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Multiple NFL execs weigh in on 49ers picking Trey Lance

Mike Sando of The Athletic caught up with several NFL executives who shared their thoughts on San Francisco’s decision to go with Lance.

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Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers will hold their rookie minicamp this weekend, and all eyes will be on QB Trey Lance. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan made the decision to trade up to the No. 3 spot to nab the North Dakota State product.

Although Lance is the headliner of the Niners’ 2021 rookie class, the team also selected seven other rookies at the draft.

Here are the remainder of San Francisco’s picks:

  • Round 2, Pick 48: Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks
  • Round 3, Pick 88 (via Rams): Ohio State RB Trey Sermon
  • Round 3, Pick 102 (Comp pick): Michigan CB Ambry Thomas
  • Round 5, Pick 155: Western Michigan OL Jaylon Moore
  • Round 5, Pick 172: Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir
  • Round 5, Pick 180: USC S Talanoa Hufanga
  • Round 6, Pick 193 Louisiana RB Elijah Mitchell

The Athletic’s Mike Sando caught up with several anonymous NFL executives to get their thoughts on the 49ers’ picks. To no one’s surprise, they were focused on Lance’s selection.

“You can’t pick the Alabama guy, Mac Jones, and have it turn out to be Daniel Jones,” an exec said. “You have to pick the guy that looks the part and has big-time upside. Lance is starting exactly where the Buffalo guy (Josh Allen) started. High grit, high want-to, works at it, loves the game, all those things that make you feel good about him developing.”

This was the fear of a large portion The Faithful going into the draft. Most NFL insiders were picking Jones to the Niners at No. 3, but Shanahan and Lynch were fine with that being the narrative going into Round 1.

If Lance can develop into a Josh Allen-type QB, this would be a massive win for the 49ers. Shanahan went with a player who has all of the tools to be a star-level QB. Now he will get his chance to coach him up and reach his potential.

“I would bet on Trey Lance,” a former GM said. “I don’t know how fast it is going to happen, a high-character guy with talent going to an excellent system and an excellent coach.”

One evaluator thought Lance faced an easier learning curve than Fields based on what each must improve.

“The things to fix with Lance are easier than the things to fix with Fields,” this evaluator said. “Most of that has to do with instincts, the quickness and consistency of their reactions.”

The good news is that Shanahan doesn’t have to rush his prized prospect. San Francisco still has Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster and has the luxury of giving Lance time to learn both the system and the pro game. Lance will get plenty of opportunities to pick up the speed at the NFL level, which will help refine the little nuances of his game.

“The only strange thing to me about the Niners is, if you’re keeping Garoppolo and if you are paying him $25 million, you lose whatever benefit there is of having a quarterback on a rookie contract,” an exec said. “I would have traded Garoppolo and just cleared the books, saved the money, gone into free agency with more resources.”

Lynch and Shanahan have said all along that they intend on keeping Jimmy G for at least next season, but if they were given an offer they couldn’t refuse, we likely would have seen Garoppolo moved at the draft.

Getting rid of Garoppolo prior to free agency may have made sense if the Niners didn’t have a Super Bowl-ready roster. They could have brought in a veteran (like Andy Dalton) on a short-term deal, but if Lance weren’t ready to start Week 1, it likely would have become another wasted season. With players like Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Fred Warner and Trent Williams already in place, it would have been a tough sell to the fans going with a QB like Dalton.

“San Francisco is one of those teams that does a great job creating a narrative, and they get treated kindly,” an exec said. “Other teams with better records over the past four years get crushed. Look at some of their early picks. What makes you think Trey Lance is the right pick if you follow the record of their early picks?”

Other winning teams didn’t have a new regime take over a roster that was left barren of talent by their former GM and win right away. The selections of Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in the first round of the 2017 draft deserve to be scrutinized. Lynch elected not to pick up Thomas’s fifth-year option, which led to the defensive lineman signing with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Foster had a promising rookie campaign, but his tenure with the club ended during his second season due to various legal issues.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey was taken No. 9 overall in 2018 and has been a serviceable lineman. McGlinchey was criticized for his performance last season and needs to have a strong bounce-back year in 2021. The club has already committed to his fifth-year option (2022) when McGlinchey is due to make $10.88 million.

Bosa is awesome, so that goes down as a homerun pick. Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk are entering their second seasons, but the early returns were encouraging. Kinlaw flashed his potential in his rookie year and will benefit from the full offseason. The defensive lineman will need to continue to work on his technique and become more of a consistent force in the trenches. Pro Football Focus gave Kinlaw an overall grade of 54.1, which was 93rd among all interior NFL defenders.

Aiyuk looked really good in his first year as a pro. Combined with Deebo Samuel, Aiyuk gives the 49ers a solid one-two punch at receiver. Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. He also averaged 7.8 yards per target.

“Trey Lance is this ball of clay and the only thing is whether he can process at the next level because he just doesn’t have the experience,” an exec said. “But all the talent is there, the mental part seems to be there, the personality seems to be there. All the pieces are there. He is developmental, so it makes sense to keep Jimmy for now.”

As the exec says, Lance has everything you want in a QB. He’s 6-4, 224 pounds and has the arm strength to push the ball downfield along with being proficient with his feet. It will be interesting to see what Lance turns into under Shanahan’s tutelage. He is only 21 and will have plenty of time to develop his overall game.

San Francisco is in a great spot going into 2021. If the team can stay healthy, it should be among the upper-echelon teams in the NFL. With Garoppolo still around, there is no need to rush Lance into a starting position. But if the rookie comes in and lights it up at training camp, we will see him under center sooner than later.