SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — With an eye on making Super Bowl runs in the talented laden NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers selected North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance as its quarterback of the future with the No. 3 pick Thursday in the NFL Draft.
It was just two seasons ago that Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where the team’s hopes for a sixth NFL title slipped through their fingers amid a fourth quarter collapse. Garoppolo’s continued health was a mounting concern heading into the draft, so GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan decided to make a bold move.
The 49ers brain trust swapped first round picks with Miami and also sent along two future No. 1 choices to move up to the No. 3 spot. With Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and BYU’s Zack Wilson taken with the top two picks, the 49ers were down to Alabama’s Mac Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Lance.
Of the three, Lance had the highest upside as a dual threat with his arm and his legs. The potent combination is of greater importance with Kyler Murray — an emerging talent in Arizona — and veteran Russell Wilson guiding the Seattle Seahawks in the highly competitive NFC West.
The 49ers may have tipped their hand a bit in the weeks heading into the draft as they kept Garoppolo on the roster. That would give the team the option to allow Lance to ease into life in the NFL.
Many NFL pundits thought Jones would be the 49ers selection, but then Lance dazzled Shanahan on his pro day.
“I’ll say when we made this decision (to move up in the draft), we knew that there were five guys that we thought, we felt that we’d be okay with taking,” Shanahan said during a Monday conference call. “After going through this whole process, I feel good about five guys at three. Yeah, we had a guy probably at first back then, but we knew that wasn’t set in stone and we knew the only way we could figure out a little bit more, especially when you can’t work out guys, you can’t meet with these people.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak last season, Lance played just one collegiate game. Against Central Arkansas, Lance showed all his skills. He rushed 15 times for 143 yards and two TDs. He completed 15-of-30 passing for 149 yards and two scores in the 39-28 victory.
The performance followed a remarkable 2019 freshman season with the Bison.
Lance led North Dakota State to an undefeated season and a Football Championship Subdivision national championship. In doing so, he became the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS. He also won the Jerry Rice Award — named after the 49ers great who starred at Mississippi Valley State — as the top freshman player in the subdivision. Lance became the first player to win both major FCS legacy awards in the same season.
During the 2019 season, Lance led the FCS with a 180.6 pass efficiency rating, ranked second in yards per pass attempt (9.71), fourth in points responsible for (252), fifth in completion percentage (66.9) and 10th in rushing yards per carry (6.51). He set the NCAA all-divisions record for most passing attempts in a complete season (287) without an interception. Lance finished the year with a school-record 288 career consecutive passing attempts without an interception and set NDSU single-season records for passing efficiency (180.6) and total offense yards (3,886).
He also set an NDSU freshman record with 1,100 rushing yards and had a team-high 14 rushing TDs and led the Bison with 44 rushing attempts on third down with an average of 10.2 yards per attempt, 27 first downs and eight TDs.
Lance also has a family connection to the 49ers. His father, Carlton, played for Southwest Minnesota State and joined NFL camps with the Houston Oilers and the 49ers. Carlton was a cornerback who spent two weeks in 49ers training camp ahead of the 1994 season. He was signed on July 22, 1994, and was waived two weeks later on Aug. 4, 1994.