San Francisco 49ers: Was Trey Lance the wrong decision with the 3rd pick?

Trey Lance poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Trey Lance poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

After much anticipation, the San Francisco 49ers took Trey Lance with the 3rd overall pick. Was this the wrong decision? 

The first two picks of the 2021 NFL Draft may as well have been etched in stone. Since the beginning of the draft process, we knew that Trevor Lawrence was going to be the number one overall pick this year, and soon after, it was clear that Zach Wilson was headed to New York to play for the Jets. However, predicting what the San Francisco 49ers would do with the 3rd overall pick was a different story.

Back on March 26th, the 49ers traded the 12th overall pick, a 3rd rounder in 2021, and two future first-round picks to secure the third overall selection in the NFL Draft. You don’t pull off a move like this unless you are going up to get a quarterback.

That much we knew. But who that quarterback would be remained foggy until the time the pick was announced. There were a lot of rumors circulating that head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted Mac Jones – perhaps because of some of the similarities he shared with Matt Ryan during Shanahan’s tenure with the Atlanta Falcons.

Yet other rumors said that the 49ers apparent interest in Jones was just smoke and that Ohio State standout, Justin Fields, could have been the guy. At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone was surprised to see San Francisco go with North Dakota State quarterback, Trey Lance. But was it the right decision?

Did the 49ers make a mistake taking Trey Lance?

Each of the three quarterback options that were available to the 49ers could have offered something slightly different. Mac Jones had a terrific senior season as a pocket passer but he lacked the desired mobility of today’s NFL quarterback. Meanwhile, Justin Fields possessed all  the physical tools and arm talent a coach could hope for, but some had questions about this quirky release and ability to read the defense.

Trey Lance wasn’t without his flaws either. Despite racking up 48 total touchdowns to just 1 interception during his time at North Dakota State, there are a lot of red flags the 49ers elected to ignore with this pick.

For starters, Lance was playing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference – a far cry from a Power 5 program. During his time at North Dakota State, he managed to throw the ball just 16.7 times per game, according to Sports Reference. This is a figure that nobody seems to be talking about.

Meanwhile, Jones had almost as many completions in 2020 alone (311) as Lance had career pass attempts (318). Likewise, Fields has significantly more throwing experience with 423 career completions on 618 attempts – not to mention both quarterbacks were playing against substantially higher levels of competition.

To me, the easy choice would have been Justin Fields with the 3rd overall pick. He’s got size and athletic traits that are comparable to Lance, but loads more experience and far more impressive numbers as a passer. In addition, Fields was a former five-star recruit and the number one rated dual-threat quarterback to come out of high school in 2018, and the tape lined up with the caliber of prospect that we saw.

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Trey Lance could very well prove to be the best quarterback in this draft class when it’s all said and done – especially landing in the most favorable situation of the group with a great coach and organization. Still, we will have to take a wait-and-see approach. Maybe we will find that taking Lance with the 3rd overall pick will prove to be the wrong move by the San Francisco 49ers.