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College Scouting Notebook: Full Analysis of NDSU QB Trey Lance

Could Lance be the future QB for the Colts?

Butler v North Dakota State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The Colts will be heading into the 2021 NFL offseason with just Jacob Eason under contract as Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers are set to hit free agency. Even if the team re-signs Rivers to another one year deal, the need to find the future at the quarterback position still persists for this team. Chris Ballard has built an excellent roster in his time in Indy but it could all prove to be fruitless if he doesn’t pick the “right” young quarterback of the future.

So with the College Scouting Notebook this year, we will take a look at all the quarterbacks that the Colts could have a shot at in the 2021 NFL Draft (so basically every QB outside of Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields). Today we will be starting with NDSU QB Trey Lance as he is one of the most intriguing options and he has already declared for the 2021 Draft.


Background:

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 224 pounds

2019 Stats: 192 of 287 (66.9 percent) for 2,786 yards, 28 TDs and 0 INTs; 169 carries for 1,100 yards (6.5 average), 14 TDs.

Accolades:

* 2019 MVFC Offensive Player of the Year

* 2019 MVFC Newcomer of the Year

* 2019 MVFC Freshman of the Year

* 2019 All-MVFC First Team

* 2020 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game Most Outstanding Player

* 2019 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award Winner

* 2019 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Winner

* 2019 CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year


Sit Down With a Beat Reporter

I am lucky enough to have been invited on a North Dakota State radio show in the past so I was able to reach out to one of my good friends from the station to answer some questions about Trey Lance. Here is an excerpt of some of my conversation with Keith Brake, host of the BrakeDown on Bison 1660 from 4-6 pm:

ZH: What was your first impression of Trey Lance from conversations with him or conversations with his teammates?

KB: Trey had a fair amount of hype during his recruitment to NDSU. He was part of the first recruiting class that got to benefit from the four-game redshirt rule, so he got on the field as a true freshman in 2018. His first action was in the fourth quarter against North Alabama. He threw for a first down, ran for a first down, then ran 44 yards flat-out for a touchdown. That opened some eyes in Fargo. Being able to learn from a four year starter in Easton Stick and apply the things he was learning on the field during his redshirt year might have accelerated what we saw from Trey in 2019, but the potential was readily apparent every time he stepped on the field.

In interviews, I came away impressed with how sharp he was as a freshman. A lot of first and second year players are intimidated by the microphone or just aren’t used to giving ‘media’ answers, but Lance was unfazed by it from the outset. His teammates respect him immensely, and his bond with his receivers, particularly Phoenix Sproles and Christian Watson, is the kind of relationship an NFL quarterback needs to be able to build to have early success.

ZH: NDSU has obviously been the best FCS program in the last decade. How does this coaching staff talk about Lance and his play last year?

KB: The word I heard most was “poise.” I heard it from Matt Entz, Tyler Roehl, and Randy Hedberg, especially early. That poise was visible, too, because Lance rarely got rattled or panicked in the pocket, if ever.

A major factor in NDSU’s success over the last decade has been the ability to identify and develop great quarterback talent. Lance will be the third straight NDSU starting quarterback to get drafted and the second of the three to go in the first round, if not the top 10. How many other programs at any level of college football can say that?

ZH: From what you’ve seen and from coaches you’ve talked to, how ready do you think Lance is to be a day 1 starter in the NFL?

KB: Day one might be a challenge. All the physical tools are there, but at NDSU, Trey was on the field with 10 players in at least the 95th percentile of their positions in FCS. That allowed him to be more deliberate with his process when he needed to be, but it’s practically impossible to build a team that dominant in the NFL.

A month or two to get a better feel for the speed of the pro game would help him a lot. A full year, if he could get it, could help a franchise unlock the full potential that makes him such an exciting prospect.


Polarizing Opinions on the Prospect

To preface this section, I haven’t seen any scout say anything negative about the ceiling or talent of Lance as it relates to translating to the NFL. The main concern though comes with how to evaluate a player who only started one full college season and only did it at the FCS level. Pro Football Network’s AJ Schulte echoed some of these concerns in an excellent and detailed piece he wrote:

NDSU was simply better than every team they played, and Lance was never really asked to shoulder the load for the Bison. NDSU ran the ball on 700 plays versus 303 total passes (287 of which belonged to Lance). Lance ran a very simple offense that rarely required him to get off of his primary read. His progressions lasted on half-field reads, and if something wasn’t there, he just tucked the ball and ran.

This worked more often than not, as Lance is just simply the best player on the field, but it caused him to take several unnecessary hits. At the NFL level, that won’t fly. He’ll be forced to make his reads quicker. The pass-rush is several times faster and more effective. The coverage is several times tighter and the tackling will be several times harder. All around, it’s more of an obstacle to overcome.

However other’s seem to be focused on that upside and are willing to look past some of those concerns with experience and level of play. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com is a huge believer in the talent of Lance as he gave the young quarterback high marks in Poise, Accuracy, Decision Making, Play-Making, and Toughness. Here is an interesting comparison he had for Lance in an article he wrote this offseason that I think you all will very much enjoy:

He reminds me of: Andrew Luck. I know Luck is a little bit bigger, but they are similar athletes and they both played with a maturity beyond their age at the collegiate level. I remember watching Luck run over defenders. I also remember being so impressed with his ability to execute on key plays in every game. I see the same things when I study Lance.


My Personal Opinion of Lance

I feel like I fall a bit in the middle of the spectrum of love for Lance. The top end talent is absurd as he possesses top level traits that could rival some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL even. However I feel like I have a few more concerns with his game outside of just the level of play and inexperience.

To start with the good, the deep ball is outstanding. Arm talent is an aspect when it comes to the deep ball but the ability to drop it in the bucket with touch and accuracy is pretty rare. Lance makes it look easy and he is the type of quarterback who will test a defense to be perfect on every play.

His toughness and poise are something to be admired too. Young quarterbacks typically struggle in this area but Lance isn’t afraid to hang in the pocket and let his reads develop. He also just makes plays whether in the pocket, outside the pocket, or on the run. That is something that the Colts have missed since Andrew Luck retired.

On top of what he brings as a passer, his ability as a runner is even more intriguing. The NFL is becoming a league that requires a quarterback to make plays with both their arm and their legs. Lance is outstanding athlete who barrels through defenders for big gains.

However, here are my concerns with Lance. The fact that he played at NDSU where his surrounding team had top players at every position did hurt him a bit in a way. I feel like watching film, he rarely had to go through progressions or throw with anticipation because his receivers were either wide open or he was able to tuck and run for big gains.

On top of that, I do think that he is an accurate passer but not very precise. He needs to do a better job of lining up his feet to his target to improve his accuracy on the run or on passes in tight windows. He has some easy misses as well but again I think that is more to do with his upper body just not being in sync with his lower half some of the time.


Final Thoughts, Projection

Overall, Lance is an extremely intriguing quarterback prospect in this draft class who has the potential to be an outstanding player in the NFL. The top end traits are there, he seems to be a smart and poised person, and there is no doubt in my mind that with proper development, he can be a great NFL player.

He does seem to be one of those players who is that quintessential “boom or bust” type. If he is rushed into action with a weak supporting cast, it could kill his NFL career. If he ends up in a good situation that takes the time to develop him and work with him and has a proper plan in place, like Indy, he could be outstanding.

In terms of projection, I think anything is on the table with him. I could see him going in the top 5 but also see him falling out of the first round. While his traits scream a top pick, GM’s will likely be a bit terrified to take an FCS QB who has only started 17 games in his career coming off of a year off where other players have shown to be risers in the process (Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Desmond Ridder).

I personally think that Indy would be an excellent destination for Lance and could be a place that takes him from intriguing prospect to top NFL QB. Obviously a lot can happen come draft day but this is one player we should all keep a close eye on this offseason.