The Other McCain

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The Trey Lance Mistake

Posted on | August 1, 2023 | 1 Comment

Mac Jones (left); Trey Lance (right)

In the 2021 NFL draft, five quarterbacks were first-round picks:

1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) — Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Zack Wilson (Brigham Young) — New York Jets
3. Trey Lawrence (North Dakota State) — S.F. 49ers
11. Justin Fields (Ohio State) — Chicago Bears
15. Mac Jones (Alabama) — New England Patriots

Being a lifelong Alabama fan, of course I was outraged by the implied disrespect to my boy Mac, who had just led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season and a national championship. Mac had the most passing yards of any college quarterback that season, and set an NCAA record for highest percentage of passes completed (77.4). My sense of insult was subsequently vindicated by the results of the first season for these five rookie quarterbacks:

  • Mac Jones — completed 352 of 521 passing attempts (67.6%) for 3,801 yards, 22 TDs, 13 interceptions, plus 129 yards and zero TDs rushing — 3,930 total yards, 22 total TDs.
  • Trevor Lawrence — completed 359 of 602 passing attempts (59.6%) for 3,641 yards, 12 TDs, 17 interceptions, plus 334 yards and 2 TDs rushing — 3,975 total yards, 14 total TDs.
  • Zack Wilson — completed 213 of 383 passing attempts (55.6%) for 2,334 yards, 9 TDs, 11 interceptions, plus 185 yards and 4 TDs rushing — 2,519 total yards, 15 total TDs.
  • Justin Fields — completed 159 of 270 passing attempts (58.9%) for 1,870 yards, 7 TDs, 10 interceptions, plus 420 yards and 2 TDs rushing — 2,290 total yards, 9 total TDs.
  • Trey Lance — completed 41 of 71 passing attempts (57.7%) for 603 yards, 5 TDs, 2 interceptions, plus 168 yards and 1 TD rushing — 771 total yards, 15 total TDs.

Mac Jones had more touchdowns, more passing yards and a higher completion percentage than all four of the quarterbacks drafted ahead of him. Only Trevor Lawrence was close to matching Jones’s rookie performance and, it must be admitted, part of Lawrence’s problem in 2021 was that the head coach in Jacksonville was a notorious asshole.

Leaving aside Lawrence, who led the Jaguars to the playoffs last year and appears to have a bright future ahead of him in the NFL, the three other QBs drafted ahead of Mac Jones in 2021 can all be classified as failures. The Chicago Bears still consider Justin Fields their starting QB, but the Bears went 3-14 last season, and their decision to stick with Fields is just more evidence that the team ownership is not serious about winning football games (as if more evidence were needed). The Jets, by bringing in Aaron Rodgers at QB, have more or less admitted that drafting Wilson was a mistake. And then there is the case of Trey Lance.

Prior to the 2021 draft, the 49ers traded their first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023, as well as their third-round pick in 2022, to the Miami Dolphins in order to move up to the third pick in the draft. It was widely speculated at the time that San Francisco did this with the intent of picking Mac Jones who, as I say, had just won the national championship and set an NCAA record for completion percentage as a senior at Alabama. Instead, the 49ers picked Trey Lance. Why?

An ESPN article Monday explained it this way:

Despite early interest in Alabama’s Mac Jones, Lance won out at No. 3 because the Niners believed he had the traits to develop into one of those special players.
On the field, they saw above-average arm strength and elite physical attributes. Off it, they saw a magnetic personality and work ethic.
“Kyle [Shanahan, San Francisco’s head coach] is always looking for ways to expand the offense and come up with all of these great schemes that he does, and Trey was more mobile than Jimmy [Garropolo, the 49ers’ starting QB] allowed,” a team personnel source said. “That opened up possibilities.”
Lance arrived from FCS North Dakota State with the fewest college pass attempts (318) of any first-round quarterback selected in the past 41 years, so the Niners expected a learning curve.

Oh, “elite physical attributes.” Well, that hasn’t translated to a successful NFL career yet, and it probably never will. Why did Trey Lance have so few pass attempts in college? As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Lance led North Dakota State to a Division I (FCS) national championship, but the team’s 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lance could have kept playing for North Dakota State, but opted instead to enter the NFL draft, so the 49ers were basically picking him on the basis of a single season — and not in the top tier of college competition.

Forgive me for not being impressed by the statistics that Lance accumulated in 2019 against such football opponents as Nicholls, Southern Illinois and UC-Davis. In the FCS championship game, North Dakota State defeated James Madison University — a fine school, located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, but what do you think would happen if JMU were to play the University of Alabama? At Alabama, Mac Jones had to wait his turn at quarterback behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa — both now NFL starters — and Mac’s impressive statistics his senior season were accumulated against such opponents as Texas A&M, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Oh, but Mac doesn’t have a “magnetic personality” or whatever, and so the 49ers, having traded away three first-round picks in order to move up in the 2021 draft, instead decided to take Trey Lance.

The idea seemed to be that Lance would serve his rookie year as an understudy to the veteran Garropolo, who had a history of injuries that might give the rookie a chance to start. Sure enough, in Week 4 of the season, Jimmy G injured his calf, and Lance came in for the second half against the Seattle Seahawks, throwing for two touchdowns, but still losing 28-21. In Week 5, Lance started against the Arizona Cardinals, and lost 17-10. Garropolo was healthy enough to start in Week 6, so Lance went back to the bench until Week 17, after Garropolo had injured his thumb in the previous week’s game. As the starter against the Houston Texans, Lance threw for two touchdowns in a 23-7 victory. But Houston was one of the worst teams in the league, finishing the season 3-14, and by the time Lance got his first NFL victory as a starter, Mac Jones had already started 16 games for the Patriots, winning 10 of them.

Despite the paucity of Lance’s success as a rookie, the 49ers named him as their starter going into the 2022 season, but that didn’t last long. He lost the season opener against the Chicago Bears, and in the second game, against the Seattle Seahawks, Lance suffered a season-ending broken ankle in the first quarter. Jimmy G then came in to lead the 49ers to victory, and remained the starting QB until Week 13, when he injured his foot in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco was forced to call on the services of rookie QB Brock Purdy, whom the team had drafted with the very last pick (262nd overall) of that year’s NFL draft. The unheralded rookie proved to be phenomenal, leading the 49ers on a seven-game winning streak that only ended with a loss in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles, after Purdy was knocked out of the game with an elbow injury.

Garropolo, as a free agent, signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in the off-season, but Purdy’s elbow is supposedly healed, and what are the chances that Trey Lance, with his “magnetic personality,” will see any significant playing time with the 49ers this year? Not too good. Lance’s “elite physical attributes” are likely diminished after breaking his ankle last season, and so it would appear that San Francisco more or less wasted their first-round pick, when they could have had Mac Jones instead.

Too bad. But I hear Colin Kaepernick is still available.



One Response to “The Trey Lance Mistake”

  1. How about FU@# it Friday - The DaleyGator
    August 4th, 2023 @ 3:58 pm

    […] The Other McCain is a bitter Patriots fan […]