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Trey Lance - 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Profile

The Super Bowl is in the books, which means it's officially draft season! The NFL Draft Prospect Profile Series will feature prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospects with film analysis and scouting insights. I have experience working in college football and have been studying the NFL Draft for over 15 years. My analysis is based on film study and analytics.

A common misconception about the NFL Draft is that the college and pro games are very similar. They are not. Besides the obvious difference in speed and skill level, a college field has different hash mark distances and different rules. There are specific schemes and plays that NFL teams copy from college and vice versa. But the differences between the two are understated in NFL Draft coverage. There's a reason many highly-productive college players are not considered legitimate professionals.

To that end, scouting prospects is not about evaluating college performance, it’s about projecting traits that translate to the next level. This is not limited to just physical traits. There are certain football traits that are evident in college film and will translate to the pro game. For example, a wide receiver being able to get in and out of breaks efficiently will not change from college to pro. On the flip side, an edge rusher who got most of his sacks due to hustle or missed offensive line assignments may not have shown translatable traits on film. We will continue our draft coverage this year with a look at my QB2 in a special QB class, North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

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Trey Lance: Profile

Trey Lance is one of the most unique QB prospects ever, having started just one year at North Dakota State. He led his team to a 16-0 record and FCS National Championship in 2019, accounting for 3,886 total yards and 42 total touchdowns with zero interceptions. A powerful runner, Lance is a dual-threat in the Cam Newton mold, and actually attempted just 10 passes in the 2019 FCS National Championship game against James Madison.

There are legitimate question marks and red flags regarding Lance's pro prospects. Is he good enough as a passer? Why did he play the worst game of his career in his only game of 2020?  Can he make the jump in level of competition from the FCS all the way to the NFL?

All of these questions are legitimate, but scouting players for the NFL draft is more about projecting translatable traits than anything else. And make no mistake, Lance possesses every trait teams look for in an NFL QB.

It starts with his size, standing at an ideal 6-4, 226. His physical traits are that of a first overall pick, with the strongest arm in this class and tremendous explosiveness and athleticism. Physically, there is no question Lance would have stood out in the FBS. Jumping all the way to the NFL is a different animal, of course, but Jeremy Chinn, Darius Leonard, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, and Janoris Jenkins all transitioned from FCS to the NFL seamlessly, in large part due to elite athleticism.

The FCS-to-NFL jump has also been made by many successful QBs. Carson Wentz has had a tumultuous start to his pro career, but Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Joe Flacco, among others, have all enjoyed substantial success in the NFL.

I also believe the public underrates FCS football in general. FCS players are still scholarship athletes. Go watch an FCS practice and you're still seeing some of the top football players in the world develop their talents.



It is extremely difficult to evaluate QBs. It's even more difficult without meeting the player and talking football on the whiteboard. When scouting QBs, I try to judge mental processing and a player's understanding of football concepts, as well as instincts. There is an incredible amount of projection involved with college QBs transitioning to a professional system. While watching the film, I ask myself if there is anything this player does that would help him in that transition. Conversely, if a QB is slow in making decisions (even if the result of the play is positive) or shows a misunderstanding of certain coverage concepts, it's fair to question how quickly he can improve.

Coincidentally, I remember scouting Carson Wentz in 2016 and noting that he was frequently a tad late on many decisions. Being even slightly late in the slower game gave me pause about his transition to the faster NFL. The clip below is an example of Wentz locking on to one receiver and being late, throwing into heavy traffic (yes, the TE made an amazing catch).

Trey Lance did not play in a complicated system at North Dakota State. He will surely have to learn a lot more about the scheme at the next level. But what I loved about his film is that he was very decisive. He displayed a command of his offense that led him to confidently decide where he wanted to go with the ball quickly on almost every play. That internal clock is important, and something Wentz has struggled with as a pro. Lance will be better prepared to adjust to the speed of the NFL if his decisiveness translates.

The clip below shows Lance quickly diagnose the coverage, understand there is no flat defender, come off his first read, and decisively deliver the ball to the outside receiver with good timing.

Lance's decisiveness also impacts his mechanics. He usually gets his lower half involved, which leads to high velocity throws and rainbow-like deep balls. His placement isn't consistently perfect, but it's adequate. We've recently seen two similarly physically-gifted QBs in Josh Allen and Justin Herbert improve placement after being drafted.

The clip below highlights all of the good and one of the concerns about Lance. He looks off the safety and delivers a strike to his TE. Even though it might be a better decision to hit the back in the flat, Lance doesn't second-guess himself and completes the high pass. But is the ball placement perfect? Probably not, as an NFL corner would almost surely undercut it. He also shows the ability to stand in the pocket and take a hit without dropping his eyes.

While his decisiveness is a positive, it can also get him into trouble sometimes. The clip below shows him deliver a laser right to the 1-high safety.

It's worth noting that this inexplicable decision (the only interception of his career) came in his only game of 2020. He also came back to the sideline and encouraged his TE after the play, displaying leadership and communication skills.


Translatable Traits

While Lance's offensive system wasn't overly complex, there are some translatable traits that other prospects don't have film of.  For example, ball-handling is an underrated aspect of QB play, and other QBs in this class played almost exclusively from the shotgun. In North Dakota State's offense, Lance ran a lot of under-center play-action and bootlegs in addition to operating in the shotgun.

The clip below is an example of Lance understanding coverages. In the first play, Lance decides to give the ball to his RB while taking a mental picture of how the defense is playing to the field. On the very next play, he makes the choice to take his field hitch for an easy gain instead of reading the boundary three-man route combo.

No team is going to draft Lance without the intention of utilizing his mobility. Expect the team that drafts him to use plenty of bootlegs and QB run-game. Mobile QBs will always have durability concerns, but Lance is solidly built at 6-4, 226. The clip below highlights his running ability.

Lance's rushing ability is not what makes him such a great prospect.  He is not one of those RB-playing-QB types. Lance has a terrific arm, as evidenced by the clip below.


NFL Outlook

Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones all played full or near-full seasons in 2020. All four balled out and helped their respective draft stocks in various ways. Meanwhile, Trey Lance played one game and had the worst performance in his career. This is impacting the draft community's evaluations of the top-five QBs and making Lance an afterthought. Without digging into the film, it's easy to write off a QB with the narratives that follow him.

I believe NFL teams will value him as a clear top-10 prospect with a chance to go in the top-five. He is my QB2, not that far behind Lawrence, and has all the traits teams want in a franchise QB. In a typical year without the pandemic or the possibly all-time-great QB class, Lance would be considered as the first overall pick. He's that talented.

All college QBs must improve when they get to the NFL, but Lance's film shows the mental acuity and under-center ball-handling skills that give him a leg up on the competition. I'll leave you with a reminder that the "level of competition" argument works both ways. Is an NFL receiver dropping this perfect deep ball? Say, Julio Jones, D.J. Moore, or Jerry Jeudy?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more prospect profiles and other NFL Draft content.

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