Trey Lance: Grading 49ers rookie’s first NFL start from Week 5

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers rolled out with rookie Trey Lance as their starter in the Week 5 loss to the Cardinals, and there were plenty of positives mixed in with negatives.

Fans and critics of San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance are each going to have their bits of evidence to support arguments for and against the first-year player remaining the team’s starter for the rest of 2021.

Especially in the wake of Lance’s first-ever NFL start in Week 5 against the still-undefeated Arizona Cardinals, which produced a 17-10 loss at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.

Lance still very much looks like a rookie, and completing 51.7 percent of his pass attempts won’t go over well with the critics, even though three of those passes were dropped. The game also looks too fast for Lance as well, which isn’t surprising considering his relative lack of collegiate experience anyway and the fact head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t given the quarterback a lot of reps leading up to last week’s worth of practices.

Yet a calf injury to the veteran, Jimmy Garoppolo, forced Shanahan’s hand.

At the same time, though, Lance showed poise and the ability to bounce back from adversity, both at his own hand and from factors beyond his control.

Let’s grade it out cumulatively.

Trey Lance still must work on his touch passing

Lance has a cannon for an arm. That’s known and is something the Niners will hopefully end up enjoying, considering Garoppolo isn’t known for his own arm strength.

There were some great passes, including a tight-window strike to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk that picked up a first down. Yet there was also an overthrow intended for fellow wideout Travis Benjamin that resulted in an interception by Cardinals safety Budda Baker:

A little less sailing on what was still the right read, and that’s a high-quality completion. And, yes. Lance could have rushed for a big gain, too. Learning to differentiate between those two elements will be a major part of his development.

Later in the game, Lance delivered a wobbly pass intended for veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Sanu dropped the pass, and he’d be the first person to admit he should have caught the ball. At the same time, though, Lance still needs to work on his touch passing, which is an aspect of his early career that has been apparent ever since the preseason.

Trey Lance showed poise despite 49ers offensive line being permeable

Simply put, San Francisco’s offensive line wasn’t great in Week 5. Lance suffered seven quarterback hits and was regularly under duress throughout the game.

Taking two sacks isn’t particularly great. But considering the amount of pressure the rookie was under, it’s pretty notable he was able to keep that number relatively low and avoid what could have been plenty of additional sacks he likely would have taken if it weren’t for his legs and elusiveness.

If you look at some of those plays where Lance was forced to scramble, he was still keeping his eyes downfield and not immediately looking to run unless it was a designed play.

That facet alone can take a long time for young quarterbacks to master, so it’s refreshing to know Lance is already ahead of the curve there.

Trey Lance accounted for bulk of 49ers offense

In a game Shanahan effectively designed around Lance, calling just 12 rush plays that didn’t involve the quarterback’s own legs, it’s important to note the No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick accounted for 83 percent of the 49ers offense.

That’s 281 yards of offense right there, 89 on the ground and another 192 through the air.

Related Story: What worked, what didn’t in Trey Lance starting debut vs. Cardinals

Yes, it would have been nice to see more from Lance through the air, and some of his passing habits and traits prevented him from reaching a higher total. And it also speaks to the diversity of play-calling from Shanahan.

Despite this, Lance showed the ability to create out of nothing and to be a pure playmaker, too. It was far from perfect, but it’s certainly not bad for a first-start effort for a 21-year-old rookie with only one full year as a collegiate starter.

Two seasons ago.

Overall, Lance’s postgame grade should be a C-minus, which leaves a lot of room for improvement but doesn’t suggest at all it was a complete disaster.

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