NFL teams show us their plans for the upcoming season by their actions, not by their words. And nothing spoke louder about the future of veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo than the San Francisco 49ers‘ decision to trade a boatload of picks — three first-rounders and more — to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
With such a talented and highly drafted QB joining the depth chart, Garoppolo’s days as the starting quarterback in the Bay Area are numbered — regardless of any emphatic coach speak touting the oft-injured veteran as the team’s starter.
As such, it's crucial to evaluate the 2021 San Francisco 49ers through the lens of Lance under center. It won’t be long until he takes over the starting gig — and he's the more exciting option for fantasy football anyway.
2021 Team Preview
Only one rookie quarterback drafted in the first round has been regulated to strict bench duties since 2010. That was last year with Jordan Love, and the situation was unique in that there was never a reason for the Green Bay Packers to give Love work with Aaron Rodgers playing at an MVP-level. Love also didn’t get the benefit of a preseason.
Fantasy: “[1st round QB] can sit behind [veteran QB] and learn the ropes as a rookie.”
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) April 29, 2021
Quarterbacks drafted inside the top three selections (like Lance) have started an average of 13.7 games as rookies since 2010. Garoppolo will have to play at a borderline elite level to keep Lance off the field, and that doesn’t seem likely.
It's clear why the 49ers traded up for Lance in the first place. Garoppolo simply hasn't been able to stay healthy in recent seasons, having started less than 50% of the 49ers’ games since 2018. And he doesn't offer much upside even within the Kyle Shanahan offense.
Jimmy G's 38th-ranked big-time throw rate (2.7%) and No. 1-ranked yards after the catch pass percentage (56%) since 2019 show a quarterback elevated by the system, not the other way around.
That’s why the potential of Lance in this offense is so tantalizing for his fantasy football outlook. He gets the benefit of a system that has aided Garoppolo (8.3) and even Nick Mullens (7.9) to finishes of first and sixth, respectively, in passing yards per attempt since 2017.
But Lance adds extra elements an elite rusher and downfield thrower that will make him virtually unstoppable as a fantasy quarterback. The 2021 PFF NFL Draft Guide compared Lance to Taysom Hill with a bazooka for an arm.
He has an 11.5 career aDOT and 118.8 passer rating on 30-plus yard throws. In his lone full season as a starter in 2019, Lance rushed for 1,150 yards and a whopping 14 rushing touchdowns. If doctors were asked to build the perfect “fantasy football quarterback,” the player would come out looking like Lance.
So please draft and stash Lance (current ADP: QB14) whenever possible — he will bring teams to the fantasy playoffs. No team has an easier strength of schedule for quarterbacks than San Francisco.
However, Lance’s arrival doesn’t necessarily mean it's wheels up for the team's talented crop of pass-catchers, as the offense projects to be extremely run-heavy.
The 49ers were the only team to run the football more in a neutral game script than the New England Patriots a season ago. They carried the rock on 52% of those plays, and the ground-focused approach may only increase once Lance enters the lineup. The rookie attempted fewer than 20 passes per game in over half of his starts at the collegiate level.
According to The Athletic’s 49ers reporter Matt Barrows, San Francisco wants to run the ball 500 times this season — a feat achieved by just four teams over the past two seasons. The 49ers came extremely close to the mark in 2019 (498) en route to a Super Bowl appearance, so it makes sense that they'd like to get back to the winning formula. But what’s most interesting is that Shanahan has already orchestrated one offense that has finished with over 500 rushing attempts.
In 2012, the Washington Football Team, led by mobile rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, led the NFL in rushing. With the 49ers looking to fully embrace the ground game, snagging pieces of the backfield is a must in 2021 fantasy drafts.