No matter how bullish you are about the potential of who the 2022 49ers may look like, especially come midseason once they figure out their identity, there’s a part of you that wonders “what if” Trey Lance struggles.
It’s rare for rookie quarterbacks to make it to the playoffs. Our most recent examples are Lamar Jackson in 2018 and Dak Prescott in 2016 (both of their teams lost), but, outside of that, you have a trio of quarterbacks in 2012 and then two others in 2011. In seven appearances, rookie quarterbacks have won two games in the playoffs since 2010.
The 2000s were more forgiving and perhaps more relatable to the 49ers. The rookie quarterbacks during that decade featured Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez. Outside of Ryan and the Falcons, those teams were carried by extraordinary defenses.
Most rookie or first-year starting quarterbacks are on teams that have no business competing for playoff spots.
In 2021, Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars finished with three wins. Zach Wilson and the Jets finished with four, Davis Mills and the Texans finished with four too, while Justin Fields and the Bears finished with six. The Patriots were fortunate to finish with ten wins with Mac Jones under center.
It’s not as simple as saying, “if Mac Jones and the Patriots can, so can the 49ers.” However, new England’s 2021 season lays out a path that highlights Lance doesn’t have to do everything for the Niners to be victorious.
Peter King believes we should pump the brakes on Lance as he’s worried about Trey’s lack of experience:
The one thing that would alarm me a bit about San Francisco handing the starting quarterback job to Trey Lance is his lack of experience. It also would keep me from making any grandiose judgments about Lance 13 months after he was drafted by the 49ers.
Lance is 22 years old. Not to get all philosophical here, but sometimes, covering football, we cannibalize young players. We want quarterbacks drafted high to morph into Justin Herbert by mid-year-one. Well, Herbert threw 1,273 passes at the highest level of college football. Lance threw 318 in FBS competition, a step down from Herbert’s level. Lance has thrown 101 passes, total, in his age 20 and 21 years as a quarterback. And now a team that was in the NFL Final Four last year is likely to hand him the ball to start opening day. Likely, but not certain. A little perspective would be nice over the next three months, as Lance is put under the OTA/training-camp microscope.
I would be a little more patient with Lance than the din I hear and read out there.
Let’s address King’s final sentence. The majority of noise says Lance has already failed. That he has a long way to go, or “he ain't it.” Show me these glowing reports about Lance where people are selling him to be the next big thing because I’m not finding them.
The Herbert argument feels...off? It seems as though we’re going in the opposite direction, and rightfully so. Be careful with your expectations for rookie quarterbacks, as outlined above, since history is against them winning. Even in Herbert’s first two years, he wasn’t expected to make the playoffs. That’s not true for Lance this season.
Citing Lance’s passing attempts in college now that he’s two years removed let’s me know that you’re all out of talking points. When that’s the case, random players such as Herbert get thrown into arguments.
Herbert’s ascension to stardom has nothing to do with him throwing 1,273 passes in college. And, if Lance succeeds this season, you won’t look back and say, “well, if he just threw a few hundred more passes in college.”
We always fear the unknown in any avenue, and this is yet another example. Since there isn’t a large sample size for Lance, in either the pros or college, we lean on what we know — experience.
Despite Lance not playing as often as his counterparts in college, I felt like he was the most pro-ready QB heading into the draft. A year after watching each rookie, that hasn’t changed. Quarterback is more about your surroundings, feel for the game, and about 20 other traits that I’d list before experience — a word that doesn’t hold as much value as King leads on.