Trey Lance finds himself embarking on his third NFL season, a point in a No. 3 overall draft pick’s career where expectations tend to soar if they haven’t already. However, Lance’s professional journey appears to have hit a snag. Despite facing a lack of support from the backup players around him in the San Francisco 49ers’ preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, Lance’s performance displayed uncertainty. Throughout several of his dropbacks, his demeanor seemed hesitant – a response possibly anticipated from a quarterback who has seen limited action since his college days back in 2019. Unfortunately, errors were all too frequent.
The central inquiry isn’t whether Trey Lance can contend for a starting role, as that prospect appears elusive. Instead, the question revolves around whether he or Sam Darnold will secure the position of the 49ers’ second-string quarterback. It’s likely that Lance’s performance in Sunday’s matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders didn’t solidify his claim to the backup role behind Brock Purdy. His stat line recorded 10 completions out of 15 attempts, accumulating 112 yards, albeit with a late rally that lent an air of respectability to his statistics. Notably, he was sacked four times and escaped a couple of potential interceptions, including one in the end zone.
Though there remains a stretch of time prior to the regular season’s commencement, Lance’s start to the preseason has left much to be desired. The 49ers’ initial three drives under his command yielded three-and-outs. Even on the subsequent drive culminating in a touchdown, his decision to throw into traffic within the end zone betrayed questionable judgment. The fact that Raiders cornerback Duke Shelley failed to intercept the pass, allowing 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley to make the catch, couldn’t gloss over the subpar decision.
At least the sequence wasn’t another fruitless three-and-out.
During the first drive, Trey Lance twice hesitated while attempting passes, permitting the Raiders’ defense to converge upon him, resulting in two sacks. On the following drive, when faced with a third down, Trey Lance once again displayed hesitancy. As pressure mounted, he hurriedly threw an incomplete pass over the middle, culminating in yet another three-and-out. The third drive mirrored this pattern: indecisiveness from Lance, a slow response to processing the play-action pass, an overthrown pass leading to an incompletion, a dash of athleticism in evading the rush, yet ultimately yielding a sack and another three-and-out.
However, Lance demonstrated improvement from that point onward, although blemishes remained. Around 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, he finally executed a pass resulting in a first down – a quick out to the tight end. A scramble to the right connected him with Willie Snead for a gain of 12 yards. Subsequently, he secured a touchdown by the possession’s conclusion, although the coaching staff will likely address the mistake that led to it.
Launching the fifth drive, Lance experienced a fleeting moment of protection from the offensive line on first down, yet he hesitated to throw and was subsequently sacked. However, he redeemed himself with an accurate throw over the middle to Chris Conley on a third-and-10 play. The drive faltered when a fourth-and-2 rushing attempt was thwarted.
In the final drive of the first half, Lance’s pass over the middle was read by linebacker Amari Burney. Despite Burney’s interception drop, Lance managed completions to Conley and tight end Troy Fumagalli, earning 24 and 22 yards, respectively. A defensive penalty combined with these completions positioned the 49ers within field goal range, but the half ended with a missed field goal by rookie third-round pick Jake Moody. Darnold assumed command in the second half.
Lance’s predicament was aggravated by an uncooperative offensive line and backup receiving targets, rather than the starters. Although the circumstances weren’t ideal, Lance himself also struggled to capitalize.
The 49ers invested substantially in acquiring Trey Lance, a decision that currently appears questionable at best. San Francisco relinquished three first-round picks and a third-round pick to secure Lance, who has accumulated merely four starts and 102 passing attempts. Hindered by injuries, Lance has only presided over one victorious game that he both started and completed, which was against a subpar Houston Texans team late in the 2021 season.
Brock Purdy holds the distinction of being the 49ers’ primary quarterback, and any uncertainties hinged on his post-offseason surgery health status. Once he received medical clearance for practice, any speculation ceased.
Perhaps Trey Lance can contend for the backup role or potentially use the remaining preseason matches to elevate his stock in the trade market. However, the initial indications for either scenario appear less than promising.