49ers' Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch Explain How They Decided on Trey Lance

Jenna CiccotelliAnalyst IIIMay 3, 2021

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance holds a San Francisco 49ers jersey after being chosen by the team with the third pick in the NFL football draft, Thursday April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers drafted quarterback Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick Thursday after previously trading up from No. 12, signaling the end of Jimmy Garoppolo's time as their long-term starter.

It was a decision that was set in place last Monday when head coach Kyle Shanahan proposed the pick to general manager John Lynch, who could hardly believe that Shanahan was serious.

"You aren't f--king with me, are you?" Lynch asked.

"I don't say that word," Lynch told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. "That was out of character for me. But I was very excited."

Team brass kept its intentions quiet even as rumors started to link the 49ers to Alabama QB Mac Jones (who went to New England at No. 15.) But in reality, they had been in on Lance since January, when Shanahan called Lynch from Mexico and insisted he look at his tape.

Even owner Jed York thought the team was going with Jones a couple of days before the draft, Lynch said.

"People say that—and we liked Mac a lot," Lynch said. "Mac's film was excellent. It was damn near flawless. He played so well. But I'm also telling you in January, Kyle sends me this tape, and we really wanted to give it its process."

While there were questions about who the 49ers would take once the trade was solidified, one thing was almost certain: In such a strong quarterback class—a record eight were drafted in the first three rounds—the 49ers were ready for a refresh. They convinced York to hang on to Jimmy Garoppolo and his hefty price tag ($24.1 million in 2021, $24.2 in 2022) while getting someone in place to eventually take over.

York "backed it 100 percent because he wants to win," Lynch said.

"We've been open about it. Jimmy's been tremendous when he's been healthy. And he hasn't, to this point, been able to stay healthy enough. That causes you to say, 'Hey, this is an opportunity where it looks like there's a very strong quarterback class.'"

Despite Lance's small sample size—he played just 19 games through three years at North Dakota State, with the bulk of his production coming by way of a 2,786-yard, 28-touchdown, zero-interception season in 2019—the 49ers were sold on his athletic ability as well as who he is as a person.

Lynch praised Lance's "natural rhythm" and power and how he continued to pursue his dream of playing collegiately even when he went through the recruiting process without a Division I scholarship offer.

"Everything looked great at North Dakota State, and he wouldn't change it," Lynch said. "He loved it. And to see that bothered him. He loved North Dakota State, but he was like, 'Yeah, I went to camps at this place and this place, and I was the best player at that camp,' to see a little conviction and belief in himself, because you hear it, that was good."

Lynch said "the whole decision" to draft a quarterback at all was difficult because of Garoppolo, who has proved himself capable when healthy. But there were too many positives to pass on the opportunity.

"I think it gives us the best chance, first and foremost, to win," Lynch said. "I feel like we have a team that's ready to."