North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, right, holds a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the San Francisco 49ers with the third pick in the first round of the NFL draft in Cleveland. (Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)
The San Francisco 49ers are going to put their future in the hands of a North Dakota State quarterback. A Football Championship Subdivision quarterback. A guy who built his reputation by beating Western and Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State. Are you a little nervous, 49er fans?
Trey Lance might eventually join Joe Montana and Steve Young as 49ers Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks but there’s just as much of a chance he’ll become the next 49er quarterback bust (see Jim Druckenmiller or Giovanni Carmazzi).
Make no mistake, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Lance is certainly intriguing. He’s big, strong, fast with a shotgun arm. He’s played just 19 college games (16 of them in 2019) but has been almost perfect, going 17-0 as a starter, winning a FBS national title and throwing 30 touchdowns while getting intercepted just once. But it all happened in Division I-AA.
We have nothing against the FBS. Some of the most exciting and meaningful Nevada Wolf Pack years, after all, were in I-AA. And if this was the summer of 2017, when the 49ers’ quarterback room had Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, we’d suggest a parade across the Golden Gate Bridge after the Lance pick.
But Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster right now, a guy who has already taken the 49ers to a Super Bowl. That is why the pick of Lance is exciting and frightening at the same time. Why, after all, did the 49ers mortgage their future to pick a quarterback out of Division I-AA instead of drafting a weapon to help the Super Bowl quarterback they already had, a guy who built his reputation by beating the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers?
It’s because they are mesmerized by 6-4, 225 pounds, lightning-quick legs and a shotgun arm.
You can certainly get to a Super Bowl and even win one with a Division I-AA quarterback. Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), Rich Gannon (Delaware), Steve McNair (Alcorn State) and Stan Humphries (Northeast Louisiana) got to a Super Bowl while Doug Williams (Grambling), Phil Simms (Morehead State), Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa) and Joe Flacco (Delaware) won one. Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), Ken O’Brien (UC Davis), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard) and Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) all have been successful NFL quarterbacks.
NFL scouts only care about height, weight, speed, arm talent and what you look like in workouts and on film. And Lance passes all of the tests.
Garoppolo, though, could keep Lance on the bench for a while. Lance, after all, isn’t ready for the NFL right now. Garoppolo is ready and battle born and tested. He will be playing for his NFL life this season. If he stays healthy he just might find himself in another Super Bowl in early 2022.
The 49ers rolled the dice by picking Lance but they are also doing it the right way. They won’t simply throw Lance to the wolves. He’ll be able to sit back and watch Garoppolo win games for a year until he’s able to read NFL defenses and adjust to big-time athletes with big-time speed and size on defense. There’s a reason the 49ers haven’t traded Jimmy G yet.
Lance nearly spent his college career breaking Nevada Wolf Pack hearts as a member of the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos offered Lance a scholarship in December 2017 but Lance decided to honor his agreement to join North Dakota State instead. Boise State wanted Lance after Zach Wilson backed out of his agreement to join the Broncos and instead went to BYU. Yes, Boise State sure knows how to recognize quarterback talent.
Wilson went to BYU and was the No. 2 pick in the draft Thursday night by the New York Jets and Lance was picked No. 3 by the 49ers. The Broncos, after getting turned down by Wilson and Lance, were left the last two years with Hank Bachmeier, Chase Cord, Jack Sears, Cade Fennegan and Jaylon Henderson. Boise State also during that time had Kaiden Bennett, who once lived in Sparks and eventually (and briefly) became a member of the Wolf Pack.
Bachmeier, Cord, Sears, Fennegan, Henderson and Bennett are talented quarterbacks (Boise only has talented quarterbacks) but nobody will ever take them with the No. 2 or 3 pick in the NFL draft.
The Las Vegas Raiders took a lot of grief and criticism after selecting Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood with the No. 17 pick in the draft on Thursday. The criticism was ridiculous and over the top.
Leatherwood is 6-6, 315 pounds and played for Alabama. He didn’t play for North Dakota State. He was the Outland Trophy winner this year. He was named to the All-SEC First Team the past two years and was Second Team as a freshman. He won two NCAA national titles at Alabama. He played for Nick Saban at Alabama and former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward in high school in Pensacola, Fla.
Leatherwood is an outstanding pick, especially at No. 17. The Raiders certainly need offensive linemen and they got one of the best in the draft.
But the so-called NFL draft experts projected Leatherwood, for some reason, as a second-round pick. So the Raiders were bashed by the critics. Many of those same draft experts, by the way, had the 49ers taking Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the No. 3 pick.
Jones ended up as the No. 15 pick on Thursday by the New England Patriots. Nobody bashed that pick because, well, it was the Patriots and Patriots coach Bill Belichick never makes a mistake as far as the media is concerned. The pick made sense to everyone because Jones is supposed to be another Tom Brady, a guy with an average arm, average athletic ability and no chance at all of ever avoiding a NFL pass rush.
The media needs to finally come to the conclusion that the Patriots and Belichick simply got lucky with Brady. They weren’t smarter than everyone else when they picked Brady in the sixth round in 2000. They were just grabbing a training camp roster filler, much like in subsequent years when they picked Rohan Davey in 2002, Kliff Kingsbury in 2003, Matt Cassel in 2005, Kevin O’Connell in 2008, Zac Robinson in 2019, Ryan Mallett in 2011, Jacoby Brissett in 2016, Danny Etling in 2018 and Jarrett Stidham in 2019.
The only legitimate quarterback the Patriots ever drafted under Belichick was Garoppolo in 2014 and they traded him away.
The Green Bay Packers would be idiots if they traded Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is 37. He has three more years on his Packer contract. Let someone else have him when he’s 40 but until then he needs to relax and throw touchdowns for the Packers.
Yes, the Packers haven’t handled the Rodgers situation all that well. The draft pick of Utah State quarterback Jordan Love last year in the first round was a disaster. And Rodgers, who thinks he’s the next Alex Trebek, has a right to be upset.
But the NFL is a business. And you don’t trade away a healthy future Hall of Fame quarterback. And the Packers, who don’t know how to gracefully move on from a Hall of Fame quarterback (see Brett Favre), would have to move the franchise to South Dakota if they ever traded Rodgers.