Drafting Trey Lance meant 49ers passed up on these NFL superstars

Could the 49ers' trade-up for Trey Lance go down as one of the worst in franchise history?
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (R) with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (R) with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

If Trey Lance doesn't pan out for the 49ers, they'll cringe at the thought of other NFL stars they could have had instead.

At this particular moment, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance is shaping up to be a massive NFL Draft bust.

That's not hyperbole.

The No. 3 overall pick from the 2021 draft, for whom the Niners gave up two additional first-round picks (one in 2022 and 2023) and another third-round pick to obtain, is now entering year three of his NFL career and has just four regular-season starts under his belt. Heading into the 2023 season, Lance is in a battle not for the starting job for head coach Kyle Shanahan (that job belongs to Brock Purdy) rather he's hoping to stave off Sam Darnold for the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart.

That's not how things were supposed to go.

Granted, Lance was supposed to be a backup his rookie season. And a Week 2 season-ending injury derailed what was supposed to be his first full year as a starter in 2022, so the downfall hasn't exactly been Lance's fault. And it's also not his fault that San Francisco traded so much away to grab him over two years ago.

However, the context has changed for both Lance and the 49ers. In the wake of Lance's less-than-inspiring preseason outing against the Las Vegas Raiders, it's looking more and more like he was a massive draft whiff.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins are currently the clear-cut winners of that transaction, and it's not particularly close:

What if the Niners stood pat, though, even if they traded up to No. 3 overall?

NFL stars the 49ers missed out on by drafting Trey Lance

San Francisco wouldn't have traded up to the third-overall pick in 2021 for anyone else but a quarterback. However, in doing so and then grabbing Lance, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch passed up on the following top NFL players, all in this order:

  • TE Kyle Pitts (Falcons)
  • WR Ja'Marr Chase (Bengals)
  • WR Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins)
  • OL Penei Sewell (Lions)
  • DB Jaycee Horn (Panthers)
  • CB Patrick Surtain II (Broncos)
  • WR DeVonta Smith (Eagles)
  • QB Justin Fields (Bears)
  • LB Micah Parsons (Cowboys)
  • OL Rashawn Slater (Chargers)

Any of those players would have been helpful to the 49ers, and it hurts to see top-100 players in the league today, such as Chase, Parsons, Smith and Surtain, having gone elsewhere.

If the Niners had stayed at No. 12 overall, they still could have had Parsons or Slater. Or (gulp) New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.

Read more: This is Trey Lance's last desperate hope to become 49ers' starting quarterback

With the pick San Francisco gave up in 2022, it could have had Kansas City Chiefs edge George Karlaftis, Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre or Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III.

Who knows who the stars from the 2023 draft class will be, but it's likely the 49ers missed out on some big names, too.

All this said, the 49ers still hold an ace up their sleeve. Even if the Lance pick winds up being terrible in hindsight, the Niners have nevertheless turned themselves into a Super Bowl contender regardless.

Winning games counts more than winning at the draft.

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