Skip to main content

The Biggest Takeaway From Trey Lance's Preseason Performance vs. Denver

Trey Lance has been in dire need of reps since entering the league after barely seeing the field the past few seasons. One could argue that Sunday's outing against the Broncos was the best the former third-overall pick has ever looked at the NFL level.

Trey Lance put together a statement performance as he led the 49ers to a walk-off victory over the Denver Broncos in their second preseason match of the 2023 campaign.

The quarterback room has always been the main topic of discussion regarding the San Francisco 49ers since Kyle Shanahan became the head coach. Shanahan has yet to find his guy who can bring them a Lombardi Trophy. The 49ers drafted Lance in hopes he would be their franchise QB, yet he has started only four games since being drafted in 2021. His future in San Francisco is in more jeopardy than ever due to Brock Purdy's remarkable run last season as the starter, which has solidified him as their starting QB to enter the season.

For Trey Lance, it is more important than ever that he capitalizes on the opportunities he is presented with. He has made clear improvements to his throwing mechanics and made strides in camp, but nothing tops in-game reps where he has been inconsistent. With Purdy still building his arm strength back up from his UCL surgery, there has never been more anticipation to see Lance play in the preseason.

In San Francisco's first preseason outing against the Raiders, Lance got the start and played the first half. It was challenging to evaluate Lance as an individual due to an abysmal performance by the offensive line. That said, Lance started slow, then got in rhythm as the game continued. Overall that performance wasn't bad, but nothing close to good enough to consider moving him on the depth chart.

This past Sunday, the 49ers faced off against the Broncos. Purdy started, and Darnold got a chunk of the first half in a role reversal with Lance. Again, Lance started slower. He threw an early interception while attempting a screen pass, but this was the turning point that led to the biggest takeaway from what was arguably Lance's best performance. It was Lance's response to his own mistake that was the eye-opener.

Immediately after throwing the interception, Lance threw a dart over the middle of the field and looked progressively more comfortable the rest of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Lance would lead the 49ers to back-to-back scoring drives, which included a stretch of six straight completions. During these sequences, Lance showed great poise in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield and escaping pressure while also looking to make plays with his arm rather than his legs.

He seemed to process well and looked much more confident in letting it rip anywhere on the field to keep moving the chains. He seemed very comfortable operating the middle of the field and working the quick game, which has been the staple of the Shanahan passing game. To cap off the first late score, Lance delivered a deep touchdown pass to rookie tight-end Cameron Latu over the seam late in the fourth quarter.

Down by two points, the 49ers defense gave the offense another shot to score and win the game. With a chance at a two-minute drill, Lance completed two passes to rookie wideout Ronnie Bell, who also had a tremendous game. The first throw to Bell accrued a good chunk of yards after the catch, which is typical of the Shanahan offense. The next pass to Bell was down the middle of the field, which was an essential play in putting rookie kicker Jake Moody in field goal range to ice the game as the Niners celebrated their younger guys securing a win.

Lance finished the game with a final box score of 173 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception while completing 12 of his 18 pass attempts. Another bounce-back response that flew under the radar was his ability to avoid pressure. Lance was sacked four times in one half against Las Vegas the week prior. He didn't take a single sack against Denver.

It is becoming more evident every week that the main issue with Lance is simply a lack of reps. Perhaps if Shanahan wasn't as hesitant in 2021 to start the guy he traded up for, this could be a much more enticing competition, as Lance would probably look like a different quarterback. Instead, with how his development has been handled, it is almost like Lance is a third-year rookie that Shanahan sometimes doesn't even want.

While no preseason performance would ever be enough for anyone to supplant Purdy on the depth chart, it was very positive to see Lance's ability to bounce back from a mistake and lead the offense in a way the fans have not been able to see aside from the Week 17 victory over the Texans in his rookie year.

Lance showed he could be a very viable backup to Purdy at worst. And if he has no future in San Francisco, his efforts against Denver may have boosted his trade value for any teams who lose a starter early in the season.