As one of the premier players of the 2021 NFL Draft class, it is only a matter of time until we see San Francisco 49ers rookie QB Trey Lance take the field, which could drastically alter the fantasy outlook of the entire offense. Bringing a rare blend of arm strength and athleticism, should fantasy football managers consider drafting Lance at his current ADP despite not knowing when or if he will start?
Trey Lance’s fantasy outlook for 2021
I understand that head coach Kyle Shanahan does not want to just come out and say that Lance is the starting QB over Jimmy Garoppolo. Both on the field and in trade value, there’s a competitive advantage to leave everyone guessing. But are we anymore?
It’s not a secret Shanahan is ready to move on. After all, the 49ers spent three first-round picks to move up to No. 3 overall to select a quarterback. And even though he had worked with Justin Fields for years at the QB Collective camps, he still chose Lance over him. Lance has everything you could want in an NFL quarterback.
Lance started all 16 games in an award-winning, record-setting, and undefeated national championship season. North Dakota State’s record was the first 16-0 finish in college football since 1894. In his breakout year, Lance threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns on 287 attempts while completing 66.9% of his passes.
He also got it done on the ground, rushing for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. What is even more impressive is that he never threw an interception.
Outstanding physical attributes
Lance has one of the best arms in the class. With a flick of the wrist, he can throw a ball 65 yards downfield. Additionally, the former NDSU signal-caller can go through multiple progressions, play under center or shotgun, and stay calm in the pocket. There isn’t a throw he cannot make.
If you went into Madden and created the perfect player to run Shanahan’s system, you would end up with a carbon copy of Lance. The only question at this point is when he will get his chance, and according to Shanahan, it will be sooner than some think, although maybe not in the role we were hoping for.
Lance will see “situational” playing time
After being non-committal at the beginning of rookie camp and OTAs, it seems that Lance is starting to gain the confidence of his coach. However, Shanahan does not seem ready to pull the trigger just yet.
When speaking to reporters about the position on August 6, Shanahan stated Lance would play “situational” snaps.
“Yes, it’s a quarterback position. I mean, everyone is looking at that, but we’re in a situation where I don’t see them competing. I see, you know, Trey’s going to play for us this year — I mean that situationally he is going to get plays. Like that doesn’t mean that he’s going to go be a starter or anything. He’s going to get plays, and you’ve got to prepare him for that every way possible.”
Lance has received reps with the first team but the bulk of his snaps have been with the backups. Shanahan likely means that he will use his mobility in more RPO-based play calls until he feels ready to hand over the reins to Lance.
How should managers view Lance for now?
So, what does this mean for fantasy and Lance’s outlook? It means we are in a holding pattern. Odds are that, barring injury (which is known to happen with Garoppolo), Lance likely will not be viable in fantasy for the beginning of the season. In the end, that might not be a bad thing, as the last situation you want is a rookie QB starting before they are ready.
It’s not like the 49ers need to rush this. They have a championship-caliber roster and a competent QB in Garoppolo who can get the job done.
With that said, Lance can elevate this offense to an entirely different level. If he were to start early, Lance has NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year upside — he is that good. It is also why I would advise drafting Lance and stashing him on your bench, knowing that it will pay off down the road.
The 49ers’ offense is one of the best to target for fantasy. Not only are they loaded with talent, but they have an incredible defense and one of the best play-calling specialists in the game with Shanahan. Since 2012, his offenses have finished inside the top five four separate times and only once outside the top 13.
His scheme is predicated on getting playmakers in space and letting them move the ball. It’s why he has brought in yards-after-the-catch monsters in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle.
The most impactful question, especially for Lance, is when do we think he will take over the starting role? I have based projections on their Week 6 bye week. That gives Shanahan time to evaluate both QBs, see where they are record-wise, and use the extra week for installing new plays and schemes.
As mentioned, Garoppolo is a consistent injury threat. Since joining the 49ers (2017), he has been inactive for 45% of his 24 possible games. Due to this, the timeline could change at any moment.
I currently have Lance playing in 17 games (12 starts) and attempting around 430 passes for 3,100 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Additionally, he could record roughly 90 rushes for 440 yards and 5 more scores.
Trey Lance’s ADP
According to Sleeper, Lance is currently the QB20 with an ADP of 145.2 in half PPR formats. In superflex leagues, where quarterbacks have increased value, he has a 90.2 ADP. Similarly, on Fleaflicker, Lance is the 21 with a 151.7 ADP. In the high-stakes NFC format, he is the 23 with an ADP of 156.5.
Should you draft Lance for fantasy in 2021?
Lance has a better ADP generally in best ball formats (inside the top 12). That is extremely telling in regards to how highly fantasy managers believe in Lance. Taking a quarterback who doesn’t even have a starting job as the No. 13 QB is bold but speaks to his potential upside. After you draft, the best players play in best ball leagues — you never set a lineup. They are banking on Lance’s upside for when it counts down the stretch. I respect it.
In redraft leagues, you are not afforded the same luxury. Week in and week out, we must deal with the “is he starting this week” saga and media reports (I am sure I will have my fair share of these, for transparency’s sake).
Draft and stash Lance
I am all in on Lance — I have been since he was at NDSU and continued into the pre-draft process. The 49ers were one of my dream landing spots for him, so for this to all pan out has me extremely bullish on Lance’s future in the NFL and fantasy.
Once Lance sees the field, his value is going to explode based on his ADP. This is not the classic case of a talented rookie going to a lousy team who earned their early draft pick. This is a Super Bowl-caliber team who had a disastrous season due to injuries who sold the entire farm to chase talent.
I am drafting Lance and stashing him on my bench. When that playoff push is underway, he might very well be that boost you need to secure the hardware at the end of the season.
Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.