Who ought to begin for the San Francisco 49ers in 2021?

Kyle Shanahan and Co. are in a precarious position. They picked Trey Lance with the third overall pick, but it appears Jimmy Garoppolo will start as QB1 of the 49ers to open the regular season. Shanahan can say anything he wants that no decision will be made, but Garoppolo’s 9 preseason attempts clearly show that Shanahan will start him in Detroit in Week 1. But the question is who should start for the 49ers?

Trey Lance vs. Jimmy Garoppolo: who should start for the 49ers?

From the team’s point of view, the decision for Shanahan shouldn’t be that difficult. Lance is the exceedingly talented passerby and the better athlete. Only a fool would say otherwise. However, this isn’t the only aspect of the quarterback game. Processing ability is paramount at the NFL level. Garoppolo is better in this regard as he should be given his veteran status.

There is one problem, however. With the current CBA limiting practice time, it is not easy to become familiar with what a quarterback will see after the snap if they are not doing live reps in games that matter.

The 49ers have a roster that is now geared towards victory. With a healthy Garoppolo you have already proven that you can do it. He could give them an even better chance of winning. Still, it’s not enough to potentially stifle the growth of a quarterback that the team has invested much, much more in over the long term.

Lance was supposed to start week 1 for the 49ers. Let me explain

Scenarios that create a PR nightmare

This makes the 49ers’ decision on a starting QB more complex than the Bears or Patriots. There is a shipload of scenarios where this team is making things more difficult for their future.

1) Start Jimmy Garoppolo and he plays well

If Garoppolo starts the season at QB and the 49ers win 12 games and have a little playoff run, a very vocal segment of the fan base is going to punish the team for giving up assets to draft a quarterback.

Without seeing how well Lance can do, expectations will skyrocket after Garoppolo’s team change for 2022. If he doesn’t immediately shine in his second campaign, the fan base will turn him on completely.

2) Start Jimmy Garoppolo and he plays badly

With this squad being good and Shanahan being an offensive wizard, the chances of that are not high. This could be the second best scenario for the 49ers and the fan base, depending on how quickly they pull the trigger and put Garoppolo on the bench.

If Lance comes in and plays well, Shanahan will see some people squinting him, but it won’t be a fatal blow to his career. To be fair, no decision he makes is going to ruin his promising career. It’s easy to justify starting Garoppolo. After all, Lance has only played 17 college games, all of them at the FCS level. There’s a good chance he’s not ready just yet.

If Lance comes to relieve Garoppolo and things go bad, we’ll attribute it to a rookie who needs to catch up with NFL pace. These reps become much more valuable at this point.

3) Start Trey Lance and he’ll play well

That’s the perfect scenario for Shanahan and the 49ers. They awarded the 12th overall pick, a first round in 2022 and a first round in 2023 on Lance. That’s a lot of capital to secure your future QB, and it has to work. It will be years before they have the fortune to try again.

4) Start Trey Lance and he plays badly

This could be as valuable as Lance is playing well. When Garoppolo has to relieve the rookie, his use of the bench press says a lot about his mental state. We’ve heard outstanding things about Lance’s character, so a temporary bench press shouldn’t be a sanity issue for the team’s good. Plus, the 49ers could learn a lot from it.

The 49ers’ schedule is perfect for starting Lance

The San Francisco schedule in 2021 starts with the Detroit Lions before they visit Philadelphia in Week 2. So they start the year with the 30th and 31st teams in the league. There is no more ideal scenario for throwing Lance into the fire.

The San Francisco roster should have enough to sneak past these two teams even if Lance is struggling. If he plays so badly that they lose, it may be time to bring the veteran back.

If Lance wins the first two games, he should go into a home battle against Green Bay in week 3 with sky-high confidence. Lance also has his legs that he can lean back on, which should raise his floor significantly.

The improvements Trey Lance needs to make can only be done in the game action

Lance doesn’t seem ready all the time. He looked insecure at times in his second preseason move, gave one-two passes, and didn’t get to his checkdowns fast enough when under pressure. But he needs live reruns to be comfortable and understand when and how he’s meeting the recipient.

However, he has flashed high-level eye manipulation that opens trajectories. Still, the negative games, like the interception and the dropped interception he threw at the Chargers, weigh more heavily on the mind than the good.

In addition, the regular season should allow him to use his legs more. Lance seems hesitant about using them this preseason as he could have done it a few times and decided not to.

Finally, he has to relax his arm. Lance has a three-digit fastball that he flaunts on most throws, much to the chagrin of his recipients, who have trouble reacting in time to get their hands on the ball.

Even if Lance isn’t ready, given the lenient preseason schedule, the franchise and their fans will have to ditch him before playing Garoppolo. If Lance is her future QB, he’ll come back stronger when it’s his time.

After all, there is a chance he will become QB1 for the 49ers this season given Garoppolo’s injury history.

Dalton Miller is a senior NFL analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller Twitter and Pull out.

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