Please que the “John hates good football players” mantra. People are gonna say that I hate Trey Lance now.
Regardless, NFL Draft Twitter is full of wanna-be analysts trying to find the next up-and-coming prospect before the big names in the industry is talking about them. I suppose there is some sort of clout attached to it? “I found this guy a month before Todd McShay mentioned him on his podcast” people will say on Twitter profiles. “I must be an expert.”
This year’s early twitter darling appears to be North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. In recent memory, NDSU has pumped out some good quarterback prospects. Carson Wentz was the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and Easton Stick was an intriguing prospect that caught a lot of attention in the 2019 NFL Draft and was a fifth-round pick.
I have a lot of thoughts on this. Let’s get into them.
A background report on Trey Lance
A former three-star prospect, Trey Lance is the epitome of under-recruited in high school. 247 Sports listed Lance as the 46th best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2018, playing at Marshall High School in Minnesota. His 247 Sports Profile verified that he had run a 4.60 forty yard dash. He fielded seven scholarship offers, just three from FBS level schools.
Boise State, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois all went after him, and many expected Lance to sign with NIU. However, he went with North Dakota State, enrolled in June of 2018, and took a redshirt year to sit behind Easton Stick and wait his turn.
Lance has put on 20 pounds since coming to the next level. He was listed at 195 coming out of high school and now is listed at 225 on the NDSU website. I doubt he’s that big, but it’s a good size differential.
Since coming to the college level over his eighteen games, Lance has yet to throw an interception. This stat caught the attention of a lot of people.
Lance’s first season as a starter was impressive, no doubt. There were no hiccups as the Bison won their eighth FCS National Championship of the decade, something that Stick had been unable to do his first season as the starting quarterback.
The Positives from a Scouting Standpoint
Trey Lance has natural arm talent that’s definitely exciting. His release is quick, compact, fluid, and effortless. He can push the ball deep down the field seemingly at will and it’s very easy to see a natural talent immediately.
Lance is a very natural athlete. Not only did he pass for over 2700 yards in his first season as a starter, but Lance also ran for 1100 yards on the ground himself. He was able to help NDSU continue the effectiveness that they have going over the last few years with the run-pass-option.
I’m going to get sidetracked for a minute. Have you seen the RPO concepts that the Bison run? Normally, it’s a quick pass out on a slant route. Instead, they give Lance screens to throw on one side and vertical concepts on the other side. He reads the coverage pre-snap and determines which side of the field he will go to first if he keeps the ball to throw.
Okay. Now back to Trey Lance.
Lance is excellent at extending the play when he needs to and has shown us the ability to look for the pass first before taking off to run. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and makes good smart decisions. He pops on tape.
The negatives that I see
While Trey Lance is certainly special, he’s very raw and needs time to develop his mechanics. How can you tell?
First off, his placement on his throws is all over the place. It wasn’t as noticeable in the regular season, but as NDSU got into the playoffs, it became more and more evident. Part of the reason for that is lack of experience, and he will get better as time goes on. The other part of the reason is that when he gets outside of the pocket or has to move, he doesn’t position himself very well to get a good release.
Second, he wasn’t asked to throw very much in college. NDSU is primarily a run team, and Lance averaged just under 18 pass attempts per game. What does that ultimately mean? He was throwing against loaded boxes much of the time, against defenses that are focused on stopping the run. Down the field, there were a lot of one-on-one opportunities (with no deep safety) that the Bison were able to cash in on with big plays. Also note, Lance missed several of those throws and was very inconsistent with the placement.
Lastly, look at his footwork. It’s extremely inconsistent. Fans wonder why analysts and coaches bitch about footwork all of the time. It’s because it’s important to the timing of a play.
The offensive line are protecting an area when the quarterback drops back. They can’t see him moving behind them. Consistent footwork gives them a rhythm and a very good idea of where their quarterback is in the pocket as they drop.
Active feet in the pocket allow a quarterback to move and react to threats sooner. Guys that you see stand flat-footed in the pocket and don’t keep their feet moving are often the guys who get sacked more often. That split second that it takes to move from a flat-footed position can cost you a full several yards or speed up the internal clock of a quarterback who forces the ball for an interception. Lance doesn’t always show active feet in the pocket.
Largely, he’s gotten away with these issues because of the level he’s playing at. There is a large difference between the level of competition at the FCS than even a conference like the Big 12. Those flaws would be much more noticable if he was playing at a higher level.
Does Trey Lance even declare?
People seem to forget that this is a redshirt-sophomore prospect. Last season was his first year playing college football as a redshirt-freshman. Sam Darnold was the last (and as far as I could tell from my research, the only) redshirt sophomore quarterback to declare for the NFL Draft.
Let’s just assume that Trey Lance has another season of dominance, but his workload increases. Where is the NFL value in Lance?
People like Mel Kiper on ESPN and Daniel Jeremiah on NFL Network are starting to talk about him, which means that Lance is probably getting some buzz in NFL ranks. Realistically, though, they’re going to want to see him finish his redshirt-junior season before he’s going pro, especially because of the level he’s playing at.
So hey, everyone. Relax. Trey Lance needs his space. Let him develop.