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Why the 49ers trade for Trey Lance looks better after one season

When you look at how the the rookie QBs played last season, and who the rookie QBs are this season, the decision to trade for Lance looks better and better.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Every NFL Draft, there’s an expectation that you’ll find a “franchise” quarterback. The play at the position during the 2021 season saw young signal-callers develop into superstars.

Josh Allen proved that last year wasn’t a one-year wonder, and he’s here to stay. At times, Justin Herbert looked like he was the best in the league, while Joe Burrow proved you don’t need elite arm strength to be a star.

The 49ers' decision to redshirt Trey Lance for a year looked better the more his fellow rookies played.

Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, in a lot of expert opinions, were expected to hit the ground running as pro-ready athletes who can win from the pocket with rocket arms and accuracy.

Both quarterbacks threw more interceptions than touchdowns. And while you’d be remiss to ignore their potential, it’s evident that it takes time for rookie quarterbacks to learn the game.

Mac Jones is what happens when rookies go to a perfect situation for their skill-set. Still, there were plenty of occasions where Jones looked out of his depth.

I’m excited to see how the Niners' developmental plan of sitting Lance for a year will compare to the other rookie quarterbacks who started an entire season.

If Lance turns out to be 75-80% of what Allen/Burrow/Herbert is this early into their career, then San Francisco hit this draft pick out of the park.

2022 QB draft class

There’s usually a quarterback who sees his stock rise after the college football season is over. Last year it was Zach Wilson. The year before, it was Jordyn Love. The year prior, it was Daniel Jones. Do you see a trend?

The Senior Bowl is where evolution from a Day 3 prospect to a top-15 pick begins. This could be the first year in a long time where a quarterback isn’t drafted in the top-15.

Former Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder returned to school yet remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, he’s the best in the group. Ridder’s a much better athlete than many realize. He understands how to win from the pocket and isn’t a one-read quarterback. However, when your biggest question mark is accuracy, that’s never a good sign.

Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett had a breakout senior season. He holds onto the ball far too long, which leads to unnecessary sacks. Pickett has watched too much Lamar Jackson. I don’t think he’ll be as fortunate in the NFL with his playing style. Pickett is a player you take in the third round.

You’ll read that Nevada’s Carson Strong has elite arm strength, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. North Carolina’s Sam Howell is Baker Mayfield 1.0.

Liberty’s Malik Willis is the trendy top pick. He’s the moldable ball of clay. Willis, who transferred from Auburn, has a cannon for an arm, is mobile, and has a chance to be a starting NFL quarterback...in about three years.

Matt Corrall is fun, but he’s 200 pounds and probably closer to 6’ than his listed 6’2 height. I’m always suspicious of RPO quarterbacks who don’t have to read the entire defense.

Some draft analysts are comparing this year’s group of quarterbacks to the 2013 NFL Draft class. The same draft that EJ Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round at #16 overall.

Hindsight favors the 49ers

The 49ers were always going to draft a quarterback this season based on Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract. I don’t mean the money when I say that, although the two go hand in hand.

This was the fourth attempt at a Super Bowl with Garoppolo under center. In two years, he was injured, and the two other tries, the team went to the NFC Championship.

The odds of San Francisco or any team winning a championship with the same roster for the fifth time are slim to none.

It’s fair to say Jimmy’s injury history sped this decision up, but the offense had reached its ceiling with Garoppolo under center. These threads happen weekly:

Your margin for error becomes non-existent when your quarterback consistently leaves yards on the field.

Mortgaging three first-round picks for a quarterback is steep. But knowing one of those picks is No. 29 makes the trade instantly better. Every year, we hear about how there are 15-19 first-round talents in a draft. Pick No. 29 is generally where teams trade back into the first round to have an extra year of control for a player they’re willing to take a risk on.

Here’s the history of pick No. 29 since 2000:

The 49ers making the playoffs made the Lance trade look brilliant in hindsight. But, as hard as myself and others are on Garoppolo, him playing 15 games, helping the team make the NFC Championship, and letting Lance learn from afar is a giant piece to the puzzle of Lance’s potential success.

We’re seeing the process of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s trade play out. So far, so good. You made the playoffs while your 21-year-old quarterback learned from behind the scenes.

The extra first-rounder you traded has a history of not panning out. You also used that draft pick in a year where multiple quarterbacks were projected to go in the top-10, not outside of it.

If the Niners were going to make the playoffs and still draft a quarterback, they would have likely needed to trade an additional first-rounder anyway to move up in a position to draft one. Their success in 2021 has made the Lance deal acceptable.

Now, we need to find out if the kid can play.