The last time a Kyle Shanahan-coached team drafted a top-five quarterback, it was clear he would be the starter from Day 1. When Washington traded up to the No. 2 pick to take Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft, he was handed the keys the moment Roger Goodell called his name.
Trey Lance finds himself in a much different place than Griffin did, after the 49ers traded up to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft.
“That’s why I learned so much that year,” Shanahan said to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa on “49ers Game Plan” this week. “We were in a situation where we traded up for a rookie, we didn’t have a guy there who was an established starter. We made Robert the starter that rookie minicamp.
“So the first day he was there, we were all-in.”
Lance, however, came into a situation where his new team did have question marks at quarterback, but that QB is an established starter who led the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV.
But when the 49ers decided to draft Lance, many turned to Griffin and Shanahan’s desire to again have a dual-threat quarterback. Lance rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman at North Dakota State. Griffin rushed for 815 yards and seven TDs as a rookie when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator in 2012.
“And there were some similar things,” Shanahan said. “Now, he didn’t do as much in the pocket in college as Trey did, so you knew that would take time but anytime you do have a running element at quarterback there’s lot of things you can put in that help even the game out a little bit and slow it down where it’s not the same for other quarterbacks who don’t have that element.
“When you do have the threat of that all the time, you’re not gonna see as much stuff — as many blitzes, as many coverages and things like that, which, at the beginning, makes it a little easier.”
At the same time, Shanahan knows from experience that a team can’t run a QB into the dirt.
“But as you get going, you can’t just run the quarterback all the time,” Shanahan said. “It does hurt to get hit, and eventually it’s going to hurt. I don’t care how big you are or how strong you are, eventually, you’re gonna get taken out. That’s why you do have to balance that stuff out, because the goal isn’t just to do good stuff for a little bit.
“It’s to have a whole good season and give yourself a chance to be the last team playing.”
Griffin led Washington to the playoffs as a rookie with Shanahan’s father, Mike, serving as the head coach. However, Griffin entered the NFC Wild-Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks with a sprained knee and should not have played. Washington opted to stay with Griffin instead of fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, even as Griffin hobbled all over the field. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Griffin tore his ACL.
He was never the same as a player.
Jimmy Garoppolo will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback Sunday against the Detroit Lions in the season opener. Lance has returned from his fractured right finger and could have read-option packages as a rushing option. Shanahan vows he has learned from the past, and he liked Lance as a prospect for his ability in the pocket just as much as what he can do as a runner.