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Does 49ers QB Trey Lance have what it takes?

Trey Lance 49ers Bust
Will Trey Lance pan out? Daniel Kelly continues his series talking about the former NDSU quarterback and continues to say Lance will not succeed.

When a team trades three number one draft picks for a quarterback (QB), someone like Deshaun Watson should be at the end of this sentence.

However, the 49ers did not score Watson who led the NFL in passing yardage last year. They instead scored Trey Lance who attempted only 318 passes against glorified high school level competition while playing at North Dakota State.

I was personally shocked when head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch mortgaged San Francisco’s future for a QB who reminded me of a cross between former Redskins’ QB flop, Jason Campbell, and Cleveland Browns’ bust, QB DeShone Kizer. 

I have watched all of the best QB’s in the NFL over the past 40 years and when I hear the 49ers’ Trent Williams’ refer to Lance as a “generational talent,” it floors me. There is absolutely nothing about Lance that reminds me of greatness. Check out film last year of Lance playing against Central Arkansas. We are not talking about Lance playing against Alabama or LSU – – we are talking about Central Arkansas. There are some really bad moments for Lance in this game. This does not bold well for Lance going up against NFL defenses who are much faster, stronger and much more complex than Central Arkansas. 

This was not the only game either Lance looked like this. Pull up the James Madison, University of North Dakota and Butler games on YouTube and you tell me, does Lance look like a “generational talent” to you in any of those games?

In my evaluation, Lance looked like an option QB who instinctively wants to run first and throw second. He was a raw looking passer who is a better runner than anything.

Bottom line: He looked like an athlete who was trying to be a QB. 

As someone who convinced Bill Belichick to hire me, I gave Lance an undraftable free agent grade. In the fall of 2020 when I first evaluated Lance, I put a 5-6 round grade on him, but after closely watching his two pro days, I changed his grade (pre-draft) to an undraftable free agent grade since his performance was so underwhelming in those events. His body language at those two pro days was low energy. He drained my energy level just watching him participate. If a defense simply takes away Lance’s run lanes, clamps down on the short screen game and forces him to have to throw downfield to make a living, good luck. In those aforementioned lower level college games, he was downright erratic with his ball placement at every route level. 

San Francisco would have been much better off moving saving some of their draft premium and slightly moving up to select Ohio State QB Justin Fields who dramatically looked better than Lance or sitting at 12 and taking Alabama QB Mac Jones who the Patriots grabbed at 15. You have the greatest coach in the history of the game (Belichick) patiently taking Jones. You have a fledgling coach who has produced three out of four losing seasons in Shanahan selling the farm to move up to select Lance. That within itself is pretty telling.  

Everyone has continued to over-hype Lance this entire off-season as Shanahan himself has probably helped to create a softer defense in camp while attempting to instill some confidence in this small school prospect, to prove to the world how smart he is. However, we got our first real glimpse into reality this past Saturday when the 49ers practiced at Levi’s Stadium and things got more NFL-like. The USA Today tried their best to “cherry coat” the reality that Lance is not ready to start. “By all accounts of reporters on site the rookie wasn’t sharp. In the ‘move the ball’ period, the Lance-led second unit didn’t score, went three-and-out twice and ended practice on an interception.” 

That is more like it – – that is exactly the Lance I saw on film in college against Central Arkansas and these other small schools. 

Even more telling are the remarks by Shanahan himself.  Lance got his first work with the first unit and “the play was a designed run that was specifically in the playbook for the first-round pick.” 

Wait a second…a designed run for the supposed golden-armed ‘generational talent’ passer who was supposedly worth three-first round picks? Why not a designed pass? Is Lance really what I said he is, a QB who is a better runner than a passer?

What is the real reason the 49ers have not traded QB Jimmy Garoppolo? 

“On Friday Shanahan said it won’t be his last time and that there will be times when Lance is going to be on the field during the regular season as well. He was quick to add that he will play in situational packages rather than getting the run of the offense in place of Jimmy Garoppolo.” 

If you read real carefully between the lines it is pretty clear the 49ers did not get a $34 million dollar full-time superstar starter in Lance, they got the raw small school run-first QB I saw on film, who they are trying to manufacture into something he is not. 

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK. 

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