The build-up to seeing Trey Lance as the full-time starter in San Francisco has been a year in the making. However, given the success of the team he is on, Trey has arguably as much pressure on him this year as any other quarterback in the NFL. NBC’s Peter King recognized that when he listed Lance as one of the most 22 influential people in the NFL this year.
17. Trey Lance, San Francisco quarterback
I fear the 24/7 nature of NFL coverage these days could stunt the growth of this sincere and earnest and talented young quarterback. You know the story: The Niners traded the farm to move up in the draft and chose Lance third overall in 2021. They let him mostly sit and observe in his rookie year as Jimmy Garoppolo quarterbacked (sometime shakily) the team to the NFC Championship Game. Now it’s likely Lance’s team.
He’s on this list, ahead of deserving impact guys like Aaron Donald and Tyreek Hill and Kyler Murray and all the filthy rich guys in NFL broadcast booths, because San Francisco has a very good defense and is coming off a 2021 Final Four appearance. I just want the football world to keep this in mind about Trey Lance: He’s 22. He threw 318 passes in his college career, at a level below the top level of college football, at North Dakota State. And he played sparingly as a rookie in San Francisco. He needs time to develop, to make mistakes, to make dumb throws, to not have judgment passed on him after a three-interception game in Week 3.
A reminder: As a rookie with the Colts in 1998, Peyton Manning threw 3, 3, 2 and 3 interceptions in his first four games. After four games, he’d thrown three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. The world survived. Remember that, Niner fans.
There is no question that the microscope will be on Lance in a major way this season. Everything he does (or doesn’t do) is going to be examined to a crazy degree. Even after Jimmy Garoppolo has found a new home, Lance will still have to compete with his memory, both inside and outside the locker room.
Every loss will be followed by a “Jimmy would have found a way to win that game” accompanied by the inevitable citation of Kyle Shanahan’s win-loss record with and without Garoppolo under center (35-16 with Jimmy, 8-28 without him, by the way).
Fortunately, Lance appears to be prepared for that type of season. When I spoke with him back in February, he was already in the mindset of not caring what anyone outside the building said about him. When he met the media in May, he reiterated that same position.
“In the most respectful way possible...it’s not my job to care what you guys say or anyone else on social media. For me, I care about what the guys in the locker room think and what my coaching staff thinks. And at the end of that, that’s my job.”
I actually believe it’s harder to follow through on that philosophy when things are going well than it is when the team is struggling. The vast majority of professional athletes are hardened against criticism. They get it all week long from their coaches. They’re used to it. Dealing with success, however, is a different animal—we all like hearing people say nice things about ourselves. I’m sure it would be fun to scroll through social media and see people talking you up and tweeting your highlights.
Not letting all of that praise affect your preparation, however, is often easier said than done. The line between winning and losing in the NFL is razor-thin, and often that one more rep, one more hour of film study, or one more question to an assistant coach can be what tips the scales one way or another.
The good news is that Lance won’t have to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly all by himself. The 49ers have plenty of veteran leaders on both sides of the ball that can help a 22-year-old kid avoid those pitfalls. No matter what happens, Lance will surely be one of the biggest stories of the entire NFL season.