No professional athlete in professional American sports has more pressure on him than the quarterback of the 49ers.
He has to be elite, preferrably one of the greatest ever. If he’s not, he gets replaced, because 49ers fans want the next Joe Montana. They’ll settle for the next Steve Young. Anything less in unacceptable.
Now it’s Trey Lance’s turn to live up to those outrageous expectations. So let’s rank the 49ers’ best quarterbacks since 1980 and see where Lance might fit in.
1. Joe Montana.
The greatest quarterback of his era and in 49ers history. Montana’s prime may have been the best of any quarterback ever.
2. Steve Young.
His prime could have started earlier, but he had to wait until he was 30 before he could replace Montana. Young still put together a career that ranks him among the top 10 quarterbacks of all time.
3. Jeff Garcia.
Like Young, Garcia’s prime started when he was 30, but it didn’t last long. Still, during those three seasons, Garcia was a top 5 quarterback in the NFL. He holds the franchise record for most passing yards in a season, and is the only quarterback in franchise history to throw more than 30 touchdown passes in a season two years in a row. Garcia was no game manager — he was a gunslinger who moved well and protected the football.
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4. Colin Kaepernick.
Like Garcia, Kaepernick’s prime didn’t last long. Kaepernick’s best season was his first, when Alex Smith replaced halfway through the year and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. In Kaepernick’s second year, he led the 49ers back to the NFC Championship game. He was among the most explosive athletes in football in his prime, and he routinely embarrassed the Packers in particular. He never improved as a quarterback, but he was an excellent game manager who had a strong arm, ran for lots of yards and did not throw many picks.
5. Alex Smith.
Smith was just entering his prime when he got injured and lost his job to Kaepernick, and you could argue that Smith’s real prime came in the following years when he played for the Chiefs. Still, Smith was excellent from 2011 to 2012, as he lost only five games during that time and threw 30 touchdown passes and a mere 10 interceptions. He also went to an NFC Championship and had a legendary playoff win when he threw for 299 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, plus he ran four a touchdown in a thrilling win over Drew Brees and the Saints.
6. Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo went to one Super Bowl and two NFC Championships in his prime and won lots of games in the regular season. His resume is excellent. But when you dig deeper, you see that he had excellent receivers, running backs, defenses and coaches, and that he played decidedly poorly in the playoffs despite winning four postseason games. Ultimately, was a game manager who thought he was a gunslinger, but really was an interception waiting to happen. He couldn’t move, throw long or read defenses. He had the most meager skill set of all the quarterbacks on this list. And despite all that, he still found ways to win more often than not.
In terms of raw talent, Lance is as gifted as any quarterback on this list. But right now, he’s a game manager, like Kaepernick, Smith and Garoppolo. Lance didn’t throw much in college — he managed the game, because he was winning most of the time. As a game manager, he should be better right away than Garoppolo, simply because Lance can run, throw downfield and protect the ball.
That doesn’t mean Lance will become a Pro Bowler like Garcia or an MVP like Young and Montana, but he certainly has a chance to achieve greatness.