For most analysts and those in the football world, the 2021 NFL Draft truly started with the San Francisco 49ers picking third overall. As expected, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and BYU’s Zach Wilson went first and second overall, respectively.
Trey Lance of North Dakota State, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and Alabama’s Mac Jones were all in the running to go to the Bay Area. The 49ers opted to go for Lance with the No. 3 pick. Of these three, Jones was the safest pick but had the least upside due to his limited physical tools. The bigger question is should Lance have been taken over Fields? The short answer is yes. Here are three reasons why.
1. Higher Ceiling
When Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos got demolished by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, then general manager John Elway saw what a physical and talented defense with an emphasis on the secondary could do against a historic offense. So, Elway assembled an elite defense of his own.
If Seattle had the “Legion of Boom” headlined by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas III, and Kam Chancellor, Denver had the “No Fly Zone,” led by Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., T.J. Ward, and Darian Stewart.
Even with Manning becoming a shell of himself, the Broncos with their stellar defense on all levels went all the way to a Super Bowl victory two seasons after falling short.
Similarly, the 49ers lost their Super Bowl duel against the Kansas City Chiefs in heartbreaking fashion a couple years back. San Francisco’s decision-makers saw firsthand what a team with a mobile, big-armed signal-caller in Patrick Mahomes can do even against a stacked defense.
Of all the prospects in this deep class, Lance has the potential to be the next Mahomes. Lance may have the most talent outside of Lawrence amongst this year’s prospects, per Tim Kawakami of The Athletic Bay Area.
Of course, Lance has a long way to go, but he has all the tools to make it. If he can be anything close to Mahomes, then this selection was a home run.
Fields is the more accurate passer, but Lance has a cannon of an arm and will be a much bigger threat throwing downfield.
2. Rushing Ability
Fields is athletic in his own right, but Lance is just on a whole other level. Fields had 1,133 rushing yards in college, while Lance ran for 1,182. The difference is Lance played about half the number of games as Fields.
Lance is electric in the running game and if there is an opening, especially with no QB spy around, he can take the ball all the way to the house.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has one of the more complex and creative offenses in the NFL. Adding a dual-threat quarterback will make an already potent offense even more dangerous.
3. Maximizes Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo has proven to be a solid starting quarterback when he is on the field. The kicker however is he is rarely on the field due to injuries. His trade value is at an all-time low, but with the arrival of Lance, he can serve as a high-end bridge quarterback and mentor.
Lance is still quite raw compared to his contemporaries and he threw the least number of passes amongst the first-round quarterbacks. Playing behind Garoppolo and learning the Shanahan system with the 49ers will give him time to develop instead of him be thrown into the fire right away. The 49ers can take the Mahomes route with Lance like Kansas City did by having him sit for a year.