49ers NFL Draft 2021: Is Trey Lance dropping down the big board?

North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers are going to take a quarterback with their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but just how big a target is NDSU’s Trey Lance now?

In the wake of the San Francisco 49ers‘ blockbuster move with the Miami Dolphins that netted general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, it appears as if the bulk of speculation has now centered on one decision.

Will the Niners use that selection on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, or will they use it on Alabama’s signal-caller, Mac Jones?

There’s an outside shot San Francisco remains in play for BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, too. But with the second-drafting New York Jets likely going that route, Lynch and Shanahan’s first-round decision now hinges on the other quarterbacks pegged to go in Round 1.

Also including North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

Lance isn’t forgotten, no. But the overwhelming majority has seemingly shifted to Fields being the overall best prospect while Jones is apparently a better fit in Shanahan’s system and a betting-odds favorite for the pick.


For a disclaimer, Lance shouldn’t be out of the discussion at all. Of the three likely to be available to the Niners, the North Dakota State standout arguably has the highest ceiling. His relative lack of field time, which included only one full season as a starter (2019), is key in recognizing why he might not be as close to NFL-ready as the other names on San Francisco’s radar.

Trey Lance Passing Table
2018North Dakota StateMVCFRQB211100.01212.012.000200.8
2019North Dakota StateMVCSOQB1619228766.927869.711.7280180.6
CareerNorth Dakota State19328867.027989.711.7280180.7

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 4/8/2021.

But as NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco broke down, Lance still has to be considered one of the favorites heading towards the draft:

"Lance has everything. He can throw it. He can run it. He has pocket presence. And he also has the personality and leadership traits required of the most important position in the sport.Lance has a chance to be a great player for a long time. And the 49ers have braced themselves for the possibility that any rookie quarterback they select will sit for a year behind Jimmy Garoppolo.That should be just fine for Lance, who probably faces a more difficult transition to the NFL than any of the other quarterbacks the 49ers might consider with the No. 3 overall pick."

Maybe 49ers see Trey Lance as a riskier pick

The Niners have kept their intentions about which quarterback they like awfully close to the vest, essentially only saying they’re comfortable with all three — Fields, Jones and Lance — indicated by moving up to No. 3 overall.

Fields and Lance have similar skill sets in some regards: being able to create off-script plays, acting as dual-threat weapons and boasting strong arms. But Fields is far more NFL ready and faced much-stiffer competition at Ohio State than what Lance saw at NDSU.

Plus, Fields played last year. As promising as Lance is, nothing replaces those on-field reps and in-game action he missed for the duration of 2020. That’s some crucial development time, and it’ll take more time to get Lance back up to par.

And Lance probably isn’t anywhere near as “safe” a pick as Jones, who despite his own limitations, has at least shown he can engineer a pro-style offense with all its complications and nuances.

Still, none of this means dropping Lance much further behind Fields and/or Jones is the right idea. Remember, the Buffalo Bills selected quarterback Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and the small-school Allen was considered by many draft analysts as a mobile thrower with accuracy problems.

A risk. Yet that risk has worked out well for Buffalo, as it now has one of the top up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league.

Perhaps Lance is on a similar trajectory.

Even if Lance is dipping somewhat on San Francisco’s quarterbacking big board (we’d have no way of knowing, of course), it doesn’t mean he should be. He’s certainly worth the gamble if the 49ers feel they can turn him into one of the league’s next elite signal-callers.

Even if it takes a little longer to get Lance to be pro-ready.

Next. 4 best-case scenarios for 49ers in 2021 NFL Draft. dark