Many in the NFL world are anxiously awaiting to see how the San Francisco 49ers’ QB situation unfolds during next month’s training camp. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan made a surprising move at the end of March when it was announced the team was sending three first-round picks plus a third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 pick.
It was no secret that Lynch and Shanahan made the move to secure their QB of the future, even with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster.
The 49ers used the selection on North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. The 21-year-old got his first taste of the professional level during rookie camp and OTAs. Lynch and Shanahan praised Lance for his performance during the team training sessions, and their words are being echoed by one of the 49ers beat reporters.
“He might be the only person since I’ve been covering the team, which is about a quarter of a decade, that from one week of OTAs to the next week, you could actually see the improvement,” Maiocco said. “The first week we went out there and he just kind of seemed to be a little bit unsure of himself, a tick slow. The ball was sailing high. You could tell there was just a lot going on in his head. And in the next week, he went out there and you could tell — he was directing traffic, moving guys from spot A to spot B, and he threw the ball a little bit more accurately. It’s not often that you see a dramatic change that you can see with your naked eye.”
Lynch was also impressed by what he saw from his prized rookie at OTAs. Maiocco said he spoke with the 49ers general manager to validate his thoughts about Lance’s performance once the team activities wrapped up.
“I think I asked John Lynch a week or so after that. I was like, ‘Hey, was I seeing things right?’” Maiocco said. “I was only to watch a couple of those practices — only two of the seven practices I think it was I was able to see. And he was like, ‘No, that’s exactly how we felt.’ You could actually see him growing and learning. He’s putting in the time. I’m not ready to stamp his ticket to Canton or anything, but so far he is certainly the guy they thought he would be from a character standpoint, a work ethic standpoint. Then it doesn’t take long to see the physical tools as well.”
The 49ers are hoping Lance continues to grow and will lead the franchise for the next decade-plus. But they aren’t rushing him. Shanahan also singled out Garoppolo for his play during OTAs and has maintained that the Niners intend on keeping Jimmy G for at least the 2021 season.
The 49ers have a deep roster that is capable of competing for a championship. While Garoppolo has a sparkling 24-9 record as the team’s starter (including the postseason), he has also missed 23 starts since 2018. Both times he suffered long-term injuries, the Niners’ season fell off a cliff.
Garoppolo’s health was one reason why Lynch and Shanahan decided to make a deal with the Dolphins. The 49ers re-signed several of their own key free agents, and with enough firepower to be a threat to win the Super Bowl, they felt they couldn’t allow another injury to Garoppolo derail their season.
It’s a unique situation for the franchise to be in. It’s rare to see a team with such a deep, talented roster add their QB of the future in the top five of the draft. Although no rookie QB has ever led his team to a Super Bowl, the sentiment is that the 49ers won’t hesitate to roll with Lance if he outperforms Garoppolo at camp.
For his part, Maiocco believes Shanahan will work Lance into the offense based on a situational basis.
“I would fully expect them to utilize Trey Lance, probably mostly as a runner early in his career,” Maiocco said. “Get him in for two or three plays a game, then you can work stuff off of that where you can throw the ball down the field and give him little packages where he can be successful. The last thing you want to do with the number three overall pick is just throw him out there and sink or swim and he takes a beating and he lacks confidence.”
Looking at recent history, the Baltimore Ravens brought Lamar Jackson along slowly during his rookie year in 2018. Joe Flacco started the team’s first nine games before suffering an injury that paved the way for Jackson to take over the reins.
But Jackson did gain some experience over the first nine games. Head coach John Harbaugh used Jackson on a situational basis. Jackson had 28 rushing attempts for 133 yards and a touchdown during those nine contests.
It will be an interesting couple of months leading up to the kickoff of the 2021 NFL season. The expectation is that Garoppolo will be under center for Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, but that could definitely change if Lance continues to improve at the rate Maiocco saw him do during OTAs.