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Projecting regular-season statistics for any NFL rookie is typically a difficult task given the level of unknown in how that player will respond to the transition to the professional level. 49ers No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance comes with an added layer of difficulty because of the uncertainty as to when he’ll play.

Instead of trying to pick apart statistical projections by ESPN’s Mike Clay, we decided to take them at face value and use that as the foundation for predicting a start date for Lance.

Clay projects Lance for 2,464 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes. Lance’s numbers land him fourth among the five first-round quarterbacks. Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence leads that group with 4,269 yards and 23 touchdown throws.

Those numbers for Lance aren’t eye-popping if he starts Week 1, although they don’t factor in the impact he’ll have on the ground. Still, fewer than 3,000 passing yards seems a bit short for a full 17-game slate for the rookie, so we’re ruling that out.

The next step was to look at the halfway point – Week 9 at home against Arizona. That gives him 10 starts. Those 2,464 yards over 10 starts extrapolate out to 4,189 yards for a full year. While the 49ers would be thrilled with that level off output, it seems a little bit lofty for a quarterback that only played 17 college games.

Pushing it back just a couple games got us to a sweet spot though, and it lands in a good spot for San Francisco. With these statistical projections, Week 7 looks like a good spot to predict a first start for Lance. It’s coming out of the Bye week so the club would have an extra week to prepare for Lance’s first start on Sunday Night Football against the Colts.

Statistically he would have 12 starts with around 205 passing yards per game. The 2,464 yards expands to 3,491 over the course of a 17-game season. Lance’s 16 touchdown passes over that span project to 23 for a full year. Factoring in his ability to affect games on the ground helps justify some of the lofty numbers as a passer this early in his career since it’ll make San Francisco harder to defend.

This is obviously an inexact science and a guess based on projections that may or may not be correct. The fact is Lance has a shot to start right away if he impresses in camp. Conversely, he could be waiting awhile if the 49ers get to the Bye with only a loss or two.

So much of Lance’s future is riding on how Jimmy Garoppolo looks in camp and then as a starter assuming he’s the guy in Week 1. The 49ers have a chance to contend for a Super Bowl this year, and if Garoppolo is playing like they can win one with him, they’ll likely ride it out.

If there’s any sign of a struggle though and Lance appears ready in practice, the 49ers won’t hesitate to put him in. Week 7 seems like a good spot to guess though, and if Lance in 12 starts puts up the numbers Clay projects, he’ll be off to a great start as the team’s franchise quarterback.


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