North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance has the tools to be an NFL MVP one day. He’s aiming to be the second coming of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
The 2021 NFL draft became more of a focus much earlier than anyone had anticipated once the college football season was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Limited schedules and uncertainty about who’s actually playing in the fall led to a scramble to evaluate players. The FCS is still wrapping up their season on the eve of the draft.
The biggest prospect to be directly impacted by the reduction of games was North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. The powerhouse program produced Carson Wentz for the 2016 NFL draft, and are now again looking to claim another top-five pick with Lance. The athletic passer is in the running to be taken third overall by the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s easy to see why because he already wins the paper test with his measurables and first-year production. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is a fantastic runner, totaling 1,325 yards in 19 games with the Bison. His scrambling ability allowed him to dominate lesser competition across his one-plus year as a starter.
Trey Lance is the next Josh Allen in both risk and potential reward
Stories of size, arm strength, and athleticism have dreams of what he could be is reminiscent of the experience for Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Allen was a below-average passer out of Wyoming and optimists dreamed about what could be if he could tighten his mechanics and make better decisions. Allen has seen considerable growth in the NFL and was the runner-up to Aaron Rodgers for the MVP.
Lance is in the same boat as Allen was three years ago. His highlight film is filled with impressive displays of arm strength and the occasional deep ball. There’s no question that his big-play upside and overall dynamic ability are intriguing.
His numbers also show what many would think is a highly advanced decision-maker based on the fact he just logged his first career interception on 318 throws in his only game of 2020. The redshirt sophomore is a smart passer, but his raw stats are misleading as far as his development. His opening game against Central Arkansas was statistically mediocre (15-of-30 passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT) but the film showed the same issues with consistency from 2019.
This isn’t the end of the world, of course. I charted all of Lance’s career passes and compared his catchable ball rate to 75 other quarterbacks to see how he stacked up. Lance will have time to develop and we’ve seen worse passers (Allen) blossom with the right support and aptitude to get better.
Lance rated as an above-average passer from 0-10 yards (80 percent accurate), below-average on 11-19 yard throws (54 percent) and slightly below average deep (44 percent). Overall his raw accuracy was in the same range as Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson.
Compared to 88 other seasons I’ve charted, his individual ranks were much worse than his peers in the class. His 0-10 yard accuracy was 21st, 11-19 yard accuracy was 71st, and deep accuracy 58th. Cumulatively, he was just 60th throwing beyond the line of scrimmage. Most concerning is his 56th ranking under pressure and 85th ranking on conversion downs.
One caveat would be the level of competition was dramatically lower, the scheme much more effective than what those passers had, and the weight of the offense carried by each individual. Lance was also close to Wentz’s accuracy numbers at NDSU, and we’ve seen how inconsistent the latter has been throughout his career.
His downward throwing motion makes even some of the easier throws more challenging. And when his process is rushed, we’re able to see it exaggerated. Being in an offense with only two or three receiving options per play can be a negative factor here since there’s not a fast hot read built-in like the spread has, but it’s also reflective of Lance’s lack of exposure to certain situations.
It’ll help Lance to go to a patient team that can either sit him for most of 2021 or the entire season and builds a roster for his skill set. He can become a dangerous starter with the right support, but without it, his running will become the only effective part of his game. He’s not overly close as a pocket passer right now and there’s not the fundamental base to guarantee he’ll become one with certainty.
The big plays will help and some of the biggest draft analysts in the country love Lance’s raw tools. I don’t blame them, but also heed warnings about the reality of his numbers and role within an offense that won’t skip a beat when he leaves next year.
Ideally, we would’ve seen him at a higher-profile and pressure program like Georgia, Michigan or Oregon before he jumped to the NFL but COVID-19 and life get in the way of these dream situations from happening.
In the meantime, we have a fun highlight reel and a bunch of single plays littered with frustrating errors to project Lance. His next coaching staff is betting on him overcoming the odds to become the next Allen.
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