The drama, the paranoia and the speculation are over. With the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected quarterback Trey Lance out of North Dakota State.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was heavily touted to be the 49ers pick at third overall, being mocked to the Bay by draft analysts Daniel Jeremiah, Chris Simms and Peter Schrager. Moreover, there was heavy speculation over the possibility of Ohio State Buckeye Justin Fields landing in San Francisco.
Niners draft analysis 2021
However, Kyle Shanahan allowed the media to talk and the ‘sources’ to speak, but he was seemingly infatuated with Lance since the draft process began.
Styles make fights
The initial push from the media to pair Mac Jones with Kyle Shanahan seems, albeit with the benefit of hindsight, completely misguided. Over and over again we heard how Jones was the ‘Shanahan’ prototype model at quarterback; a blank slate of an operator who will act as the arm to Kyle Shanahan’s brain.
But if Shanahan wanted to play John Madden Football he could just load up the PlayStation.
“And when you add a running element…which I’ve always been intrigued with” – Kyle Shanahan on Trey Lance’s ability as a dual threat.
Throughout the Mac Jones fervour, we forgot that the Shanahan prototype is not Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan, but John Elway and Steve Young – you can even throw in rookie Robert Griffin III into that mix.
49ers did not tell their coaches or scouts their pick. They didn’t know the team was selecting Trey Lance until the pick was announced.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 30, 2021
The style of Shanahan’s offence has adapted to match the strength of his team. For example, contrast the Matt Ryan passing attack in 2016/17 to the 49ers ground game in 2019/20, Shanahan has, and will, adapt his offence to get the most out of his team. But you play offence to score points, to win games, to win Super Bowls and the Shanahan system has only ever done that with dynamic, explosive and dual-threat quarterbacks behind centre.
Lance played nineteen games for the North Dakota Bison, the fewest number of starts for a first-round quarterback in the last 40 years. In 2019, Lance’s best and most consistent year, Lance threw for 2786 yards, 28 touchdowns, 0 interceptions while rushing for 1110 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lance hasn’t lost a football game since high school.
“you’ve got a guy with the skillsets as far as speed and size, to where you’re not going to make him a runner but if you can get in certain formations where the defense knows you will run him if they don’t honor him, now everything is different.” – Kyle Shanahan on Lance
On the field, it was Trey Lance’s athletic ability that secured his position as the third quarterback taken. Athletically, Lance is the most explosive quarterback in this class. His arm strength resembles that of Patrick Mahomes while his speed and toughness in the running game are that of Josh Allen. NFL comparisons range from Steve McNair to Cam Newton to Matt Stafford. Either way, physically, the Niners snapped up the most talented gunslinger in the draft.
San Francisco, you ready? #ForeverFaithful from here on out @49ers 🙌Check out my #PaniniInstant trading card here #WhoDoYouCollect #RatedRookie #NFLDraft https://t.co/39VZgQN7Or pic.twitter.com/8aJ5Ubddq2
— Trey Lance (@treylance09) April 30, 2021
Off the gridiron, Lance impressed the 49ers, and Kyle Shanahan in particular, with his mental characteristics. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Trey Lance blew the 49ers away with his psychological test scores. Lance’s smarts were ‘off the charts’. The Shanahan-Lynch brain trust value the character of a player incredibly highly. They have walked away from talented players due to off the field issues or character concerns. Attitude, drive and focus are three things that the 49ers prioritise: Trey Lance has all three in abundance.
Adapt or die
The dual-threat revolution has taken the NFL by storm these past couple of years. Even five years ago, a prospect such as Mac Jones stood a good chance of being taken in the top five or the top ten picks of the first round. However, the game has changed off the back of dual-threat quarterbacks and their ability to win football games.
This isn’t 2002. You can’t get away with drafting a pure pocket passer, sitting him for three years, and have his intellect and accuracy carry your offence to Super Bowls and compensate for the lack of athleticism. Tom Brady is the last of a dying breed.
Physical tools and traits matter so much more now than they did even ten years ago. They can now elevate a ‘raw’ prospect at quarterback from a mid-round or late first-round pick to a top-five pick. Trey Lance epitomises this.
The intricacies of the position are still incredibly valuable. 43-year-old Tom Brady just won the Super Bowl. But as we’ve seen with Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, if you can strike gold and match the mental with the physical there is no limit to what you can achieve.
You can’t teach talent. In this nuclear arms race that is the NFL, the 49ers wanted, needed, a quarterback who can throw the ball out of the stadium and Trey Lance can throw a football over them mountains.