Trey Lance ultimately needs to cut down on 49ers interceptions

Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

While Trey Lance is expected to deliver a lot to the 49ers over his career, cutting down on the team’s interception numbers would be a great start.

Ultimately, whether or not the San Francisco 49ers were right to trade up to No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance will hinge on his abilities to be a true franchise-caliber signal-caller for the next five-plus years.

The Niners are gambling big on Lance’s upside. And while he might have to wait a year to show off his talents, letting veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo start this upcoming season, one of the ways Lance can make a positive impression right away is to ensure he doesn’t follow the same turnover tendencies Garoppolo and his former cadre of backups, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, had over the last three years.

Hopefully, for Lance, this won’t be too difficult to do. While the nature of his opposition at NDSU within the MVC wasn’t exactly top-notch, one of the big highlights of his collegiate profile was the fact he avoided tossing an interception for the entirety of his 2019 campaign. True, he did toss his one and only pick during the lone game Lance played in 2020. But to have just one interception at any level over the course of 318 pass attempts is noteworthy enough.

Trey Lance Passing Table
2018North Dakota StateMVCFRQB211100.01212.012.000200.8
2019North Dakota StateMVCSOQB1619228766.927869.711.7280180.6
2020North Dakota StateMVCJRQB1153050.01495.04.821107.1
CareerNorth Dakota State20831865.429479.311.0301173.8

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 5/14/2021.

On the surface, the above numbers suggest Lance is highly accurate. Or at the very least, he makes good decisions.

Perhaps. But middle-of-the-field accuracy isn’t necessarily his strong suit. On top of that, Pro Football Focus suggested Lance benefited from a bit of luck, giving him a 1.7-percent turnover-worthy play ratio.

In contrast to his collegiate 0.3-percent interception mark, those would-be turnovers by PFF would have equated to 5.4 interceptions over the same three-year span if, perhaps, the ball bounced slightly different.

Not terrible at all. But it’s something needing to be accounted for.

Trey Lance can upstage Jimmy Garoppolo, other 49ers in this department

One of the knocks against Garoppolo ever since he became the Niners’ full-time starter in 2017 is him having at least one of those seemingly bone-headed interceptions at any course of the game, frequently not seeing a linebacker or strong safety in the middle of the field.

Statistically speaking, Garoppolo owns a 2.9 interception percentage since joining San Francisco, having tossed 26 regular-season picks on 883 pass attempts.

Typically speaking, an interception percentage of 2.5 gets quarterbacks into a little bit of trouble. And anything over 3.0 is considered awfully bad. Case in point, Mullens led the NFL in interception percentage last year with 3.7, tossing 12 picks on 326 attempts.

Read More: Ranking 49ers’ 5 most challenging games in 2021

And over the last three years, the 49ers as a team, haven’t exactly been solid at protecting the ball through the air:

  • 2018: 3.8 (third highest)
  • 2019: 2.7 (tied for ninth highest)
  • 2020: 3.0 (fourth highest)

This also helps partially explain why the Niners defense for much of that span often gave up a good deal of points but not necessarily a lot of yards. Last year is a perfect example. San Francisco surrendered 376 points (21st best) but only 5,030 yards (fifth best).

Short fields because of turnovers lead to easier scoring opportunities. Football 101 here.

At least based on the evidence, Lance has an upside in protecting the ball, which can’t be said of Garoppolo, Mullens or Beathard. So, while there are going to be other growing pains paralleling Lance’s development, whenever he starts, a good jumping-off point would at least be the knowledge he’s managed to prevent lofty interception totals so far.

That’d be an excellent trend to continue now within the pro ranks because the 49ers need it.

Next. 49ers schedule: Early win/loss predictions for 2021. dark