Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports


Unexciting 49ers Preseason Portends Surprisingly Fun QB Battle Behind Trey Lance

Aug 24, 2022 at 9:55 AM--


If Trey Lance goes down for the season, the 49ers are cooked.

Wait, wait, come back! I promise it's not all doom and gloom. This is the case for most teams in the NFL in the 21st century, and even the best rostered backups are names like Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew, and… Nick Mullens, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round pick after Minnesota's discouraging 17-7 defeat at the hands of the 49ers on Sunday.

Point being, it's hard to fit two good quarterbacks on a team in a league with a salary cap. Gone are the days of rostering an elite backup like Steve Young until your Joe Montana fades away. Even the Packers—who have employed a first round pick to back up Aaron Rodgers the past three years—have to be sweating if their All-World, reigning MVP goes down. You saw it on display in the first preseason game when Jordan Love threw three ugly interceptions into the teeth of the Niners' defense. But even if the Niners don't have an impressive youngster pressuring Lance for the starting spot, their backup QB competition has something most teams don't: entertainment.

Even in a relatively uneventful victory over Minnesota on Sunday, the difference between the quarterback corps was night and day. While the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft—"Mr. Irrelevant" Brock Purdy—made plays and gave 49ers fans an intriguing look, the 66th pick in the 2021 draft, Kellen Mond, wilted as he went 10-for-20 with two bad interceptions for the Vikings. 49ers' veteran backup Nate Sudfeld similarly outplayed his Minnesota counterpart, tossing the only passing touchdown of the day for either team.

After years and years of relatively immobile quarterback play, it was a relief to see athleticism dominating the field at the signal caller position. With the 49ers in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, Purdy stepped left, pump-faked, then put his head down, sprinting towards the open field and diving to the ground as defenders converged for a nice 9-yard run. He immediately followed that play by standing tall in the pocket and delivering a strike to wide receiver Malik Turner, who was double covered, for a 21-yard gain. Purdy also relied on his athleticism to escape pressure in the backfield, including juking a Vikings edge rusher out of his shoes in the open field on a red zone rollout.

Purdy, though, was hindered all day by circumstances largely beyond his control. The biggest play of the day from either team was a goal line handoff for the 49ers in which a Minnesota defender jumped early, barreling into center Keaton Sutherland before the snap. But the infraction wasn't called, leading to a botched handoff that otherwise might have punctuated an efficient 49ers scoring drive. Additionally, Purdy's receivers found themselves unable to haul in well-placed passes, including four particularly egregious drops that marred a deceptive 14-for-23 day by the prospective backup. Purdy's combination of backfield athleticism, short field accuracy, and deep shot aggressiveness makes him an intriguing developmental piece for the upcoming season.

And while Purdy gave Niners fans a fun look, Sudfeld wasn't terrible, either. With the 49ers on their own 20 following a Minnesota punt, Sudfeld faked a handoff and swung around to his left on a bootleg. Despite throwing across his body, he lofted a perfect pass to veteran tight end Tyler Kroft just before Kroft was run out of bounds by a Minnesota defender for a gain of 20 yards. It was the type of play that might portend exciting things for a young starting quarterback. Sudfeld isn't quite that, as evidenced by the wonky mechanics on the throw that certainly won't keep him in the league for another 10 years if they aren't fixed, but he did what cromulent backup quarterbacks do. He made safe, short throws, didn't succumb to pressure, and completed 13 passes in 17 attempts for a triple digit passer rating despite averaging just 7.8 yards per completion. Can he consistently do more than that in the regular season? Probably not. But given the lackluster performance of both the offensive line and the running game (4.03 yards per carry across all running backs), we may have seen a surprisingly relevant preview of what Sudfeld should he take the field before the 49ers Faithful. If he can do enough to keep the Niners offense afloat for a few games, the defense should keep them in it enough to have a fighting chance. And while a Chiefs-Rams-Chargers stretch sure looks a whole lot different with Sudfeld at the helm than Seahawks-Commanders-Raiders, there's still a reasonable chance that Sudfeld's $2 million guarantee ends up being a prudent investment in the quarterback room.

In the best case scenario, none of this matters. Trey Lance dominates the regular season, becoming the first San Francisco passer to surpass 4,000 yards in over 20 years, and this article becomes a footnote in the dustbin of history. More practically, though, nobody survives an entire season unscathed, and we're likely to see at least a few snaps from one of these two, if not several games. If Lance goes down early, only a breakout season from "Mr. Irrelevant" would save the 49ers from an extreme course of action, be it retaining Garoppolo or trading for another team's starter. But in the meantime, with one more preseason game left before it's off to the races, Niners fans can at least enjoy an entertaining preamble to the regular season without existential despair in the backup QB role.
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.



4 Comments

  • BigAl
    Strange
    Aug 25, 2022 at 6:18 AM
    0
  • franissco Cirett
    ES EVIDENTE , QUE EL TRABAJA EN LA TEMPORADA BAJA, DE "LANCE" DEJADO MUCHO QUE DESEAR A LOS DIRGENETES DE LOS 49'S DE SAN FRANCISCO. LA INVERSION EN LA DEFENSIVA Y OFENCIVA, EN COSTO Y RESULTADOS, DE LANCE, NO SON LOS QUE QUIESIERA YORK, E S UNA GRAN INVERSION, EL LA DEFENCIVA Y OFENCIVA , PARA ARRIEZGARLO, CON UN NOVATO, QUE LE FALTA MUCHO POR APRENDER., LANCE. ES LOS MAS CUERENTE, UTILIZAR A UN VETERANO, CON BUENAS CALIFICACIONES Y ACCEDER CON EL, POR SER EL NUMERO UNO, EN SU DIVICION, G. GARAPOLO, SERA LO MAS INTELIGENTE , A DEMOSTRADO SU CRECIMIENTO, LIDERAZGO Y BUENOS RESULTADOS, PARA DIFIGIR UNA BUENA OFENCIVA, DESDE EL PRINCIPIOS DE LA TEMPORADA.
    Aug 24, 2022 at 11:35 AM
    1
  • Matt LeBlanc
    They will not keep Jimmy as a backup. He’d have to take a BIG pay cut. Not happening.
    Aug 24, 2022 at 11:17 AM
    0
  • Chris Fuller
    I want to see the Niners retain Jimmy G as the backup QB this year. He has experience in the offense, and if the opportunity arises, we could still trade him during the season. He is the perfect backup QB and could still mentor Lance. I am sure he would do it in a heartbeat.
    Aug 24, 2022 at 10:13 AM
    0

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