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The great sample size debate: Sam Darnold and Trey Lance

One quarterback is being penalized for the unknown, while the other

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kyle Shanahan provided updates about the quarterback position and the upcoming competition on Wednesday at the NFL owners’ meetings. Shanahan stated Brock Purdy’s timeline would clarify itself at the three-month recovery mark, while also stating Trey Lance and Sam Darnold would “split” QB1 reps, in the meantime.

There is nothing Shanahan said about Purdy and his recovery that was newsworthy. Purdy, if and when healthy, should get the first-team reps. If all goes right with Purdy’s recovery, his timeline will be defined. He has earned this right.

The issue is that Lance and Darnold will splitting reps with the first team, in the meantime.

Let’s review both players so far.

The argument around Lance is his lack of playing time. Lance has played less than three full games of NFL football, and somehow people have concluded that Lance is done and has no chance to grow as a player.

The unknown with Lance has led people to completely dismiss his chances of growth with less than 16 quarters of NFL football on his resume.

In the eyes of many, his story is written, and his book is closed.

Due to the lack of sample size.

Yet, Darnold has a much larger resume and sample size of, quite frankly, objectively bad football to his name.

The common argument behind Darnold and why the 49ers are shrewd to have taken a chance on him is due to “poor coaching and a lack of weapons.”

While it is hard to argue that Adam Gase and Matt Rhule have done much to assist Darnold in his career, at what point is that just a popular excuse?

Just one calendar year ago, the idea of Sam Darnold coming to San Francisco from the Jets made 49ers fans cringe and dismiss the idea of him.

There are a handful of throws from Darnold in his career that are eye-pooping amidst the much larger majority of head-scratching and baffling throws.

Darnold’s signing signaled to the fan base that his addition was far more than a QB3 placeholder.

The question becomes, why with such a large sample size of bad football is Darnold deserving of QB1 reps when Lance’s biggest complaint is his lack of reps?

Better yet, why does Darnold continue to get the benefit of the doubt in the face of repeated poor play?

Why is Darnold’s inclusion in the position a great idea now, when a full calendar year ago, people were completely dismissive of the idea?

Let’s talk again about sample size. Darnold has 55 career starts and at the end of 2021 had a five-game stretch of adequacy. Yet, that five-game sample size tells you more about a player with 50 starts of mediocre to downright bad football?

The flip side of this is Lance’s short career in the NFL, under the same coach and assortment of weapons that have the organization intrigued about Darnold’s resurgence, is somehow defined.

If Darnold is a part of the competition with Lance while Purdy is injured, then it is Darnold who should take second-team reps and prove to the team he deserves first-team reps.

The word is Lance won’t be handed the position, and rightfully so. However, it seems Darnold is being handed first-team reps.

This development remains the most puzzling of all the statements given at the owners’ meetings.

This is “the great sample-size debate.”

One player has a much larger sample size of being bad and is included in the QB1 discussion.

One player was the actual QB1 last season before his injury and now needs to compete with the player with the larger sample size of being bad.

For a player who desperately needs reps, this doesn’t feel like the best course of action.

As the world turns at the QB position for the San Francisco 49ers.