Trey Lance pro day: Assessing QB’s 2021 NFL Draft stock after NDSU showcase

Las Vegas Raiders draft Trey Lance
Jan 11, 2020; Frisco, Texas, USA; North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) celebrates winning the game against the James Madison Dukes at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

North Dakota State held its pro day for 2021 NFL Draft prospects on Friday. Naturally, quarterback Trey Lance was the main attraction, and he put on a show for talent evaluators from 30 of the 32 teams.

With just one full season of starting experience with the Bison, Lance had the chance to show off his skills for those who are longing to see more before they trust him to be their new face of the franchise. For the most part, he didn’t disappoint.

Biggest takeaways from Trey Lance’s pro day

High-end measurements and physical skills

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy shared Lance’s official measurements, which reflect the prototypical size and strength all the NFL personnel experts were looking for:

Although hand size may be a minor red flag for some old-school scouts, bear in mind that Joe Burrow had an even nine-inch measurement last year, and Tua Tagovailoa checked in with 10-inch mitts. Who looks like the better long-term QB? Burrow.

Everywhere else, Lance checks all the boxes. He’s just under 6-foot-4, and has a well-built frame at 224 pounds. What stood out most was how thick his legs were, which suggests he’ll have the power to run over NFL defenders and capitalize on the dynamic athleticism that allowed him to run for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019.

But everyone knows how electrifying Lance can be as a ball-carrier. He didn’t even run the 40-yard dash, because that part of his game really isn’t in question. Scouts were eager to see how well Lance threw the football, since that’s after all the primary job of a signal-caller. By the way, he did that well in 2019, too, throwing 28 TDs and zero interceptions.

Some quarterback prospects look the part but don’t ultimately deliver the goods when it comes to arm talent. Thankfully for those who want to like Lance and how he projects to the NFL, he proved that his physical strength translates well to slinging the rock.

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Trey Lance showed inconsistent accuracy, but strong execution of NFL concepts

Trey Lance pro day: Inconsistent accuracy, strong execution of NFL concepts
Jan 11, 2020; Frisco, Texas, USA; North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) scrambles from James Madison Dukes safety D’Angelo Amos (24) in the third quarter at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

More balls hit the ground during Lance’s passing showcase than you’d like to see. Granted, this can be attributed to a variety of factors, mainly that getting the timing down with receivers during a workout is tricky. The pass-catchers need to be precise with their routes, and they’re also typically not NFL-caliber players.

Lance missed on several downfield throws, more often overshooting his targets than not, which is certainly correctable. He seemed more comfortable throwing to his left, which for a right-handed passer, is often the more difficult side to hit. That bodes well for what Lance can clean up as he transitions to the NFL.

To be fair, he did hit on a number of difficult tosses, and delivered his fair shares of ball on the money, hitting a nice go-ball down the sideline, some deep over and deep out routes, and even a long-developing post-corner that might’ve been his best ball of the day:

The biggest positives to take away from Lance’s session were his ability to deliver the ball on a line with serious velocity on short-area routes and anything inside of 20 yards or so. Those shots were generally very good other than a few awry tosses in red zone drills, as he otherwise showed off great footwork and strong pocket composure, which allowed him to deliver some serious strikes.

Such immense, gunslinger-style gifts prompted at least one comparison to Buffalo Bills superstar Josh Allen, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo:

Make no mistake about it: Lance knows how to hit any route on the receiver’s tree. He can work from one side of the field to the other. For someone who played at the FCS level for a limited amount of live game reps, Lance’s ability to deliver with anticipation is ahead of the curve compared to other top QBs in the 2021 draft.

Between his strong mechanical foundation, evident football IQ, quick release and not only an extremely powerful arm, but the demonstrated knack for changing speeds on his throws when it’s required, make Lance a tantalizing, high-upside player.

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Trey Lance’s 2021 NFL Draft stock after NDSU pro day, possible landing spots

North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
Jan 11, 2020; Frisco, Texas, USA; North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the James Madison Dukes at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Be careful not to take too much stock in someone’s pro day. The circumstances are somewhat strange, yet they’re designed to highlight a player’s strengths and cast him in the best light possible.

Lance was far from perfect in terms of pinpoint accuracy, and his ball placement isn’t quite as advanced as someone like BYU’s Zach Wilson, but that’s a high bar to clear.

Taking every top QB at face value in the 2021 draft, Lance may only barely crack the top five in some evaluators’ eyes due to his inexperience and some of the rawness to his game. NBC Sports’ Chris Simms actually a bit more critical of Lance’s mechanics than yours truly, but he did acknowledge how special the 20-year-old phenom can be:

The fact that Lance is where he is in his development right now, at age 20, with such limited experience underscores the type of upside we’re talking about.

It’s not far-fetched to say Lance has arguably the highest ceiling of any quarterback coming out of college this year. There is a ton to like about his skill set. His evaluation becomes tougher since he only played one game in 2020 and had just the one season of starting experience before then to begin with.

But this isn’t, like, a Mitchell Trubisky one-year wonder, because Trubisky didn’t have anywhere near the skills Lance has entering the NFL. Again, the raw physicality is more comparable to Josh Allen, which is gaudy praise, but wouldn’t have been until Allen’s huge leap forward in 2020.

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If he were to fall to later in the first round, teams that are in the market for a QB of the future or need a successor to their current option should think hard about drafting Lance, letting him sit as a rookie, and then ceding the reins to him in Year 2.

The destinations that make the most sense for Lance this context are the Atlanta Falcons (fourth overall), the Detroit Lions (seventh overall), the San Francisco 49ers (12th pick) and the New England Patriots (15th pick).

Also, don’t sleep on the Washington Football Team or Chicago Bears, picking 19th and 20th respectively, trading up to acquire Lance if he slides amid an early draft run on QBs where he’s the odd man out.

Lance is a legitimate first-round prospect, worthy of getting picked somewhere in the teens or higher depending on what plan is in place for him. That may have been the case entering his pro day, but Friday’s performance is almost guaranteed to have cemented the love one of the above teams has for Lance — and will ultimately culminate in him being drafted there next month.

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