How 49ers Surprised Trey Lance, Entire League with No. 3 Overall Pick

John Lynch picked up the phone Thursday night without many knowing who the 49ers general manager was going to dial. A gang of just four truly knew heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, a group that expanded to other 49ers staffers just moments before the No. 3 overall selection was formally made.

Trey Lance was among those still sitting in the dark, with no idea that the landline to his left was about to ring. The sound was a welcome surprise, signifying a dream fulfilled and NFL career about to begin.

"It was pretty emotional for me right away," the former North Dakota State quarterback said. "It was kind of a surreal feeling, especially not knowing what the situation was going to be going into it. You never knew until you knew."

In that moment talking to Lynch and then head coach Kyle Shanahan and then owner Jed York, the weight of his achievement truly sunk in. He was the NFL Draft's third-overall pick. He was going to be the 49ers next franchise quarterback. After years of hard work and the longest job interview ever, his dreams were coming true.

Shanahan swore Lance caught a vibe during Zoom calls or a pro day visit. Turns out he was as surprised as everyone else in the league to be a 49er.

"Have you had a hunch for a while?" Shanahan asked.

"I didn't know, Coach," Lance said. "You wouldn't tell me [anything]."

"We didn't tell anybody, man," Shanahan said.

Shanahan got that last part right. The 49ers kept their intentions hidden from countless reporters, colleagues and friends begging for scraps of information hinting at their favorite pick. Insight became solid gold after the 49ers gave Miami two future first-round picks and next year's third rounder to move from No. 12 to No. 3, where they knew a quarterback could be found.

Lance was a 49ers favorite before the deal was made and after, even as Lynch and Shanahan took close looks at other top quarterback prospects. Many in the media believed Lance wasn't going to be their guy, and the 49ers let that yarn spin.

"I know how we felt about Trey the whole time," Shanahan said. "To watch that happen and to kind of watch everyone just assume, because a couple people say something, that's exactly how you feel, we weren't going to work to correct that. At all. I thought that could be an advantage for us."

It certainly was, because few saw the move coming. Lynch said he and Shanahan believed they'd pick Lance for a while but wanted to complete the evaluation process until meeting on Monday to secure their decision.

Nothing had changed. Lance was the guy.

Lynch and Shanahan told Jed York on Wednesday and co-chairman Dr. John York earlier Thursday. Then they let the rest of the world know during the NFL Draft.

That included the new 49ers quarterback.

"I think the blessing of it all was that we got to tell Trey Lance and Trey Lance didn't know before that," Lynch said. "We got to make a young man's dreams and a family's dreams [come true]. I think we got to know a person that impressed us as much on the field as he did off the field and he was outstanding in both ways. That goes for a lot of these guys, but with Trey, that was a special moment to be able to talk to him because I think it was true surprise."

Lance said as much on a conference call, wearing the first of many 49ers hats that will join his collection. He'll get even more when he comes to Santa Clara for the first time and then meets new coaches and teammates during the offseason program.

Lance might be as pumped about those moments as he was about Thursday night's NFL Draft.

"I'm excited to get there and be challenged, I know this coaching staff is going to push me every single day. That's something I'm really looking forward to, getting out of my comfort zone again."

Lance was admittedly taken off guard by the early call, even if realistic hopes were high, because the 49ers found a way to keep intentions quiet.

"That's pretty cool because, again, I told you about what a special deal that was for the player," Lynch said. "I think he will forever remember that. I like surprises. So, I thought it was great that we were able to keep it in-house."