The San Francisco 49ers currently view Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback heading into this season because they don't believe that rookie Trey Lance, who was selected third overall in this year's NFL Draft, would be in a position to compete for the job.
But the only way for a high risk-reward prospect like Lance to gain game experience is to, well, be on the field. And according to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, the 49ers shouldn't be deterred by Lance's inexperience and rawness.
"He's going to be fine [if he has to play]. I think this is one of the things that I laugh about," Jeremiah told The Zach Gelb Show on Thursday. "People say, 'He hasn't played a lot of football.' So, the answer to that is for him to continue to not play football? He needs to get out there and play, number one. Number two, he's incredibly bright and intelligent -- you've heard that throughout this whole process. He's going to be able to swallow the playbook. He's going to be fine, from a mental standpoint. He's physically and mentally tough to weather some rough stretches here early on.
"The other thing I would say is, one of the criticisms of Trey Lance was, 'Oh, [North Dakota State] was a run-team, they didn't throw it that much...' I'm like, 'Yeah, have you seen how the 49ers play?' They do the same thing, except he's going to be involved in the run game, which is going to take the run game to a whole other level. Look, the Baltimore Ravens have been the premier rushing team in the NFL since Lamar Jackson took over. And while he's not the same style of runner as Lamar Jackson, I think that their scheme, coupled with the personnel that they have upfront and tight ends with [George] Kittle in there as well, I would not be surprised if the 49ers lead the NFL in rushing next year."
Lance, who entered the draft as the fourth-ranked quarterback and No. 10 overall player on Pro Football Focus' NFL Draft Big Board, was arguably the most compelling prospect in this year's class. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound redshirt sophomore played just 19 games across three seasons at North Dakota State, and racked up 4,272 yards of total offense with 30 passing touchdowns and 18 rushing scores.
For weeks, the majority of draft analysts felt confident that San Francisco wanted to use the No. 3 pick on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, as 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch attended Jones' pro day in Tuscaloosa just four days after shaking up the draft order via a trade with the Miami Dolphins.
However, their link to Jones turned out to be an elaborate smokescreen. And Jeremiah sensed that something was up prior to the pick announcement last Thursday.
"I wouldn't say that I was surprised by [the 49ers drafting Lance] because I started to get wind of that that morning, that it looked like that was going to happen," Jeremiah said. "It's weird. Right when the [49ers-Dolphins] trade happened, my instincts were, 'This is Trey Lance, it makes so much sense. We just had the North Dakota State pro day, the timing of it, he takes their offense in a whole new direction.' And then my phone just started blowing up with people who are tight with Kyle Shanahan, saying, 'No, this is going to be Mac Jones.' And I was like, 'Wow, really? Mac Jones.' And that kind of kept up throughout the whole process.
"I made a point to kind of always answer it the way you just described, which is, 'What do you think is going to happen?' I'm like, 'Well, everything I hear says Mac Jones. Everything in my gut and what I would do says Trey Lance.' So, it was kind of these competing forces here of what was going to end up happening. I do think they ended up getting it right, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch Trey Lance in that offense."
Lance became just the sixth quarterback from an FCS program selected in the first round during the common draft era.
The entire NFL Draft conversation between Jeremiah and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.