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49ers in Five: Is it fair to grade Trey Lance already?

One former scout thinks so, and he was not impressed

Everything you need to know in about five minutes

Former New York Jets scout and current All 49ers SI writer Daniel Kelly recently wrote a review of Trey Lance’s rookie season, and he was, at best, not kind. While I believe Kelly fails to point out the context around much of what we saw last year, some of his criticisms are worth keeping an eye on as Trey Lance takes over under center this season.

First, let’s just be honest. Daniel Kelly has never been a fan of Trey Lance’s game. Keep that in mind as you read his latest analysis. Despite that, however, there are still things he points out that are worth monitoring going forward.

Kelly identifies four key areas where he says Lance needs to improve:

  1. Intermediate completion percentage
  2. Ball placement on intermediate passes
  3. Deep accuracy
  4. Ball protection

Each category is supported with statistics based on what Lance did in his two starts and fill-in duty in the second half against Seattle early in the year.

“This is Lance’s NFL resume,” Kelly writes, “Which concluded with a 33.4 ESPN QBR. That number ranks Lance No. 29 QB in the league by ESPN’s standards. These are the facts Shanahan is left with to consider.”

I think it’s important to point out a few things about what we saw. First, Lance was coming off a year without football at the FCS level and was barely old enough to legally celebrate his first start against the Cardinals with a beer. Does that excuse everything? Absolutely not, but it does change the analysis just a bit.

Second, Lance’s two quarters against the Seahawks were kind of drawn up in the dirt. Kyle Shanahan said after the game that the team didn’t even realize Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt until just before the start of the second half.

“We have packages in for him, but the game plan wasn’t built for him...We didn’t really realize that Jimmy wasn’t going to come out until like the last minute. So, we had to kind of make some moves on the fly and do some stuff that he was comfortable with, and I thought we got better as we went.”

Again, does that excuse everything? No, but it should give you pause before making any definitive statements on someone’s abilities.

That said, I think Kelly’s points about Lance’s precision are worth monitoring throughout his first year as a starter. Can he consistently put the ball in the best possible place for yards after the catch? He didn’t always have to do that at NDSU, so it will be interesting to see if that develops with the 49ers.

In terms of ball security, there were definitely multiple close calls that ended up not being interceptions. I’d certainly like to chalk that up to adjusting to the speed of the game while seeing NFL defenses for the first time, but that may not be the case either. Lance definitely took care of the ball in college, so there’s hope that those characteristics will shine through in the NFL. There’s also enough history out there to prove that what someone does in college doesn’t always translate to the next level.

That’s really the long and short of it - we just don’t know. Ten quarters of football is simply not enough time to make any concrete statements about a player - good, bad, or otherwise. You might disagree with the decision to talk about Kelly’s opinion considering his earlier work on Lance, but I think it’s important to listen to a variety of perspectives and scouting reports when grading a player. From there, I can decide for myself which criticisms I think are fair and which don’t hold water.

Considering how much scrutiny Jimmy Garoppolo’s game received here and other places, it’s only logical to hold Trey Lance’s abilities to the same standard.

Ultimately what matters is not what Trey showed as a rookie but how much he improves in his second season with the 49ers.