Why 49ers' Lance believes Shanahan 'gets put into a box'

Trey Lance walking through Levi's Stadium

Trey Lance seems aware that Kyle Shanahan has a type.

At least, people thought Shanahan did before the 49ers selected Lance with the No. 3 overall pick last month in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Shanahan and general manager John Lynch told incumbent starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick that he'd be released if he didn't opt out of his contract heading into the 2017 offseason. The 49ers then, within a year of that decision:

  • Signed Brian Hoyer to be their starter
  • Didn't extensively scout Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson leading into the 2017 draft, assuming they would sign Kirk Cousins as a free agent
  • Traded up to select QB C.J. Beathard in the third round of the 2017 draft
  • Traded a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo on Halloween 2017, signing him to a record-setting contract extension the following February

Shanahan and his father, Mike, also were instrumental in the Washington Football Team selecting Cousins the same year they drafted Robert Griffin III. The younger Shanahan recalled this week that Washington's original plan was to draft Russell Wilson along with Griffin, but Shanahan's subsequent bond with Cousins has been well-documented.

Lance, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound flamethrower with speed to burn, doesn't play much like Shanahan's previous proteges, and the incoming rookie believes he coach's innovative offense can take a step forward.

"I think coach Shanahan gets put in a box a little bit," Lance told NFL Media's Adam Maya in a phone interview Wednesday. "I think he can do so many different things and this organization can do so many different things offensively, not only scheme-wise but just the weapons they have.

"Coach Shanahan can make this offense look however he wants it to look and I trust him and his football mind. It's one of the best. I'm just super excited to obviously see what he does and continue to push me outside my comfort zone. I know he can do whatever he wants with the offense to make it successful, and I fully believe he's going to do that."


In his lone season as a starter for North Dakota State, Lance threw for 2,879 yards (completing 66.9 percent of his passes) while rushing for 1,100 (averaging 6.5 yards per carry).

Griffin, who made a Pro Bowl and was the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year under Shanahan's tutelage in 2012, never averaged more than 4.9 yards per carry in a collegiate season nor did he rush for more than 850 yards in a campaign. Still, Griffin threw for 3,200 yards and rushed for 815 during his historic rookie season.

Shanahan adjusted his system to suit Griffin's skill set, but he primarily coached QBs who played a lot more like Cousins before joining the 49ers. Hoyer, Matt Ryan and Garoppolo all enjoyed career seasons under Shanahan, none of whom are as mobile as Lance.

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Yet Shanahan, Lynch and the 49ers made a big bet on a QB whose game is dissimilar to the coach's former signal-callers, trading three first-round picks to move up to No. 3 and later claiming that Lance was the intended pick all along.

Shanahan's QB history was enough evidence for many that the 49ers were going to draft Alabama's Mac Jones, and it informed a lot of subsequent reporting that Jones was the choice. Instead, Shanahan and the 49ers selected a player who, if all goes right, will get more out of the coach's system rather than one, like Jones, who projected to operate it at a similar level to Shanahan's previous QBs.

That level, at least with San Francisco, is an offense that hasn't finished worse than 16th in total offense in any of the last four seasons, despite Garoppolo's injuries.

If the 49ers get the most out of Lance, his words about Shanahan's offense will be worth remembering.

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