Since Lamar Jackson won over fantasy hearts and minds with his breakout 2019 season, fantasy managers have consistently sought the “next” Lamar Jackson. In 2020, the target was Kylar Murray. In 2021, Jalen Hurts. And in 2022, it’s Trey Lance, the 2021 third overall pick from North Dakota State.
While everyone has differing opinions on Lance, there’s one fact that no one can dispute: his 2022 potential is all projection.
Note: Our Wednesday, July 27th, No Punt Intended episode will dive into Trey Lance in fantasy football! We welcome our good friend with lousy internet, Jake Trowbridge from MB Fantasy Life! The show will cover the 49ers, Packers, and Chiefs.
Trey Lance in Fantasy Football
Three Starts in Three Years
Despite the 49ers using an absurd amount of draft capital to take Lance as the third overall pick, he got little action during the 2021 NFL regular season, starting only two games. Additionally, he only played one game in the COVID-effected 2020 college football season. In short, Lance has only played three full-length football games in the past two and a half years (Pro Football Reference and College Football Reference).
While we all want to believe in the talent, let’s be honest, that’s a long time not to play football. So he will effectively begin 2022 as fresh as he was a year ago. While he’ll be aided by an entire offseason being treated as the starting quarterback, there will still be a transition period for which fantasy managers should account.
Watching the Tape
We see mixed results when we look at how Lance performed during those starts. The obvious strength he brings to the 49ers’ offense is his ability to run the ball and make plays out of structure in a way Jimmy Garoppolo could not. In his two starts, he combined for 120 rushing yards, more than twice Garoppolo’s rushing total in all of 2021 (Pro Football Reference).
But when it comes to the passing game, Lance is still working up to the pace of NFL games. This was evident in his best start of 2021 against the Houston Texans. On almost every pass play, Lance had a tendency to make his first read and then immediately look to scramble, rarely working through his progression before taking off.
Additionally, he was primarily playing against zone coverage, against a Texans defense that lacked the talent to play man-to-man consistently. This gave Lance more time to find the open pocket rather than showing his arm strength and accuracy against man coverage.
That said, those are two data points. So what can we expect for Lance in his second year?
The Unpredictable Kyle Shanahan
What is clear to me about the 49ers’ offense is that nothing is clear. Kyle Shanahan is known to be one of the less predictable head coaches in the league, seemingly ignoring everyone’s expectations of what he should do.
For example, he consistently starts different running backs seemingly at will, creating a nightmare for fantasy managers. Last season, we witnessed Shanahan consistently start Garoppolo, despite most of the national and 49ers media (and fans) begging for Lance to take the starting role.
Shanahan does not care what people think he should be doing. Because of this, I will not feel confident that Lance starts all 17 games until Garoppolo is off the 49ers roster. This is a rare moment where I don’t have a lot of evidence to explain that feeling other than gut instinct. If Garoppolo is in San Francisco, I will always be concerned about Lance’s job.
Trey Lance without Jimmy Garoppolo
Given that the most likely scenario is that the 49ers trade or cut Garoppolo let’s focus on what we can expect from Lance in his second season, which can be boiled down to growth.
Like any new quarterback, Lance needs to consistently play four quarters of football to adjust to the pace of the game. While the rushing ability is essential for establishing a prominent fantasy floor, he must continue working out the passing game to aid his upside. Quarterbacks can rarely sustain over 80 rushing yards and a touchdown per game, so Lance needs to further develop as a passer.
What I want to see from Lance is him getting to his second read before taking off with the ball. That simple change in process would give me a lot of confidence that he can get the job done through the air and on the ground. But to accomplish that, he needs some help.
What about that San Francisco Offensive Line?
The offensive line gives me additional pause when forecasting Lance’s season. No, not Trent Williams. He’ll be just fine. However, the right side of this line leaves much to be desired, particularly at right guard.
Last year, Daniel Brunskill took all the snaps at right guard. According to PFF, he led the team in pressures allowed, hurries allowed, and sacks, ending with a 51.0 PFF score for pass blocking. Mike McGlinchey and Tom Compton rotated at right tackle, combining for 31 pressures, 20 hurries, and six sacks. Combined, they were first or second in those three categories last year.
The 49ers have done little to address the line’s right side. Without improvements, this will exacerbate Lance’s trend of quickly taking off after his first read, which is unsustainable over a 17-game season. Fantasy managers should watch the 49ers’ transactions before the regular season to see how they address this need.
Drafting Trey Lance
For dynasty purposes, the calculation is straightforward: Lance’s ceiling is so high that he is definitively a top-ten dynasty quarterback, if not top five. Therefore, dynasty managers should hold onto him until he proves otherwise.
The conversation between redraft and Best Ball is more complicated. It is easy to compare to prior second-year quarterbacks, such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, who both finished their second seasons as the number one fantasy quarterback.
But even with Mahomes and Jackson, fantasy managers were hedging their bets heading into year two. Managers should treat Trey Lance the same way. I’m perfectly fine drafting Trey Lance in redraft and Best Ball. But when I do so, I am always drafting a security blanket. There are plenty of options to this with the current ADP of prominent quarterbacks.
Managers can easily get the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford in the eighth through the tenth round of redraft leagues and round six through eight in Best Ball leagues. I’ve even seen Lance go after Brady in mock drafts. So while I usually recommend only drafting one quarterback in redraft leagues, drafting Lance and a security blanket is my favorite exception to the rule this season.
Whether Trey Lance becomes the next Lamar Jackson or not, set yourself up to take advantage of his ceiling and his floor by having a solid second quarterback in your pocket.
A Look Inside the San Franciso 49ers
Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to focus on one player, but we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Austin focused on Trey Lance in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the 49ers, prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse.
Elijah Mitchell: Your thoughts on Mitchell will all come down to how you believe Kyle Shanahan will handle this backfield. If it’s committee again, Mitchell is being over-drafted. If Mitchell gets the lions’ share of carries, he could be a steal in fantasy drafts. I like the reward. He’s worth a middle-round pick. -Ryan Weisse
Tyrion Davis-Price: Similar but opposite to Mitchell. If this is a committee, TDP could be a fun dart throw. If this is Mitchell’s show, you’ll cut him before September is over. There is also the worry of how the 49ers handled last year’s rookie RB, Trey Sermon. -Ryan Weisse
Deebo Samuel: The splits between when Deebo was used as a primary receiver vs when he was used as an RB are very similar. He doesn’t have the TD upside he had last year but should still catch plenty of balls and flirt with being a top-10 fantasy WR. It’s all about the ADP when drafting him. -Ryan Weisse
Brandon Aiyuk: Is Aiyuk set for a third-year ascension? Deebo Samuel was the unquestioned WR1 for the 49ers a year ago, but Samuel saw much less receiving volume in the second half of the season compared to the first half, while his rushing totals saw a massive spike. In fact, Aiyuk surpassed Samuel in every per-game receptions metric (except yards per reception) from Weeks 10 to 18 last year. With Samuel balking at not wanting to be used as a rusher much in 2022 and an unsettled contract situation heading into a contract year, could we see Shanahan use Aiyuk more out of spite? Aiyuk’s draft cost (ADP: WR42) is worth the risk of finding out. – Josh Hudson
George Kittle: It’s no secret I haven’t been the biggest Kittle fan, but it’s simply because he blocks too much. And that leads to too many spike weeks and not enough TDs. But when he sees the ball, he is elite. He was 2nd among TEs in YAC and tied for 6th in YAC per reception. His high ADP is worth the price. – Josh Hudson
We hope you enjoyed our look at Trey Lance for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here.