Trey Lance: 49ers QB is only remaining first-round rookie not starting

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Of all the quarterbacks taken in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers’ Trey Lance is the only one remaining who isn’t starting. Why?

On the positive side of things, San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance has completed 100 percent of his passes in 2021, and each one of his throws has gone for a touchdown.

“One” being the keyword, however, as Lance’s only throw this year found the end zone — a 5-yard strike to wide receiver Trent Sherfield back in Week 1.

Lance has scantly been on the field otherwise, though, and saw precisely zero snaps in the Niners’ Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. While head coach Kyle Shanahan insisted earlier this offseason that Lance would play, so far, it’s been a quiet rookie-year debut aside from that lone touchdown pass.

Following an injury to Chicago Bears veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, Bears head coach Matt Nagy told reporters his team would start another one of the five first-round quarterbacks selected in this year’s NFL Draft, Justin Fields, whom Chicago selected at No. 11 overall, in the wake of Dalton suffering a knee injury in Week 2.

Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, remains No. 2 on San Francisco’s depth chart behind the veteran signal-caller, Jimmy Garoppolo.

Trey Lance the lone remaining Round 1 quarterback not starting

Fields and Lance were the final two first-round NFL Draft quarterbacks who weren’t starting for their respective teams.

For those who forgot each one of the five, here’s how last April’s draft went down under center:

  • Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 1 Overall)
  • Zach Wilson, New York Jets (No. 2 Overall)
  • Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers (No. 3 Overall)
  • Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (No. 11 Overall)
  • Mac Jones, New England Patriots (No. 15 Overall)

Lawrence and Wilson essentially won their starting jobs almost by default, the only real wonder being if Jacksonville would elect to retain Gardner Minshew, whose trade to the Eagles late in August ended that question mark.

Jones, meanwhile, beat out a former NFL MVP, Cam Newton, for the Patriots’ starting job, joining Lawrence and Wilson as Week 1 starters right out of the gate. New England’s release of Newton just before the regular season commenced was, of course, one of the bigger storylines leading into the year’s opener.

Now, with Fields getting the nod over the now-injured Dalton, Lance is the only one left who isn’t starting.

Why 49ers aren’t starting Trey Lance yet

The 20,000-foot perspective on Lance being the last first-round quarterback not starting would probably lead to a conclusion that his development is vastly far behind the other four rookies.

Maybe. Lance only had one full year as a collegiate starter, and most draft analysts pegged him as the rawest of the bunch, requiring the team that drafted him to exercise some patience.

Upon closer examination, though, it makes perfect sense why the 49ers didn’t need to rush Lance into the fray. Unlike Chicago, with regards to Dalton’s injury, the Niners are still employing a healthy Garoppolo. And even if Dalton was healthy, it’s not a stretch to suggest Jimmy G is a superior quarterback over the Bears’ veteran.

Related Story: Why didn’t 49ers play Trey Lance in Week 2 vs. Eagles?

Let’s not get hung up on that, though. Instead, take the realization San Francisco’s quarterback situation is much better than the ones the other four teams experienced, both at the start of the year and through two weeks. Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick, had to start even if the team around him was awful (it is), and the same could essentially be said of Wilson, who didn’t have any real competition for the job during training camp anyway.

Jones, meanwhile, beat out Newton. Fields got the opportunity based on Dalton’s injury.

Now, it’s another argument altogether if the 49ers should be taking this approach with Lance, either starting him now and proverbially “ripping off the bandaid,” or if it would be smarter to let him take that time to acclimate.

What’s known is the Niners can afford to do the latter, whereas the four other quarterback-drafting teams essentially can’t.

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