As we move toward the 2023 NFL Season, I’m turning my focus to a series of sleeper candidates. I’ll be offering four players at each of the positions—QB, RB, WR, and TE—that I think can make a positive impact for you in fantasy. This will be a list of veteran players, as we already have our expectations set for the class of 2023. Today, I continue with a long-shot quarterback option, Trey Lance.
Not long ago, the 49ers were willing to mortgage their future to move up to the No. 3 pick to grab a franchise quarterback. That quarterback was Trey Lance. Considered something of a project, the expectations were mixed. Lance played sparingly as a rookie but entered 2022 as the starter. He lasted a game and a half before the injury, and now, a year later, he seems to be third on his own team’s depth chart. Will he stay there? Let’s consider the evidence.
The Case for Trey Lance
The case for him getting a shot is two-fold. First, while Brock Purdy finished 2022 strong and appears to be the incumbent starter, his health is a question. If he’s not ready to start the season, someone will get the starting nod. It could be veteran Sam Darnold, signed this off-season, but it could well be the player the 49ers spent three First Round picks to acquire. So, it comes down to draft capital and opportunity.
It’s also not as if Lance doesn’t have upside. The reason the 49ers took him in the first place is his 2019 collegiate season, where he showed his prowess as a passer and rusher. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns, rushing for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. We also saw flashes of that during his rookie year in 2021. Lance appeared in six games, starting two. He threw for 603 yards and five touchdowns, rushing for 168 yards and a touchdown. During his second start in Week 17, Lance finished as QB10.
Lance is now entering his third NFL season, going through his second full off-season, which should leave him better prepared to run the 49ers’ system. He still has raw skill and talent, and if he gets a chance, he could be a boon in fantasy.
The Case Against Trey Lance
It starts with the stance of the 49ers themselves. The 49ers have consistently noted that Purdy is the starter, but new reports suggest Lance is no better than third on the depth chart. That’s a steep hill to climb. It also makes some sense. Prior to the pick, many insiders thought the 49ers were leaning toward Mac Jones at pick No. 3. The Purdy/Darnold combination might better fit the mold the 49ers want at the quarterback position.
We’ve also seen some inconsistency from Lance, a raw prospect who rose up draft boards thanks to one great season at North Dakota State. Last year, entering the season as the installed starter, Lance sputtered. The weather conditions weren’t great, but Lance lost his only full start, an opening-week game against a Bears team that earned the first overall pick. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 164 yards, rushing for just 54 yards on 13 carries. That start, in addition to what the 49ers have seen since, seems to factor into his position on the depth chart. Those things can’t be ignored.
The Bottom Line
Lance has been a risky bet since he was drafted. If you’re in a dynasty league, you likely took him high in a rookie draft. You can’t get the capital back for him in trade, and I certainly wouldn’t release him. Your best hope is that Purdy can’t go early and the 49ers give Lance a shot, which he makes the most of and performs well. That could give both dynasty players and the 49ers the leverage needed to find a good trade. Either way, Lance should be rostered everywhere, thanks to the potential and potential opportunity alone.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.