The 49ers are about to make a transition at the most critical position in football.
San Francisco used three first-round picks to add Trey Lance with the third selection in the 2021 draft. Instead of being forced into action right away, Lance spent most of the season learning about what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL.
He drew praise from teammates for the improvement he demonstrated while running the scout team throughout the year.
“I just think throughout the season, every single rep that I get, I get better. I learn so much from every rep, whether it’s just practice or a game,” Lance told reporters in early January.
In addition to getting reps on the field, Lance became familiar with the off-field responsibilities that come with playing quarterback. After not speaking with the media often early in the year, Lance became a regular in press conferences in the latter part of the season.
Lance only made two starts as a rookie, week five on the road against Arizona and week 17 in a must-win contest at Levi’s Stadium against Houston. Lance showed improvement from one game to the next, and he also showed improvement throughout each game.
Can the 49ers make it back to the playoffs with Lance at quarterback in 2022?
When you combine the experience gained from going through a playoff run and leading the team to victory in a must-win game during the second to last week of the season, the answer to that question is yes.
While the outlook is positive on Lance, don’t expect it to be a smooth ride. There will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road; that’s always the case with a young player.
What should provide confidence is how Lance dealt with those bumps during his rookie campaign. During his first extended playing time during the second half against Seattle and his two starts, the young signal-caller started out rough.
Lance’s first throw against Seattle went right into the turf. An interception ended the first series against Arizona, and it took Lance until late in the first half to get settled in against Houston.
In each case, Lance was able to figure it out. A long touchdown to Deebo Samuel pulled the 49ers to within seven against the Seahawks. Against Arizona, Lance played good enough to win. Over the final 32 minutes against Houston, Lance played very well.
One of the things that stands out when looking at the quarterback play for San Francisco in 2021 is how similar the results between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance were. For example, Garoppolo averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt while Lance averaged 8.5.
How each quarterback got to those numbers was very different. While Garoppolo often benefitted from his receiver’s ability to gain yards after the catch, Lance took more chances with throws down the field. Pushing the ball downfield is why the average per attempt was so close despite Lance having a completion percentage over 10% lower than Garoppolo.
What would realistic expectations be for Trey Lance in 2022?
As was mentioned earlier, Trey Lance averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt last season, nearly identical to the mark set by Jimmy Garoppolo. San Francisco’s quarterbacks combined to attempt 512 passes during the regular season.
Lance brings an element to the offense that Jimmy Garoppolo did not, the ability to run. In 2021, the rookie quarterback averaged just over six rush attempts per game and five yards per carry in his two starts.
Based on those totals, here is the projection for Trey Lance based on him starting all 17 games for San Francisco.
318-512, 4,350 yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions with 102 rushes for 510 yards.