I remember the first time I saw Brock Purdy play. He was calm and steady from the moment he saw his first meaningful NFL snaps. Chaos was all around him; the player in front of him on the San Francisco 49ers depth chart — Jimmy Garoppolo — had just broken his foot, and the last player picked in the draft, in his first NFL season, stepped in with the composure of a 15-year veteran quarterback.
He was decisive, accurate and confident while leading the 49ers to nine straight victories last season.
It’s striking how different Purdy is compared to the quarterback who entered the 2022 season atop the 49ers’ depth chart. Because you just don’t see those same qualities with Trey Lance.
It’s easy to see what the 49ers fell in love with. Physically, Lance is impressive. He can throw it, has good skills, and he’s athletic. Those three things made him stand out in pre-draft workouts.
But he’s not quick with the ball. He doesn’t look like he knows the offense very well, either. Like many young quarterbacks, he tracks receivers; he gets right to his No. 1 with his eyes, which against zone coverage pulls everybody in that direction. That’s detrimental.
The speed of the game, handling information and retaining it, and then being able to apply it on the field instantly — like Purdy does — it’s just not there for Lance. It’s the hardest thing to do for a quarterback in the NFL. And then how calm is he under the gun? Some guys just aren’t able to do it, they buckle under pressure, even with good players around them. That’s what I see in Lance.
He’s slow to act and doesn’t appear very confident. Honestly, he looks out of place. Maybe over time he gets there, but he’s a long ways away right now.
The 49ers are in a bit of a predicament. Purdy is the unquestioned starter after what he showed last season, and I suspect Sam Darnold wasn’t signed to be inactive on game days. So, where does that leave Lance?
>> READ: Why Lance Could Be Traded
You never want to give up on a quarterback in this league after just four career starts, especially one taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft like Lance was just two years ago. Because he has such a limited background — he had 17 starts in three seasons at North Dakota State — you want to give him a chance.
I think things would improve if you kept him for three years and had him around so he could learn the offense. Still, he tracks receivers, and no matter how much coaching or time he has to sit and learn, that’s a difficult habit to break. Quarterbacks who track receivers want to see where everything is, where they’re going to throw the ball right away. You can’t do that in the NFL.
It’s probably unfair to him to say he can’t play in this league at a high level, but right now he can’t, and there’s no doubt the 49ers recognize this as well.
Mike Martz is a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, most notably for the St. Louis Rams. He was the OC for the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense in 1999 when they won Super Bowl XXXIV. As head coach, he led the Rams to two division titles, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI.