Following the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback saga will make your head spin faster than Gerrit Cole’s fastball with sticky tack. It wasn’t that long ago that Jimmy Garoppolo was one throw away from becoming a Super Bowl champion QB for the Niners. Now? He’s featured prominently in my top free agent QBs piece and Kyle Shanahan has officially stated that the Jimmy G era has concluded in San Fran.
After Jimmy G, well… the Niners were taking Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft, right? Of course that didn’t happen, and San Francisco pivoted to the more athletic Trey Lance near the wire. Lance showed some good things toward the end of the 2021 season, but then broke his fibula and tore his deltoid and syndesmotic ligaments early in 2022, abruptly ending his campaign. Enter “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy – the literal last pick in the 2022 Draft – who quickly became the highest-rated QB in the league down the stretch of the season, propelling the 49ers to a strong seed and trip to the NFL’s version of the Final Four where… well of course he had to get injured, too!
And that brings us back to Lance, and the purpose of this piece. With Purdy out at least six months now, the door is once again ajar for Lance in fantasy circles. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at potential fantasy football breakout quarterbacks for the 2023 season.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Lance is immediately attractive from a fantasy perspective because of his two-way threat: Run-pass versatility when healthy and playing “his” game. But the obvious questions are abound: Will he be himself after this major injury? Was his horrific performance early in 2022 just a blip resulting from a small sample size? Are the 49ers really comfortable with him at this point anyway, or will they pursue someone like say, Kirk Cousins?
For now, from a fantasy perspective, let’s assume the Niners give Lance another shot with Purdy on the backburner for the long haul. If things play out in this manner, Lance becomes more intriguing than you might initially think. Tom Brady – still a competent fantasy quarterback – has retired, Aaron Rodgers is mulling his future, Kyler Murray had major knee surgery, Tua Tagovailoa’s concussions appear to be career-threatening, Deshaun Watson didn’t look anything like his old self, Russell Wilson might be toast, Zach Wilson and Davis Mills both look like busts and I’m not expecting much from either Malik Willis nor Desmond Ridder in the immediate future. So QB might be thinner than we initially thought, right?
That said, if everything breaks right, Lance looks to be in the QB12-16 range for me from a fantasy perspective. I don’t have much faith in his release time, accuracy or general passing ability, but he has the rushing attack and a top-tier coach in Shanahan. After the “obvious” guys at his position, Lance is gonna be worth a look for many fantasy coaches.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
It wasn’t all roses for Pickett in his rookie season under center for Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers, but the kid showed enough good things for us to consider him for this piece. Obviously he has the pedigree, and he definitely displayed fearlessness in his first shot out the gate. Not surprisingly, he made rookie mistakes – particularly when it came to analyzing defensive windows and throwing lanes on the fly – but he also ran the ball a bit more than I expected and showed a willingness to put his young body on the line in the redzone.
I don’t see Pickett making a Justin Fields-like jump in terms of per-game fantasy production, but I could see him sliding into the same area as the aforementioned Lance. These kids won’t be challenging Allen, Mahomes, Hurts, Burrow nor Herbert up top, but openings do arise after that. How will Dak Prescott bounce back mentally from another playoff disaster? Where will Lamar Jackson land in free agency, and can he even stay healthy at this point anyway? Can Jared Goff repeat his surprising greatness? Which version of Derek Carr will we get in new surroundings?
There are a lot of questions outside of Allen, Mahomes, Burrow, Hurts, Herbert, Fields and Trevor Lawrence for me. Both Lance and Pickett could be movers and shakers on this overall QB board for fantasy. Pickett has confidence, if not a lot else this early in his promising young pro career.
Matt Corral, Carolina Panthers
Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker and Baker Mayfield (who was already gone) are all free agents this NFL offseason, leaving the door wide open for Corral, potentially. Coming off a Lisfranc injury and subsequent surgery that caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign, would the rebuilding Carolina Panthers’ organization turn the keys over to him right away?
It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, but I would expect them to bring in a competent veteran like Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett or Taylor Heinicke. Either way, with low expectations across the board for Carolina, Corral should definitely get his share of significant snaps. What exactly can we expect from the kid?
Well, many analysts felt he was the most talented quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft class. In Carolina, he’ll hop under center with a solid WR1 in DJ Moore out wide, and a lot of potential from WR2/3 Terrace Marshall. Shifty slot specialist Shi Smith – say that five times fast – got some fantasy hype heading into last season as well. There are some young players to grow with, but obviously Corral wouldn’t be a one-QB play in fantasy. Clearly, given the snaps, I can see Corral on the 2-QB/Superflex radar. It would be funny if Purdy and Corral end up the best quarterbacks in that class, right?
I’ll see ya right back here next week for potential breakout players at the running back position.
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NFL for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football and basketball.