As of this writing in late May, Trey Lance is currently ranked 106th overall as the QB14 on FantasyPro’s expert consensus rankings (ECR) and being drafted 102nd overall as the QB13 per Underdog best ball ADP, which is pure insanity to yours truly. At his current ADP, Lance is the single most undervalued quarterback of 2022 and one of the biggest fantasy sleepers available. Most redraft leagues don’t draft until August, but best ball drafters and any early redraft leagues should be taking advantage of this massive value. Let’s break down why.
Fantasy Football Sleepers: Trey Lance
We’ll begin by addressing the elephant in the room and the primary reason why Lance’s current ADP is so low; the continued presence of Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. Recent rumors have spawned debate about whether Garoppolo could remain the 49ers’ starting quarterback heading into 2022. Ryan Harris said on CBS Sports HQ that sources within the 49ers organization “expected Jimmy Garoppolo to start [Week 1]” and that “Lance is really leaving a lot to be desired”. However, it’s important to realize that these types of rumors benefit San Francisco, as the organization likely wants to push the narrative of Garoppolo being a potential starter. Elevating Garoppolo’s status would allow the 49ers to maintain some leverage in trade talks since other teams would naturally rather wait until Garoppolo is released to sign him rather than give up any draft picks.
More recently, Albert Breer reported that San Francisco still plans to trade Garoppolo prior to the start of the season and is being patient, which makes more sense given Garoppolo’s $27 million cap hit if he were to remain on the roster and recovery timeline. Many have forgotten that Garoppolo injured his throwing shoulder during the playoff game against the Cowboys in January and subsequently had surgery on his shoulder on March 8. When the decision to undergo surgery was first announced, Ian Rapoport mentioned that there was “significant interest” around the league in Garoppolo but that the recovery timeline of 16 weeks following surgery could delay a trade until late June or early July, when Garoppolo is expected to resume throwing. Dr. David Chao of Sports Injury Central concurred with Rapoport that the surgery would delay a trade for Garoppolo and that the veteran quarterback wouldn’t resume throwing until July at the earliest and potentially longer.
Garoppolo currently being on the roster shouldn’t indicate doubt as to Lance’s position on the depth chart. The NFL’s recent track record surrounding early first-round quarterbacks speaks for itself. Most quarterbacks drafted that early immediately become the starter and those who don’t generally get a chance by midseason of their rookie years. The lone exception to the rule in recent seasons has been Patrick Mahomes, who sat behind Alex Smith for the duration of his rookie season in 2017. Mahomes is also the most apt comparison, since, like the Chiefs in 2017, the 49ers were strong contenders last year and chose to go with the safer veteran option rather than the upside rookie. Smith was healthy and quickly traded the following offseason, but Garoppolo’s surgery likely threw a wrench into San Francisco’s plan to do the same. Still, considering Lance’s draft capital as the no. 3 overall pick (and an expensive one at that given what the 49ers gave to trade up for him) and Garoppolo’s impending $27 million cap hit, Lance will almost certainly be San Francisco’s Week 1 starter barring injury.
College & Rookie Production
Another oft-discussed concern about Lance is his lack of experience and college production. With only one season of collegiate starts under his belt from 2019, it’s understandable to question whether 2019 Lance is indeed the Lance we’ll get in the NFL. While it’s a small sample size, Lance showed that he could progress through reads and demonstrated accuracy on throws to all areas of the field, including deep passes, with literally zero interceptions. That alone would make him an intriguing prospect, but his mobility and speed to threaten defenses as a runner makes him a dynamic weapon with MVP upside in the same vein as Lamar Jackson. Lance having rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in his 2019 season in addition to his passing prowess is what gives him elite potential both as an NFL player as well as in fantasy. Even with just one season and one other collegiate start to measure him by, Lance showed well in all aspects both as a passer and as a runner in that small sample size.
As a rookie in 2021, Lance only started two games, but his fantasy potential was evident. In his first career NFL start at Arizona in Week 5, Lance passed for just 192 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception, but he added 89 yards on the ground on 16 carries. It was a forgettable week with just 14.6 fantasy points, but the box score fails to show a fourth-down play on which Lance was stopped an inch short of the end zone on a goal-line run by two converging defenders. Had he managed to score there, he would’ve finished the game with a very respectable 20.6 fantasy points, which would’ve made him the no. 8 fantasy quarterback that week despite having thrown for under 200 yards and no touchdowns. It’s also worth noting that George Kittle missed that game due to injury.
In Lance’s other start in Week 17 against the Texans, he was much more productive. He passed for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception and added eight carries for 31 rushing yards. It wasn’t the most impressive fantasy performance, but his 19.1 points were enough for a QB10 fantasy finish that week. The primary takeaway here is that even with below-average passing performances in his two NFL starts thus far, Lance has shown the potential for strong QB1 production in fantasy from his rushing production. Those starts also came unexpectedly due to injuries to Garoppolo, so the ceiling is tantalizing once Lance has constant reps with the first-team offense in camp and each week prior to starting games.
The final piece that raises both Lance’s floor and ceiling projections is the offensive scheme and surrounding talent in San Francisco. Perhaps Sam Darnold could’ve succeeded had he been drafted to a better organization than the Jets, and maybe Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t be the superstar he is right now if he hadn’t been paired with Andy Reid, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce to begin his career. Shanahan’s offense has remained among the most efficient in the league since he became an offensive coordinator and then head coach, which bodes well for Lance’s prospects. The 49ers also boast a strong offensive line, an efficient run game, the league-leading wide receiver in yards after the catch per reception (YAC/R) last season in Deebo Samuel and a top-3 tight end in George Kittle. Oh, and Brandon Aiyuk isn’t too shabby either, having finished 2021 as the no. 7 wide receiver in YAC/R. A lot of things have to go wrong for Lance to fail.
But what if Lance is simply just bad? There have certainly been plenty of quarterback prospects who never lived up to the hype and just couldn’t cut it in the NFL. We’ll start by examining what Garoppolo has been able to accomplish with Kyle Shanahan. Garoppolo is far from the worst quarterback the NFL has ever seen, but he’s a limited passer who relies heavily on yards after the catch created by his receivers in Shanahan’s offensive scheme. In 15 starts last year, Garoppolo was the QB17 with an average of 16.1 fantasy points per game, while throwing for just 20 touchdowns along with 12 interceptions. Let’s evaluate a worst-case scenario in which Lance struggles and barely manages to match Garoppolo’s 254 passing yards per game and an ugly 1.6 to 1.0 touchdown to interception ratio.
Even projecting a mediocre year for Lance as a passer with similar passing production to Garoppolo’s 2021 season, adding a very conservative 30 projected rushing yards per game with zero rushing touchdowns for Lance would’ve made him a top-12 fantasy quarterback last year. Projecting just 40 rushing yards per games with two total rushing touchdowns on the season would’ve vaulted Lance into the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks in 2021. The point is that while Lance profiles as a good passer, he doesn’t need to be a strong QB1 in fantasy. In fact, Lance’s 2022 season could look very similar to that of Jalen Hurts in 2021, who ranked just 16th in EPA and 19th in QBR last season. Although Hurts threw for just 3,144 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, his 784 rushing yards, and 10 rushing scores allowed him to finish as the no. 7 fantasy quarterback on the year.
Lance’s current ADP of QB13 or QB14 is below his floor projections and predicated purely upon irrational fear of Garoppolo somehow maintaining the starting job. Realistically, a top-10 or top-12 fantasy quarterback finish is the absolute floor for Lance considering his rushing potential, and if he were to exceed expectations as a passer, it wouldn’t be all that shocking if he were to finish as a top-5 fantasy quarterback or even the top overall fantasy quarterback in 2022. Ignore the rumors about Garoppolo staying as the starter and take the early offseason discount on Lance before it’s gone.
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