When the 49ers used three first-round picks to acquire Trey Lance in the 2021 draft, it was assumed his most significant contribution would come from his right arm.
While Lance will likely make explosive plays through the air, that’s not where his greatest impact on the 49ers offense will be felt.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan’s most successful seasons have featured a common theme, running the ball often.
With Atlanta in 2016 and San Francisco in 2019 and 2021, Shanahan’s offenses were near the bottom of the league in pass attempts. Two of those teams reached the Super Bowl, and the third took a ten point lead into the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game before falling short.
Shanahan’s first trip to the playoffs came in 2012 as the offensive coordinator in Washington. It doesn’t take much to see the similarities between that 2012 squad and the 2022 49ers.
Led by a mobile rookie quarterback, Washington ran the ball 519 times, third most in the NFL.
In the two games started by Trey Lance last season, the 49ers ran the ball 54% of the time, nearly identical to that 2012 Washington team.
This brings us to the biggest impact Trey Lance can have on San Francisco’s offense in 2022.
In Lance’s two starts, at Arizona and home against Houston, the 49ers averaged just over five yards per rush attempt. In the other 15 games, San Francisco averaged only 4.2 yards per attempt on the ground.
Much like Deebo Samuel, Lance creates conflict for opposing defenses.
The threat of Lance in the run game forces defenders to keep their eyes on him a beat longer than quarterbacks who are not a running threat. That split second gives the offensive line a head start to engage their blocks and for the running back to get up the field.
A previous 49ers head coach talked about wanting his team to be “physical with an F.” Kyle Shanahan and Trey Lance are successfully bringing this vision to life.