Welcome to my first article for the Downtown Sports Network. And more importantly, welcome to the 2021 NFL Draft cycle.
The QB class is the first thing I look at in every class, and in this QB class, I had to take an even closer look. With Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields presumptively at the top of the class, I would like to interject with someone who’s arguably more talented than both of them: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance.
Lance has gotten a lot of early recognition from big-name draft sites which is a testament to the strides that have been made in identifying small school talent. North Dakota State has been somewhat of a QB factory; going directly from Carson Wentz to Easton Stick, and now to Trey Lance.
Lance is now going into his Redshirt Sophomore season which does lead me to question if he’s going to declare for the 2021 Draft, but he’s more than worth taking a look at. He’s listed at 6’3 224lbs, with prototypical size and prototypical arm strength, Lance has generated buzz from the offset. Throwing 28 TDs to 0 INTs will also help generate a lot of buzz. As will running for 1,100 yards and an additional 14 TDs. All of this as a Redshirt Freshman.
Trait 1: Arm strength
For the record, I think arm strength is a highly oversold component of playing Quarterback. Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach once said “Well all he has to do is work on his accuracy. Well ok. He won’t be accurate in high school. Then some college will take him, and then he won’t be accurate there, and then the NFL says ‘all he has to do is work on his accuracy,’ and they’ll take him there, and he won’t be accurate there and then he’ll be out of the league.” This doesn’t only explain a lot about Leach’s recruiting patterns, but this is my preface to gushing over Lance’s arm.
Now that I’ve established why I don’t think arm strength is the be-all and end-all, let me proceed to talk about Lance’s arm strength. Lance can just flick the ball 50 yards down the field without any effort at all. And he does this by engaging his hips in the throw, you will see him load his hips and drive his hips through to generate extra velocity on his passes. This natural arm strength leads to him throwing some really nice deep balls. He doesn’t have to lean into his deep throws and contort his body in ways that sacrifice accuracy. This enables him to throw deep balls with great touch and accuracy because he isn’t straining to throw the deep ball.
Trey Lance has a hose of an arm and throws such a pretty ball. Both he and WR Christian Watson are eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/i0Jrx9QJ0P
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) April 26, 2020
Trait 2: Mobility
Once again, Lance excels in an area not of significant value. But an area that can be built into the offense nevertheless. As I previously mentioned, Lance ran for 1,100 yards and 14 TDs last year. This is illustrative of his ability not only to make a play with the ball in his hands but also his ability to wait for a running lane to develop. North Dakota State ran a lot of QB power with a decoy sweep which gave them the chance to pull a lineman and for Lance to pick out his running lane. When Lance has the ball in his hands, he imposes his frame on defenders as a physical runner with good enough speed to break off a long run.
First thing that stands out is his mobility. Lance has good speed, especially for a qb and is tough to bring down in the open field. pic.twitter.com/Dbz6nrBfls
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) April 28, 2020
Trait 3: Mental Processing
Unfortunately, what I would consider to be Lance’s biggest weakness is one of the most important components of playing QB in the NFL. Fortunately, Lance is still very young and very inexperienced, and this should develop over time. As a Redshirt Freshman, he was given quite a lot of autonomy at the Line Of Scrimmage to make adjustments pre-snap, whether that be a slide in protection, or a shift in how the Running back lines up. This is an encouraging sign for Lance’s development, but his post-snap reads are going to need work.
Firstly, he seems hesitant to fire the ball into tight windows; he’s had some opportunities to rip one loose into a tight window and he just declines the opportunity to do so. I’m not sure if his 0 INT season was hanging over his head, but I would like to see him be more willing to throw his receivers open, opposed to waiting for them to get open. Lance also has a propensity to get tunnel vision on one specific target, he will stare them down throughout the majority of the play. And his reaction to that first read not being there isn’t yet to reset his feet and go to his second progression, but it’s, for the most part, to run around and wait for a receiver to open.
An area I would like to see lance improve on is eye manipulation. He has a small window where he can get the man in the back of the endzone. He settles for the throw but makes it later than desired, not leaving his man much room for YAC. pic.twitter.com/FKKUOkP9wJ
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) April 29, 2020
Trey Lance is a very raw QB, that’s evident to whoever watches him. Even his mechanics are raw – he drops the ball down low in his windup, he frequently over-strides, his front foot sometimes appears to be too closed when throwing to the left sideline, and he drags his front foot in the first step of his drop back. But the talent here is undeniable; if you can’t design an offense to play to Lance’s strengths, then you can’t design an offense. I want to see him continue to progress in 2020 (If there is a season), but it’s important to consider how young Trey Lance is, and just how good he can be.