Why Trey Lance should be the 49ers starting quarterback

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) before an NFL preseason football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Kyle Shanahan has yet to name a starter for the 49ers season opener against Detroit, when he does it should be Trey Lance.

Having watched a number of training camp practices and three preseason games it is clear that the San Francisco offense will perform at a higher level with Lance behind center.

You may ask how that can possibly be true. After all, Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to a spot in the Super Bowl less than two years ago. The veteran wins games, appears to be the more polished quarterback when operating from the pocket, and his veteran teammates stand behind him.

All three of those are true. You can’t argue that the organization’s lack of success in the Shanahan era is the result of Garoppolo’s play. Shanahan has been able to win only 29 games through his first four seasons with the 49ers, 22 of those have come with Garoppolo at quarterback so he is clearly capable of successfully leading the team.

However, when you turn on the film of any Garoppolo start, it’s filled with more ups and downs than the rides at the amusement park that sits across the parking lot from Levi’s Stadium. Add Garoppolo’s inability to stay healthy and you realize why the 49ers front office decided to mortgage its future for a replacement.

Watching Lance through training camp practices and preseason games it was clear that his consistency in the passing game was about the same as Garoppolo’s.

Against the Chargers, Garoppolo would have a high throw bounce off the hands of receiver Brandon Aiyuk resulting in an interception. Lance would face a similar fate as inaccurate throws would end the next two 49ers possessions with the second also resulting in an interception. This carried over to the Raiders game as both quarterbacks would miss wide-open receivers, instead of throwing incomplete elsewhere.

That brings us to why Lance should be named the starter, the running game. Against the Raiders on Sunday, Shanahan finally took the wraps off the zone-read portion of the 49ers playbook. The running ability of Lance forces the defense to account for him at all times. The slight hesitation this creates for defenders gives the advantage to the blockers and runners, and this is the key differentiator between Lance and Garoppolo.

San Francisco’s offense is built to run the ball, a lot. The 49ers’ offensive linemen are all at their best when run blocking, George Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the league, the starting wide receivers are physical and versatile enough to run through the defense after taking a handoff while also being excellent blockers.

49ers general manager John Lynch was asked about the wide receiver group on Wednesday, “we can play a lot of different styles with this group,” Lynch said. “We can play bully ball and get after you, but these guys are also guys whose speed in there, there’s playmakers in there.”

In addition to the offense, the San Francisco defense appears to be capable of dominating opponents much like they did in 2019.

Shanahan would be playing to the strengths of his team by fully committing to a more run-heavy offense. Keeping the ball on the ground about sixty percent of the time would greatly speed up the pace of the game and also help the defense by keeping them well-rested between series.

This approach would be very familiar to Lance. During his time at North Dakota State, the Bison offense was geared towards running the ball which is a big reason why he averaged less than 20 throws per game in college.

The potential Lance possesses is clear, as is his ability to quickly make corrections during the heat of the game. While there will be some bumps in the road, we’ve seen plenty of those with Garoppolo as mentioned earlier, plus the rookie has already shown that he will continue to get better with experience.

Shanahan was asked repeatedly during training camp what it would take for Lance to become the starter and his response was consistent, Lance will start when he gives the 49ers the best chance of winning.

That time is now.

Jack Hammer is a lifelong 49ers fan who shares insights on the team and leads a discussion on all football and team topics. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammer_NFL and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, YouTube.com/c/JackHammer49.

This article has 35 Comments

  1. Nice write up. Like the Great America reference haha.

    I also really believe that Shanahan needs consistency drive to drive in order to get in rhythm as a play caller.

    If we start Lance because of his rushing ability he can only take us so far. You can’t be Lamar Jackson and Drew Brees, it’s one or the other.

  2. Great thinking Jack, wasn’t it Mostert who ran for 200+yards in the SB and that’s why they won.
    Oh wait, KS decided to outthink KC and throw instead…

  3. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch really goofed.. They traded up to number 3 in 2021 draft and gave up to first round picks and a third… I know people say three first rounds but I don’t count it that way because they just swap numbers for this year with 12 and 3…. And they gave up the third round pick for 2022… how are you gonna leave a third overall first round pick pick on a bench? Justin fields is ready to play hell even Mac Jones is ready to play.. Trey Lance is still overthrowing is throws; and he keeps doing it. Who the hell is developing Trey?? They over spent for him…. The sad part is they didn’t watch Jimmy Garoppolo and now he starting… if you didn’t want the guy you should’ve just cut him. Who is going to spend $27 million on his contract? You could’ve used that money to get other players. So now the 49ers are in a bad spot.. they killed trey Lance‘s confidence; and they also let Jimmy Garoppolo know they don’t want him… Kyle Shanahan needs to be fired. He is a great offensive coordinator. But he is not a good head coach..Just think we could even develop josh Rosen if he just cut Garoppolo..And Gave Rosen more reps… what Kyle should’ve the Done the last two games last year… don’t be surprised if the Niners lose in the first round of the playoffs; If they even make the playoffs. If they do make it it’s because of the team Defense and offensive playmakers. Not the quarterbacks…

    1. Ridiculous take.

      how are you gonna leave a third overall first round pick pick on a bench?

      Easily. Because, as always , they are going to go with the QB the team believes give them the best chance of winning. Not what some over-excited fan or blogger thinks give them the best chance of winning. If he’s not ready, if the team thinks he’s not ready, it doesn’t matter if he was the #1 overall that 5 ones were traded for.

      You could’ve used that money to get other players.

      Yeah, 27 million worth of other players wasted if Sudfeld or or Rosen had to be pressed into action as the only backups to the only somewhat viable QB on the roster.

      Who the hell is developing Trey?? …. Just think we could even develop josh Rosen if he just cut Garoppolo..And Gave Rosen more reps…

      So KS can’t develop Trey but he was going to develop Rosen? Did you see his abysmal outing in that first game? Why you think multiple teams have dumped him as soon as they could?

      they killed trey Lance‘s confidence

      Where’s your evidence for this remarkable statement?

    2. Following his endorsement of Hershel Walker, Trump just announced he
      will throw his support behind Trey Lance as the QB starter for the San
      Francisco 49ers.

    3. Response to Joe.
      1) No they didn’t .
      2) Killed his confidence?? Are you kidding me. He’s 21 and just starting. He knows there will be ups and downs.
      3) The kid just needs a little time to settle in, just watch.
      4) This is about planning and decision making not who is the better QB at the moment.
      5) Rosen !? Really ? The guys done! He throws like he expects the ball to be intercepted. He is own worst enemy.
      If Jimmy starts and either plays bad , or gets hurt Trey can do no wrong. People will figure – Well he needed more time, and did his best. But if Trey starts and flops there will be an avalanche of criticism, and the potential of splitting the locker room. Kyle is going about this the right way.
      Just sit back and watch, when all the chicken littles are shown wrong please remember to come on back for your big serving of crow.

  4. In the long run it doesn’t matter how Lance plays this year, what matters is how he plays season 2 thru season 10. QB’s develop at their own pace some are horrible their first year I.E P. Manning and T. Aikman then go on to be HOF’s. Then you have QB’s like P Mahomes S. Young and A. Rodgers who took any where from 1 season on the bench to 3 or 4 seasons on the bench before having HOF careers Lance will be fine but I see him taking 1 to 2 years before he develops into a top 10 QB. imho

    1. If social media didn’t exist, this would be the popular opinion.

      Do you think the 49ers are really going to platoon QB’s this year like they did against the Raiders? I sure as hell dont.

  5. Jack, no offense, pal. But you need someone to proofread your copy. The grammar and sentence structure need work.

    1. +1

      I miss Lowell’s exceptionally high quality writing. My wife (non sports fan) even enjoyed it, telling our kids to read and learn. Jack doesn’t have to meet that lofty standard, but just enough that shlubs like me aren’t too distracted by the errors.

  6. If the bottom line Is TD’s Trey proved he can get in the end zone. Yes he made some bad throws but also made a lot of good throws. See his highlight package on the channel “Direct Sports”. He needs some seasoning and that’s why I think the shuttle system is not a bad idea. Based on what we saw in the Raider game, Jimmy was, mentally, comfortable enough in his skin that the system was not only seamless but the chemistry was excellent offensively with either QB at the helm..

    It might work and could be an ideal way to grow Trey without throwing him to the wolves..

  7. Well, you made your case which seems to be that both QBs have accuracy issues and are just OK in the passing game but Lance can run so he should start. Ok, I get the point but I don’t agree. Let the kid have some time and develop. Let him see an actual game against guys who actually made an NFL team and are starters on Sundays. The 49ers can win with Jimmy G so why rush out your future franchise QB? I agree Trey Lance needs to get some snaps but he definitely should not start. You divide the locker room unnecessarily and as soon as Lance struggles, which will definitely happen, then those divisions become larger. If Lance struggles and it costs a game or 2 then that could be the difference in home field advantage in the playoffs. Let the transition to Trey Lance happen organically. If Jimmy plays poorly then bench him and everyone will understand. If he gets injured then the transition will be natural. If I’m a veteran on this team I’m thinking Jimmy wasn’t given a chance to come back and prove himself after his injury last year. That isn’t right. To me, it’s crystal clear. Jimmy starts the year and Trey Lance develops behind him. The path forward will reveal itself naturally.

    1. Your take is one that I don’t completely disagree with, especially the part about the locker room dynamic. I chose to keep this to their play on the field.

      I feel that if they make the move they are playing to their greatest strengths and winning cures all. Similar to when Kaepernick replaced Smith.

  8. Ok. But as a head coach don’t you think you must take into account the locker room dynamic when making that decision? And it’s a huge gamble to play Lance and think it’s going to be all moonlight and roses. The more likely scenario is Lance starts out a little surprised that actual games happen at a much higher rate of speed than preseason games so he makes mistakes that cost games. Let him watch from the sidelines and then watch some game film before he starts.

    And why in the world are you throwing Colin Kaepernick on Trey Lance. At best CK was average as an NFL QB. The 49ers did not give up all that draft capital for average.

    1. The players are paid to play. I would tell them to trust that I am making the best decision for the team, which in turn is the best decision for their future earnings when we win.

      I am not throwing Kaepernick on Lance. I’m using the tension in the locker room that was created by that situation as an example. When that change was made there were a good number of Pro-Smith players that weren’t happy. They probably got over it by the time they landed in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

      1. I just view that entire scenario differently. Players must trust that you are making the best decision for the team which in turn will be best for each individual player. When the team goes through the inevitable rough spots with a rookie QB then that trust will erode to some degree. The natural reaction of some players who’s production may suffer because of those rough spots will inevitably be negative. They would obviously wonder why a rookie who hasn’t played in over a year is starting over a guy with 4 years experience in the offense and a SuperBowl appearance on his resume. I think the natural reaction if Garoppolo is the starter would be, He has experience, he’s had success, if he struggles then give the rookie a shot. Culture means something. Pissed off players equate to a poor culture. You totally avoid the possibility of a clash if Jimmy starts the year. It also gives Lance a chance to go through some weeks of learning how to be a pro on and off the field.

        1. Didn’t they already give Jimmy an opportunity to come back from injury after 2018? How did that work out in 2020?

          Bottom line is that professional athletes understand the importance of availability. Jimmy is way too injury prone for a team to depend on as a “franchise QB”, so they could have easily made a reasonable transition to Lance, prior to camp.

          The mistake was not cutting or trading Jimmy prior to training camp!

          1. I can’t tell if this is serious or sarcastic. Jimmy G was injured in week 3 in 2018. He returned and took the team to the Super Bowl in 2019. Then Jimmy was hurt in week 2 in 2020. He tried to come back but wasn’t healed yet which caused him to miss most of the season. He hasn’t been given a chance to come back from the 2020 injury. If past history is an indication of future performance then Jimmy should be allowed the opportunity to return to the Super Bowl like he did in 2019. If he gets injured again then Lance will get his chance with the benefit of learning without the pressure of being QB1 from day 1.

            1. Oh it’s just Ribico, posting under a different name.

              There’s enough irony there to build the Eiffel Tower.

            2. We’re not talking about one injury, BTW.

              Jimmy Garoppolo has missed 23 out of a possible 56 starts (not even taking into account a few partial games he’s missed as well), since being named starter for the Niners in 2017. That accounts for more than 41% of potential starts over that span, and that’s why Kyle would have been more than justified in replacing Garoppolo after last season. And it’s the main reason (but hardly the only reason) his time has all but run out in Santa Clara.

              Can you guys name another so called “franchise” QB who has missed anywhere close to 40% of their potential starts, over the last 30 years?

              And does Jimmy understand the importance of staying healthy for this team? After watching him dive head first into the endzone during the 49ers final preseason game, I’d say the answer is a resounding no.

              1. I am not trying to come across as if I am bashing Jimmy. He’s handled this like the ultimate professional and team player. And when he’s healthy, he’s a solid QB.

                And I do believe that Kyle understands the team chemistry dynamic, which is certainly a real thing. Jimmy does have his share of support within the locker room, and Trey is a young QB who is coming in with limited experience. That’s why I feel like it was paramount to cut ties with Jimmy during the offseason.

                But that shipped has obviously sailed. It’s too late to cut ties with Jimmy for this season, so they are just going to have to find a way to compete with $26 million dollars less in cap space next season.

              2. Jimmy’s $26 million dollar salary is going to be felt next season, that’s for sure. If they end up winning a Super Bowl with him this year, then nobody’s really going to care about that salary cap space.

                But if they carry Jimmy as essentially a $26 million dollar insurance policy this season (which is essentially what he is as far as I am concerned), and they still come up short …. well then people like myself will question whether that was a smart use of salary cap space.

                I personally feel like starting Trey this season gives them the best chance to win now, so I know which side of that debate I’ll likely be on moving forward.

              3. No one is arguing that Jimmy G is the long term franchise QB. Obviously, Trey Lance is the franchise QB of the future. The question is who should start right now. In a perfect world, Jimmy G starts and plays well. Trey Lance replaces him at some point this year or at the beginning of next year with the benefit of being gradually inserted into the lineup to learn and gain experience. Because of Jimmy’s good performance, the 49ers are able to trade him and recoup some of the draft capital they gave up for Trey Lance.

              4. I think the question is: “which QB gives the 49ers the best chance to win”, after all, those are Kyle’s words, not mine.

                I believe the answer to this question is: Trey Lance, and it’s really not even close.

                Reason 1) Jimmy is the better drop-back passer, but Trey is the superior play-action QB, thanks to his mobility, and ability to stretch the field and throw strikes on the run because of his superior arm talent. It’s this ability, combined with the ways in which Trey’s mobility enhances Kyle’s rushing attack, that makes Trey Lance the much harder QB to defend against. And I think the QB who is harder to defend against, should be the starting QB, because he ultimately gives the team the best chance to win.

                Kyle Shanahan has already proven his ability to engineer a winning scheme with an inexperienced, underdeveloped pocket passer in RG3, and Trey’s pocket passing is already far superior to RG3’s.

                Reason 2) There is also a risk of delaying Trey’s development, or perhaps even stunting his growth.

                Reason 3) Another piece of the equation is the big picture.

                A scenario in which Jimmy G. starts all season, and he plays well enough to get them back into the postseason (even if it’s on the back of the defense and running game again, just like in 2019), but they ultimately come up short again. That’s an unnecessary scenario in which there is potential for an even bigger split among not only players, but the fan base as well. How do you trade away Garoppolo in that situation, without potentially tearing the fan base apart? A scenario in which Kyle is forced to choose between a popular QB who wins, but ultimately comes up short, and a young unproven QB whom the team mortgaged their future in order to draft?

                It’s a moot point now though because ShanaLynch failed to orchestrate a clean break from Garoppolo, even though Kyle was obviously ready to move on. Hopefully it ends up working out well without any of the worst case scenarios ever coming to fruition.

              5. You have all the answers Reason. (Though I do remember the song, all of them lies)

                Everyone here petition the Niners to fire their current sham of a coach and install Reasons (and maybe Hammer as OC). Shannie and company obviously have no idea what they have on their hands.

  9. I yield to the opinion of Shanahan the other coaches. No doubt Lance probably has better physical skills but a deep understanding of the offense is very important especially with emphasis on run game. Additionally, Garoppolo’s “having seen it all” in terms of defenses is a factor. Lance can learn a lot be watching for a while. How long? That’s what coaches are paid for.

  10. I also believe that Jimmy should be the starter but I understand they rightfully want to give Lance reps so he can gain experience. To me, since being a good pocket passer is 90% of being a good QB, Lance needs to show (in real games) he is at least as good as Jimmy before he can be the starter. In a perfect world, Jimmy plays great all year and Lance gets plenty of reps to gain experience.

  11. Jack,

    I have heard no commentary on how Trey’s receivers fared in N Dakota. Did he rifle the ball through their hands there? If so why no interceptions? What was the speed of his throws at N Dakota vs speed now?

    This could lead to some excellent speculation, as well as a big clue as to what is happening with his passing right now. I mean, why was this not a problem at N Dakota, or was it?

    1. There were 9 drops for Lance during his time at NDSU. I have a couple thoughts:

      1. He’s finding himself a little late on some throws, and as a result is throwing his fastball to try and get it into the window. This causes some inaccuracy and a tougher catch.

      2. The ball in the NFL is extremely hard. You take a harder ball, throw it harder, throw it a little off target and not in a spiral and it becomes more difficult to catch.

      Plus, don’t forget that most of the 9 drops this preseason have come from guys at the back end of the roster or not on it at all any longer.

  12. If the 49ers are as good as the new Iron Maiden album, Senjutsu, it won’t matter who the “starter” is.

  13. 1.) I don’t understand why people are upset over the game plan against AZ. Shanahan called that Lance was comfortable with, in case you didn’t know yet, he ran a lot, like a lot in college.

    2.) I don’t think that Lance ability as a runner is really going to be that impactful on designed runs. Teams know how to defend that now. I remember one play in particular (read option) where Lance kept it and just as the DE crashed down and he began to run, a safety came flying down to attack Lance. The read option was at its peak with Kap in 2012, since then it’s mildly effective in an overall game plan.

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