Not a week has passed since the 49ers selected Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But let’s start handing out the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, shall we?
A panel of ESPN NFL experts recently offered their way-too-early picks for the award, with Matt Miller picking Lance and gushing about the 49ers as a landing spot.
“This is still a quarterback league and Trey Lance is going to the best possible situation for a rookie quarterback with all the weapons they have, the mind of Kyle Shanahan, a very good offensive line,” Miller said. “I do believe we see Trey Lance this year and I think he has the type of year -- we’re going to be looking at the Niners as a playoff team once again -- and Trey Lance as our offensive rookie of the year.”
That’s a bold declaration for a player who still has to earn his starting gig.
It’s understandable to be hyped about Lance’s future, but he might not be primed for a monster offensive rookie campaign. He has only played in 18 FCS games since graduating high school and history suggests he could be in for something of an NFL redshirt season behind Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021. For what it's worth, 49ers owner Jed York would be comfortable if Lance didn't play for two seasons while getting groomed for the NFL.
Even if Lance was under center for all 17 games (still feels weird writing that) this season, the 49ers aren’t exactly stacked with weapons in the passing game. George Kittle is a monster at tight end but the 49ers don’t have much depth behind Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at wide receiver. In fact, San Francisco hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard wide receiver since Anquan Boldin in 2014.
Lance’s appeal is that he can make plays with his arms and his legs, so it’s intriguing to think of his possibilities with Shanahan at the controls. But it might be unrealistic to expect an Offensive Rookie of the Year-type campaign from Lance.
For reference, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert won the award in 2020 after throwing for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while adding five rushing scores.
Not saying Lance needs to duplicate those numbers in 2021, but he is facing a much steeper learning curve than Herbert and other upcoming rookies who garnered more experience at bigger college programs.