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Trey Lance set up for success as the face of the San Francisco 49ers

Crissy Froyd

Several rookie quarterbacks saw the field in 2021, but San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Trey Lance spent the majority of the year watching afar with veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo taking the snaps instead.

Things look at lot different headed into the 2022 season, though, with several predicting that Lance could take one of the biggest jumps among quarterbacks in the league.

Related: Updated NFL power rankings heading into training camp

Trey Lance as a player

nfsan francisco 49ers qb trey lance
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Lance is intriguing in the sense that he comes from an FCS school and was still a first-round selection — originally picked up by the 49ers as the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This served as one of the many pieces in changing the narrative for non-FBS players.

With the Bison, Lance won Walter Payton and Jerry Rice Awards in 2019 before capping it all of with an FCS NCAA National Championship — finishing out his college career with a 65.4% completion rate, 2,947 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and just one interception. It was among the most impressive ratios ever put together by a college football quarterback, even if we are factoring in the limited 2020 season and all.

Lance’s 2019 season left little to be desired when he completed just under 67% of his passes for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

When I asked Lance’s former teammate, defensive back Marquise Bridges, about his quarterback ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft he noted his competitive nature and a level of accuracy Lance possesses that expands beyond just the tape.

“I first found that out (how competitive he was) on the basketball court. We go back and forth in practice. It was pretty hard to get picks off of him. I can’t think of any I ever got off of him. I’m sure I have, but I don’t remember.

Just one (interception I got off of him in practice). The same thing y’all see on the football field is the same thing he did at practice. Even more, sometimes, maybe.”

Marquise Bridges on Trey Lance

A few things the 6-foot-3, 224-pounder may be known even more for beyond how he impressed as a pure passer is his athleticism, physical traits and the way he plays the game in a way that his high school coach Terry Bahlmann noted to me was a “quarterback with a linebacker mentality.”

Lance’s quarterbacks coach with the Bison, Randy Hedberg, echoed that sentiment, recalling the physicality he showed when he went over to watch one of his high school games.

Related: San Francisco 49ers schedule and game-by-game predictions

“I watched him come up and make a tackle,” Hedberg said. “It was a pretty physical tackle on the young man. I said after the game, I thought he would have been ejected if it was a college game, but the high school rules didn’t pertain to him as much as the college rules would have.”

That was on display both at Marshall High School, where Lance was a three-year starter and on the ground at North Dakota State. Lance finished his college career with 1,325 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. I asked Lance about how he planned to carry over that aspect of his game to NFL level where defenders are a bit quicker and more daunting and it’s clear that is something he has already thought through.

“I pick and choose my battles. If you watch my college tape, all 17 games, you don’t see me really take too many shots or pick a battle that I don’t win. I think it’s one of my strengths. I pick and choose my battles well as far as when to get down and when not to.”

Trey Lance to Sportsnaut’s Crissy Froyd

Staying healthy will certainly be top priority for both Lance and the 49ers as the two move forward in a new era. There is plenty for San Francisco to be excited about with the incredibly high amount of upside Lance has flashed, the comfortably high floor he brings to the table and the fact that he’s had a year to sit and be sponge behind Garoppolo. Simply put, he wasn’t thrown into the fire the way that some of the rookies who struggled in Year 1 were.

This is a quarterback who can do well with designed quarterback runs, can deliver an accurate ball and can be trusted to make things happen whenever the pocket collapses.

Related: Ranking NFL QBs heading into 2022 season

Crissy Froyd’s 2021 NFL Draft Quarterback Rankings

  1. Zach Wilson
  2. Trevor Lawrence
  3. Justin Fields
  4. Trey Lance
  5. Mac Jones
  6. Kellen Mond
  7. Ian Book
  8. Kyle Trask
  9. Davis Mills
  10. KJ Costello

Moving forward into Year 2 with Trey Lance

Lance has the opportunity to quickly take the league by storm in the second year of his NFL career. This offseason has essentially been a waiting game of just when the dominoes will fall in regards to what seems to be an imminent Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Though, the experienced signal-caller remains with the team for the meantime. Garoppolo underwent off-season shoulder surgery, and there’s an expectation that he will throw starting in early July. That could help his trade value as the 49ers aim to be compensated as properly as possible.

But as far as San Francisco is concerned, this seems to be Lance’s show moving forward. He saw action in sux games as a rookie last season, playing pretty well in the process.

Trey Lance stats (2021): 58% completion, 603 passing yards, 168 rushing yards, 6 total TD, 2 INT, 97.3 QB rating

Lance is set up in a solid position for success with a proven play-caller in Kyle Shanahan, who some have touted as the best in that area in the NFL. He has a standout wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the fold with All-Pro tight end George Kittle also acting as a top target.

San Francisco also made five offensive selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, four of which could help between furthering the run game, adding protection and emerging as passing targets.

49ers 2022 NFL Draft Selections

  • Round 2, Pick No. 61: Drake Jackson, LB, USC
  • Round 3, Pick No. 93: Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, LSU
  • Round 3, Pick No. 105: Danny Gray, WR, SMU
  • Round 4, Pick No. 134: Spencer Buford, G, Texas-San Antonio
  • Round 5, Pick No. 172: Samuel Womack, CB, Toledo
  • Round 6, Pick No. 187: Nick Zakelj, OT, Fordham
  • Round 6, Pick No. 220: Kalia Davis, DT, UCF
  • Round 6, Pick No. 221: Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State
  • Round 7, Pick No. 262: Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State

Related: San Francisco 49ers training camp schedule

Positivity surrounding Trey Lance

trey lance, san francisco 49ers
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been plenty of positive talk surrounding Lance ahead of training camp with 49ers GM John Lynch publicly expressing confidence in the youngster.

“He can handle a lot and he’s just got that makeup that the great ones do. He’s gonna get his chance to go show that. He’s everything we thought he was when we traded a lot to go get him – and more. I really believe that.”

John Lynch on Trey Lance, via 49ers.com

Everything is set up well for Lance to catch a lot of attention in his debut as a starting quarterback. All that’s left is for him to go out and prove he can put it all together consistently on a week-by-week basis. If he does so, there’s no reason to believe he can’t quickly become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in the modern era and hold the reins of this team for years to come.

Related: Brandon Aiyuk believes 49ers have a ‘special quarterback’ with Trey Lance

That presumably starts when San Francisco opens the season against the Chicago Bears in a midday matchup at Soldier Field on Sept. 11.