49ers news: NFL.com gives Trey Lance C-plus in debut, is it right?

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

In the wake of 49ers rookie Trey Lance’s preseason debut against the Chiefs, NFL.com gave him a so-so grade. Is the mark justified?

San Francisco 49ers fans should have plenty of reasons to be excited about their rookie quarterback, Trey Lance, who made his NFL debut on Saturday night against the AFC defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, at Levi’s Stadium.

The box score tells only a part of the story. Yes, it was easy to be stoked about Lance’s 80-yard bomb to wide receiver Trent Sherfield that went for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo continuously brought blitzes, while Kansas City fielded the bulk of its starters against Lance for the first quarter.

And judging by his impressive pass, Lance responded well on that particular play.

But Lance’s final line of 5-of-14 for 128 yards, the touchdown against zero interceptions and with four sacks taken isn’t totally indicative of the on-field performance.

So it makes sense why some analysts are still wanting to see a bit more.

49ers vs. Chiefs: NFL.com gives Trey Lance a C-plus grade

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter broke down rookie performances from each Week 1 preseason game. And of the five rookie quarterbacks who played over the weekend, it was the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields who earned the highest marks with a B-grade.

Lance, meanwhile, received a C-plus mark, edging out the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, the New England Patriots’ Mac Jones and the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson. Yet it’s understandable why Reuter still wants to see more from the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft:

"It’s easy to see the skill set Lance possesses, but also the areas where he needs to grow as a passer. His arm strength did not disappoint, as he lasered passes to all parts of the field (albeit with three drops from receivers). Lance’s 80-yard touchdown pass (45 through the air) caught the defense napping on the back side of a rollout to the left, but that’s the sort of play an athletic quarterback opens up. He made a nice throw from his own end zone on the next drive, hitting an open receiver without panic, and then nicely anticipated a short out in the face of pressure. However, Lance was sacked four times; he needs to identify potential blitzers and use his footwork to step away from oncoming rushers. He nearly threw two interceptions late in the first half, failing to see a dropping zone corner and another defender on a late throw over the middle."

On at least two of Lance’s sacks taken, he could have either used his footwork and elusiveness to evade pressure or at least passed the ball off to a checkdown receiver. Granted, head coach Kyle Shanahan later told reporters it wasn’t in the plans to let Lance use his legs — Lance rushed for 1,100 yards in 2019 at North Dakota State — rather have the rookie focus on his pocket presence in a meaningless exhibition affair.

Hot Read: Why Kyle Shanahan didn’t let Trey Lance run wild vs. Chiefs

But on one of those near interceptions, Lance tried forcing a pass to wide receiver Jauan Jennings, which resulted in a mere pass breakup instead of a pick.

Looking back at the play, Lance had a wide-open receiver to his right. He just didn’t see the open player.

Trey Lance preseason Week 1 grade makes sense

From a pure completion-percentage standpoint, one might argue Lance struggled outside of the 80-yard touchdown pass. Also lost in the stat line, though, were four drops from his intended targets.

That said, Lance revealed both positives and negatives from the game. And we still haven’t seen his mobility and rushing prowess just yet. At least not at the pro level.

Lance’s strong arm? It’s there. His relative lack of experience? It’s there, too.

Remember, Lance attempted just 318 passes during his entire collegiate career, so it’s going to be natural for him to take time adjusting to both the speed and complexity of NFL-level defenses. Spagnuolo didn’t hesitate to let up on blitzes during Lance’s approximate two quarters of play that stretched into the early parts of the third quarter.

Judging on Lance’s reactions to those packages, it’s fair to say he still has some work to do and could improve his under-center efforts by recognizing the budding pressure.

Fortunately, these are elements that’ll likely come with time. And it’s also important to acknowledge the preseason is strictly intended for rookies like Lance to acclimate and work on their areas that need improvement.

So, in that regard, Reuter probably got the assessment correct this time.

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