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NN Roundtable: What’s one way Trey Lance will be an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo?

Projecting what the second-year quarterback can bring to the table that the previous QB couldn’t

San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The comparisons between Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo will be unfair, exhausting, and inevitable this upcoming season. So today, we wanted to focus on what Lance brings to the table that Garoppolo didn’t during his time in the Bay Area.

Here are our answers.

Rob’s Take: Press Conferences

There are plenty of physical differences that we’ll see on the field, but I’ll let others address those. I’ve talked about this point before, but Trey isn’t afraid to speak his mind in front of the media.

During his first press conference as the presumed starter, Lance immediately addressed chatter about his throwing motion head-on, including mentioning specific slow-motion videos that had been floating around social media.

He isn’t afraid to meet criticism head-on. He also takes personal responsibility for his individual mistakes and the failures of the offense as a whole.

The same cannot be said for Jimmy Garoppolo. Whether he’s naturally reticent or Bill Belichick instilled the fear of God into him during his time in New England, Jimmy wasn’t going to tell you anything other than surface-level reactions to questions.

Garoppolo’s philosophy was to ignore everything that was being said about him and/or the team and repeat several key phrases to get through his answers. “That’s football,” “I don’t think it’ll be anything too crazy,” and “It is what it is” were guaranteed hits on the Garoppolo press conference bingo card every single week.

There are many essential aspects to being a franchise quarterback. Knowing how to handle the media isn’t at the very top of the list, for sure, but it is on the list. So far, Trey has demonstrated the ability to do that, and it will serve him well throughout his tenure.

Rich Madrid: downfield passing

One area that will see an improvement is the offense's ability to pass further downfield and take advantage of the space Kyle Shanahan’s passing game creates. Per Pro Football Reference’s advanced passing stats, in 2021, Jimmy Garoppolo posted a 7.5 intended air yards per pass attempt (IAY/PA) and a 6.1 completed air yards per pass attempt (CAY/PA). Trey Lance, although it was only a two-and-half game sample size, posted a 9.3 IAY/PA and a 7.7 CAY/PA. The offense instantly becomes less one-dimensional than it does with Garoppolo when Trey Lance is on the field.

The film and the charting back this up. For example, below are the passing charts for both quarterbacks’ best games last season.

Source: NFL Next Gen Stats

The 49ers can be an efficiently run offense with Garoppolo, can win games, and obviously go to a Super Bowl, but his passing charts look the same whether he’s injured or not. Lances adds that missing element that ties the whole scheme together. In 2016, a Shanahan-led offense nearly won the Super Bowl, with Matt Ryan posting a 9.1 average intended air yards per pass per Pro Football Focus. The offense and Kyle Shanahan were not the reason they lost that Super Bowl.

The last time the 49ers had this dynamic added to their offense, second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick revived a seemingly stale offense and pushed them into the Super Bowl when the defense was giving up an average of 31 points per game from week 15 until the end of the playoffs. During that season, Colin Kaepernick posted an average intended air yard per pass of 10.7 to Alex Smith’s 7.7 per Pro Football Focus. The results speak for themselves.

Regardless of the outcome of three Super Bowls, the 2012 49ers and the 2016 Falcons stood better chances with a quarterback who could push the ball downfield. The 49ers witnessed this first hand in the 2019 Super Bowl and just watched a division rival win one with a quarterback known for being a gunslinger downfield.

If we think Lance is as good as advertised, then this offense will see an immediate boost, and the 49ers should find themselves right back in contention sooner rather than later.

Kyle: A QB that can finally color outside of the lines

Every quarterback has their faults. Some are too inaccurate. Others are too shoddy in the pocket. A handful don’t possess the arm strength to open up the field for the entire offense. The list goes on and on.

The more football I watch, the more I’m convinced that you need a quarterback who can create outside of structure. Kyle Shanahan is a mastermind. Sean McVay isn’t far behind. Both head coaches came up short with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff under center as neither QB could consistently generate offense once the initial play broke down.

You don’t need to run a 4.5 40 to excel once the play breaks down. The greats such as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been some of the more mobile quarterbacks inside of the pocket during the past decade.

The play-caller can only do so much. In today’s game, with how fast and aggressive defenses are getting, it’s imperative for a quarterback to color outside of the lines. I used Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception against the Packers as an example recently.

The longer the play goes, it should be a win for the offense, not the defense. You shouldn’t have to hold your breath in hopes of the quarterback not turning it over on a scramble drill.

Those are the types of plays I expect Trey Lance to excel at. Those types of plays just so happened to be, in my opinion, the ones that have cost the Niners more than any during the past few seasons.

Lance has the physical make-up with his arm strength, mobility, and athleticism to create outside of structure. Perhaps the most impressive trait Lance showed as a rookie was how he kept his eyes down the field when he broke the pocket. That’s a recipe for a big play.

So Lance will both extend plays and capitalize on the extra time. That’s a big aspect of quarterback that’s been missing during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure and a significant reason why the 49ers’ offense will be more effective moving forward. Defense gets ten times more difficult when you have to defend the entire field.

Jordan Elliott: Physical Traits

There is far more to playing the quarterback position beyond possessing raw athleticism, but in the modern age of the NFL, dual-threat quarterbacks are the most coveted asset in the entire sport.

While it is fair to assume that there will be some growing pains for Lance as he enters his first year as the starter, one area in which he gives the 49ers an immediate boost is pure physical ability.

Lance not only possesses superior athletic ability over Garoppolo, but he also has a case to rightfully be mentioned with some of the most elite players at the quarterback position from a traits standpoint.

Lance, listed at 6’4 225 pounds, has an absolute cannon for an arm while also possessing the mobility to extend plays with his legs and be a vital cog in the 49ers' rushing attack.

If he is able to master Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and excel in the mental areas of the game, his immense physical potential could be the catalyst to skyrocketing this 49ers offense to the next level.

Xavier Dixon: Gives the 49ers a chance as the most explosive offense in the league

My colleagues were on par with my thoughts, so I went with a collection of all of them. We saw Lance add a vertical element to the offense in his second professional start against the Texans last season. Lance averaged the most air yards/attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.

Rich is right; Lance provides one of the missing elements with his downfield passing together with the willingness to throw outside the numbers. Threading the needle near the sideline is another missing piece of Shanahan’s offense.

When you mix Lance's ability to improvise with his physical traits, you get unlimited successful outcomes. The stronger arm quarterback (Lance) will thrive with Shanahan’s bootleg passes and can extend the play when no one is open.

The sky is the limit for this offense, but its starts with Lance's consistency. San Francisco can have the best offense in the NFL if Lance can find the sweet spot between aggressive and making the right play. San Francisco’s offense was explosive in spite of Garoppolo’s 6.1 completed air yards per pass attempt. Shanahan’s offense will see new highs through Trey Lance.