The showdown between two of the top three picks in the May draft probably won’t be what many had hoped for when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
The Jaguars (2-7) have lived up to their end of the bargain, thrusting No. 1 overall selection Trevor Lawrence immediately into the starting lineup.
But the 49ers (4-5), even after No. 3 pick Trey Lance threw a touchdown pass on his first pass attempt on Opening Day, have handcuffed their prospect to a clipboard most of the season; relegating Sunday’s matchup to a duel between Lawrence and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Lance has had the same number of TD passes (0) as Lawrence the last two weeks despite never leaving the bench. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer blames his receivers, not his quarterback.
“We need more production out of our receiver crew,” Meyer insisted this week. “DJ Chark was a guy that’s tall and can run fast and was a great guy that worked his tail off in the offseason. All of a sudden, boom, you look out there, and he’s down (with an ankle injury suffered in Week 4).
“I’ve had times where (I’ve thought), ‘OK, No. 2’s as good as No. 1. Get in there. We’re fine. We struggle a little bit there with the size and speed.”
Lawrence threw for just 162 yards in last week’s 23-17 loss at Indianapolis and just 118 the week before in a 9-6 home win over the Buffalo Bills. His most productive receiver in those games was tight end Dan Arnold, with four catches for 60 yards against the Bills and five for 67 against the Colts.
Among the wideouts, Laviska Shenault Jr. led the way in catches against Buffalo with four for 24 yards and again against Indianapolis with three for 15.
The 49ers have given up some big numbers in the passing game, including 11 catches for 122 yards to Cooper Kupp in Monday’s 31-10 home win over the Los Angeles Rams.
But they’ve unleashed a wideout weapon of their own in Deebo Samuel, whose talents were on full display against the Rams. He hooked up with Garoppolo for five catches, including a TD, and 97 yards in the win, while also carrying the ball another five times for 36 yards and one more score.
“Everything is personnel-driven,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you have receivers who can go back to running back and also receivers who don’t mind doing some stuff that a fullback would do, there’s all those different matchups you can do. And when you have willing guys who have the ability to do it, but they’re also physical enough to do it, it just helps you come up with a lot of things.”
Shanahan had hoped to use Lance as that type of versatile weapon. But the rookie was thrust into a full-time quarterback role when Garoppolo injured his calf in Week 4, and by the time he’d completed his first full game a week later against the Arizona Cardinals, Lance had suffered a sprained knee, and Garoppolo was back at the helm.
Garoppolo has thrown for 1,936 yards in eight games, 47 fewer than Lawrence has accumulated in nine. Lance has totaled 354 yards in four games, including the one start.