeline more by being a quick learner at the professional level, and should continue to grow as his career prolongs.
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.

1 Comment

  • CoachWolf
    Well written and well thought out article. Too bad our coach doesn't have that capability.
    Oct 18, 2021 at 7:11 AM

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