Trey Lance would have been top QB selected in 2022 NFL Draft

Trey Lance of the 49ers poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Trey Lance of the 49ers poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Some may argue 49ers quarterback Trey Lance came out too early in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he easily would have been the first signal-caller selected this year.

One of the general assumptions about the San Francisco 49ers’ No. 3 overall selection of former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft was they’d have to wait, sit back and be patient with his development.

The one-year starter was, after all, only 20 years old when drafted and prompted some thoughts the Niners were taking an NBA-like approach, plucking a highly talented but raw prospect with the hopes of kickstarting his development a year or two earlier than what might have been originally planned.

But what if Lance had decided not to declare for the 2021 draft, rather opting to return to NDSU for another season and coming out in the 2022 NFL Draft instead? How would have teams viewed him then?

Considering San Francisco already saw him worthy of grabbing at No. 3 overall after a lofty trade-up, well, probably pretty high.

Let’s take a deeper look, though.

Trey Lance would have been first QB taken in 2022 NFL Draft

Lance ended up being the third signal-caller selected a year ago, of course, trailing the Jacksonville Jaguars’ selection of Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall, then the New York Jets taking Zach Wilson before the 49ers picked.

A return to college would have meant a full year pairing with 2022 draft standout, wide receiver Christian Watson, who is squarely in first-round consideration, and it’s likely Lance would have built upon his impressive 28-passing-touchdown, zero-interception campaign from 2019, only interrupted by his 2020 efforts being cut short by the pandemic to just one game.

Contrasting Lance to the current crop of quarterbacks coming out in the 2022 draft isn’t difficult.

The general assumption of this year’s signal-calling class is that it’s not particularly promising. One ACC scout told Niner Noise he felt none of this year’s quarterbacks project to be long-term quality starters at the NFL level. Perhaps a modest option under center at best, and likely some decent backup-caliber quarterbacks, but not much more than that.

Prospect quarterbacks like Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett are going to garner first-round interest, and the sheer nature of the position (along with many teams in desperate need of a quarterback this offseason) will prompt some reach.

Still, Lance would have outshined all of them and would have been the top quarterback taken.

Could Trey Lance have been the No. 1 prospect taken overall in 2022 NFL Draft?

Yes and no.

In terms of quarterbacking talent, sure. And you don’t have to look far for third-party analysis to back that up.’s Daniel Jeremiah (h/t Kyle Madson of Niners Wire) argued Lance would have been the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft had he elected to declare a year later than he did:

"[Lance] is more talented than any quarterback in this draft class coming out, and I don’t even think it’s particularly close. If he had a chance to go back to school and continue to grow and play and develop, yeah, I think he would have been the first pick in this draft."

It’s all hypothetical, of course. But Jeremiah’s assessment would be contingent upon the top-drafting Jaguars’ selection, and they almost assuredly wouldn’t be doubling down on the position after grabbing Lawrence a year ago, widely viewed as the best plug-and-play quarterback prospect to come out in a draft since the Indianapolis Colts grabbed Andrew Luck way back at No. 1 overall in 2012.

Read More: Trey Lance will benefit from 49ers’ QB friendly offense

Of course, the Jags could have entertained a trade-down from the No. 1 overall spot if Lance was in this year’s class, and it’s almost a guarantee another team would entertain that possibility.

None of that matters, though, but it’s worth thinking about. Lance is here to stay regardless, but it’s fun to at least acknowledge he outclasses any of the quarterbacks (and possibly offensive prospects) in the 2022 draft class.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 best quarterbacks in franchise history. dark