The San Francisco 49ers have picked their franchise quarterback of the future, taking North Dakota State’s Trey Lance with the third overall pick in the NFL draft.
After trading the 12th pick, two future first-round picks and a 2022 third-rounder to Miami for the No. 3 selection last month, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch decided on Lance as the eventual successor to the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
While many 49ers fans were worried Shanahan would take a pocket passer like Mac Jones with the pick, the Niners instead went with a more unproven quarterback who possesses all the physical tools necessary to succeed in the modern NFL.
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Lance started only 17 games at FCS-level North Dakota State, where he displayed a strong arm, mobility and mastery of a pro-style offense against lesser competition. Lance played only one game in 2020 because the FCS moved its season to the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But his production in 2019 was off the charts as he threw for 2,786 yards, 28 TDs and no interceptions and ran for 1,159 yards. Lance threw his only collegiate interception last fall against Central Arkansas in a game North Dakota State played in part to give him more exposure to NFL teams.
While Lance played under center in an offense that featured plenty of play-action that should translate to Shanahan’s offense with the 49ers, he still needs work on some of his mechanics and accuracy.
The Niners could ease Lance’s progression to the NFL by keeping Garoppolo as starter in 2021 in a fashion similar to what Kansas City did with Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith in 2017.
Garoppolo helped San Francisco make the Super Bowl in the 2019 season when he threw for 3,978 yards and 27 TDs. But his struggles in the fourth quarter of that title game contributed to a loss to Kansas City and his injuries have derailed two of the past three seasons.
Garoppolo missed 13 games with a knee injury in 2018 when San Francisco went 4-12 and 10 games with ankle injuries last season when the Niners finished 6-10.
This marks just the fourth time in the common draft era that San Francisco took a quarterback in the first round, with Steve Spurrier going third in 1967, Jim Druckenmiller 26th in 1997 and Alex Smith first in 2005.
The 49ers also have pick 43 in the second round and 102 in the third round Friday, along with five more selections Saturday.