Trey Lance’s Range of Outcomes & Recent Dynasty History (Fantasy Football)
Recently on the Fantasy Footballers podcast, Andy, Mike, and Jason discussed rookie QB Trey Lance in the Dynasty Download segment as a dynasty riser whose hype train is gaining more and more steam as summer days go by.
As soon as the 49ers’ mystery man was revealed on draft night, the dynasty air was buzzing with Lance and not to mention how much of a Best Ball darling he’s become. Is the sentiment in San Fran getting rosier and rosier for Lance?
Using RotoViz’s Dynasty ADP app, Lance’s ADP rose 3.5 rounds since the beginning of May.
Lance is being drafted as the QB10 in this “upper-to-middle tier” of dynasty QBs brimming with youth besides Wilson.
It’s also worth noting how little we’ve seen of Lance on the football field over the last couple of years. Since rolling to a 16-0 record and the Division-II title in 2019, we’ve seen just 30 total in-game pass attempts from Lance over the last 534 calendar days. That’s it. For a detailed look at Lance as a prospect, I highly recommend Marvin Elequin’s 2021 Rookie Profile article. For more on Lance’s dynasty outlook, the Dynasty Pass found in the Ultimate Draft Kit+ is a must.
Let’s compare Lance to other 1st round QBs, identify their similarities as runners, and then project a range of outcomes for dynasty.
Exploring Historical Comps
For this exercise, I want to examine Lance’s and pair him with a couple of historical QB examples that are similar in the sense that they meet the following criteria:
- Drafted as a 1st round QB
- Possessed Rushing Upside in College
For the data set, I looked at every 1st round QB drafted since 1995 (74 different guys) and then narrowed that list to every QB that saw at least a 10 percent rush share in their best rushing season, a total of 34. That was the threshold I found where college rushing production dictated that they were likely to carry over into the NFL. You can also see the emphasis on dual-threat QBs over the last two decades where the “pro-style” drop-back passer of yesteryear slowly faded as a 1st round must at the position.
It’s a pretty fun list and some of the numbers at the top are eye-popping. You sometimes forget how dominant Johnny Manziel was… For the late great Steve McNair, I don’t have a complete list of Alcorn State’s team rushing production from 1994. I scoured the web, went through their giant PDF of their record book, and checked many sources. If you have that info, feel free to let me know.
Scenario 1: He Crushes.
Lance finds himself in a situation ripe for fantasy production. Seriously, his landing spot with the San Francisco 49ers is arguably the best situation I found in terms of team readiness and coaching in the last 25 years. The 49ers are a year removed from the Super Bowl and the pass-catching talent surrounding him (George Kittle, Brandin Aiyuk, & Deebo Samuel) is more than adequate. According to Warren Sharp, the 49ers also have by far the easiest strength of schedule in NFL for 2021 thanks in part to a “4th place schedule” due to a plethora of injuries last year. “He’s set up to smash right away,” says the Lance truther.
The obvious trump card Lance possesses for fantasy is the ability to rush the ball. I wrote a couple of years ago about Rookie QBs & What History Can Tell Us when Kyler Murray came into the league. The main findings were since 1990, every rookie QB that crossed 80 rushing attempts has not only been a fantasy force but maintained a top-10 QB per game pace. To give perspective, 80 rushing attempts is 4.7 per game in this new 17-game season. In 2019, Lance averaged 10.7 rush attempts per game en route to 1,100 yards albeit in 16 college games. Still, he accounted for 23.9 percent of his team’s yards on the ground which places him above the 70th percentile in terms of rookie QB prospects.
Dynasty Archetypes for This Scenario:
- Lamar Jackson– Not bad for a running back. The ridiculous run-first jokes aside, Jackson’s production in college is in a tier of his own. He was basically two players in one at Louisville en route to the Heisman and barely even making our 1st round QB data set with the 32nd selection in 2018. He’s won an MVP and shown, that despite sometimes throwing an ugly ball, he can make it as an NFL passer. Jackson is going as the QB3 in startups. Lance isn’t quite as dynamic as Jackson on the ground (no one is) but you can see the path for a QB bent on rushing the ball having paired success through the air and becoming basically unstoppable for fantasy.
- Cam Newton– The comparisons have been made already with similar 40-times (4.55) and the height. Newton also spent some time with lesser competition at Blinn College before transferring to Auburn for that unbelievable 2010 campaign. Newton is on his way out but for almost a decade, he was a fantasy goldmine and one of the best rushing QBs in league history. He might be the best goal-line back we’ve seen at the QB position ever which could be part of Lance’s skill set at the next level.
- Daunte Culpepper– This is a throwback and one of the better comparisons of what Lance could be. Culpepper also famously beefed up and came into the league with a lot more strength. Oh, and he also had Randy Moss. Nevertheless, Culpepper was a game-breaker for fantasy (and graced that Madden 2002 cover) right from the get-go. Even if the ride ended after five years, that early dominance is perhaps unmatched in terms of top-end points per game from a dual-threat QB.
- Josh Allen– Raw. Big arm. Knows how to take off and run. Yes, we know that Allen came in with a bunch of question marks but after 2020’s near MVP season, if you have him in dynasty (QB4 in ADP), you are licking your chops. Allen also showed that the completion percentage numbers that dogged him at Wyoming and his first two seasons in the league were actually correctable. Lance has a similar trajectory so expect these two to be tied in people’s minds. It is worth noting that Allen is the rarity for fixing accuracy issues. It just doesn’t change for most QBs.
Scenario 2: Dude is a Big-Time Bust
Yikes! That sounds a bit harsh. But this is usually the pendulum swinging to the other side in arguments. If you’re not a fan of Lance for various reasons, it can be easy to see everything with poo-stained (instead of rose-colored) glasses.
The biggest spots on his resumè have to start with the sample size. We simply haven’t seen him play enough real games with real competition. He also played in a system that never actually forced him to be much of a volume passer. Lance completed more than 20 passes once in his career at North Dakota State. Kyle Shanahan might kick that stat in the face as San Francisco relies on the run game, mixing in play-action passes, roll-outs, and getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Regardless, the step-up in competition from Division-II to the NFC West is drastic. For dynasty, Lance is a bust if in two years he doesn’t stay inside the top-10 of startup draft ADP.
Dynasty Archetypes for This Scenario:
- Vince Young– Whoa Nellie… I can hear Keith Jackson calling that Texas-USC game as Young was one of the most exciting college football players in recent memory. The Titans felt the same good vibes taking Vince 3rd overall and things started out pretty well… for fantasy. Despite throwing for more INTs (13) than TDs (12) and completing 51.7 percent of his passes, he was the Rookie of the Year on the back of 553 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs, and some memorable fourth-quarter comebacks. But after that…
- Josh Freeman– This was my draft profile comp for Lance coming out and perhaps it was a bit unfair. Freeman had a good, not great last season at Kansas State but it was his tools that got everyone excited. He had a rocket arm with size (6’6) and for fantasy actually was better than you remember finishing as a top-15 QB three years in a row with Tampa Bay. This was highlighted by a 2010 sophomore season where he threw for 25 TDs and only six INTs while adding almost 25 rushing yards per game on the ground. Nevertheless, he flamed out quickly lasting six seasons, and never really learned how to not turn the ball over.
- Johnny Manziel– Woof. I know. It’s weird even typing this name considering where he’s landed in life. Disregard the off-the-field antics for a moment and remember Manziel’s main calling card was ripping apart defenses in college both through the air and on the ground. He had the 2nd highest rush share among 1st round QBs in our data set behind only Lamar Jackson. However, the translation to the NFL was downright awful, to say the least, as Manziel started a mere eight games. Total. As a runner, his magic act vanished topping 35 yards only once and the extreme rushing upside was gone. He averaged only 4.6 rush attempts per game, the same as what Daniel Jones did last year which is more of a little bonus than a featured part of his game. Manziel was a liability reading coverages and arguably is one of the biggest flops in NFL history.
Scenario 3: Somewhere in the Middle
This scenario might be the most measured and perhaps a wimp’s way out considering you might not have the time nor have invested in Lance for a median projection. Unfortunately, it’s easier seeing Lance finish somewhere in the middle which likely means you missed out on the shot for greatness or a dumpster fire. If he only slights increases his dynasty ADP from his rookie year and tops out as QB5-8 but never any higher, you likely made a wise investment although you might wish the returns were higher with a player with this type of hype.
Dynasty Archetypes for This Scenario:
- Marcus Mariota– Ok, you might be shrugging. Why is he not in the bust category? For a 2nd overall draft pick and the cornerstone of a team, yes. He isn’t what the Titans wanted him to be. But for fantasy, he was serviceable and perhaps on a per-game basis a solid median (to maybe low-end) projection of what Lance could be.
- Mariota showed he could be an efficient passer especially in the red zone on a run-first team. We wanted more and he never became the high-volume passer we wanted for fantasy. Ok, maybe that 30 point game last year he had in relief of Derek Carr skews the end of that career chart. He still could end up the starting QB in Las Vegas at some point this year…
- Carson Wentz– The name shouldn’t be a shocker considering they played at the same school in the same system (with Easton Stick starting in-between) and both teams (SF & PHI) giving up a ton of assets to acquire them. Wentz right now feels like he’s on everyone’s naughty list after going as high as QB3 in dynasty startups just two seasons ago. He has a new team in Indianapolis and perhaps he’ll never regain that MVP-level season he had in 2017. But Wentz has been fine and can remain relevant to fantasy discussions and a top-15 QB.
Ok, honestly we could come up with about five more different scenarios for Lance. But hopefully, this exercise allowed you to zoom out and block out the noise that comes from being the 3rd overall draft pick. The hype for fantasy is resting on the laurels of his rushing upside but he also could easily be thrust into important real-life football situations with the 49ers looking like a contender in Year One. Assess the range of outcomes and make your bet on which one seems most likely when you mix in your talent evaluation. Who knows, we might be having a different conversation about Lance this time next year…