The San Francisco 49ers traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft to 3rd overall and sent the Dolphins the 12th overall pick, a first and third-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023. With their pick, the 49ers drafted their QB of the future—Trey Lance from North Dakota State.
Seen as a developmental project, Lance sat behind Jimmy Garoppolo for most of 2021. That offense ranked 2nd in the NFL in passing yards per attempt with 8.6 and 6th with a positive pass percentage of 49.2%.
The 49ers snuck into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed by beating the Rams in Week 18 and didn’t look back. Consecutive road wins against the Cowboys and Packers in the wild card and divisional rounds got the 49ers facing the Rams again. For the second time in three years, they met in the NFC championship.
After taking a 17-7 lead into the 4th quarter, the 49ers surrendered 13 fourth-quarter points and fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
Changing the Quarterback
Last season, Lance averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and had a 100 Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR) on 71 attempts. (IQR is an adjustment to Passer Rating that, among other things, focuses on competitive throws by removing spikes and throwaways and accounts for drops by receivers and defenders.)
Also, Lance had a 9.9 average depth of target (aDOT), which was 2 yards more than Garoppolo. With promising numbers in a limited role, Lance will look to use his athleticism to take the next step and lead the 49ers.
The Supporting Cast
In the offseason, wide receiver Deebo Samuel signed a 3-year, $72 million deal keeping him in San Francisco. As a receiver, Samuel posted 11.7 yards per target and 4.8 Total Points per 60 routes run, good for 1st and 4th in the NFL among players with at least 50 targets.
Samuel ranked 1st in the NFL as a runner with 18 Total Points per 60 rushes among players with at least 50 carries. As an efficiency darling, Samuel was well worth the money and will be a focal point of this offense to take some pressure off of Lance.
Outside Samuel, the 49ers have plenty of other weapons at Lance’s disposal. Tight end George Kittle returns after ranking first among tight ends in Total Points per 60 routes run with 4.2 and 2nd in yards per target with 9.7.
In the backfield, a rotation of Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon and rookie Tyrion Davis-Price will look to continue the success of the 49ers’ rushing attack.
49ers Key 2021 Rushing Stats
|Yards Per Game||127.5||7th|
|Yards After Contact Per Attempt||2.5||T-8th|
Defensively, the 49ers will have a disruptive front seven. The 49ers’ pass rush ranked 1st in Pass Rush Total Points (2.2 points per game higher than the average team). This is due in part to the return of Nick Bosa, who was 1st in the league with 39.5 Pass Rush Total Points.
At linebacker, Fred Warner returns after posting 140 combined tackles, good for 11th in the NFL. What does need improvement from last year is the pass defense. The 49ers ranked 30th in Pass Coverage Total Points (3.9 points per game worse than the average team. Although masked by a good pass rush, the secondary will need to improve in 2022.
Facing the 8th-toughest schedule via the Total Points Team Strength Model from SIS, the 49ers will need to get Lance up to speed quickly if they want to make a deep postseason run.
James Weaver contributed to this report.