Trey Lance is positioned to follow in Carson Wentz's footsteps in more ways than one in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Not only are both former North Dakota State standout quarterbacks, but Lance also is expected to be taken in the first round. He likely won't be the No. 2 overall pick this year, as Wentz was in 2016, in part because he was the full-time starter for the Bison for just one season. But he also made the most of those 16 games, leading NDSU to an undefeated 16-0 record and the national title in 2019 while becoming the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the best offensive player in FCS. Whether Lance winds up starting in the NFL as a rookie, which Wentz did for Philadephia, remains to be seen, but if the first-round projection holds up, it can't be ruled out.
Here's a look at why NFL teams are so excited about a quarterback from the FCS ranks who only played in 19 games.
(This profile is one of 230 featured in the Athlon Sports 2021 NFL Draft Guide. With in-depth scouting reports on the top prospects, position rankings, and more, no source will have you better prepared for draft day. Click here to get your copy.)
Trey Lance Draft Profile
College: North Dakota State
Another high-end QB prospect from FCS’s top program (joining Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016), Lance combines raw ability with a level of poise well beyond his years. The Bison offense is exceedingly run-heavy, meaning Lance had limited chances to get into a rhythm, but he consistently showed outstanding ball placement as a passer nonetheless, particularly on difficult far-hash and deep-intermediate throws. He is never frazzled in the pocket, and despite those limited opportunities, he has a veteran’s feel for making anticipatory throws. He’s extremely capable with the ball in his hands and has an understanding of tempo when running behind blocks, good speed and a strong, sturdy build. He can be the focal point of an 11-man run game in the NFL.
Limited sample size and the level of competition mean it will be a leap of faith for a team drafting him high in Round 1. He started one season at NDSU (2019), threw fewer than 300 passes and never faced an FBS school. He played one game in 2020 and suffered through a shaky first half. He didn’t do a lot in the quick game, and he’d need to tighten up footwork in his drops to fit such a system. Aside from that, he has to become more calculating as a runner. He’s often willing to lower a shoulder and finish a run strong, but it leads to him taking needless hits, including to his throwing shoulder.
The physical tools and natural instincts suggest that, as long as he’s able to adjust to the speed of the NFL (and most high-end QB prospects eventually do), Lance is a high-end starter who fits in a variety of different schemes.
Final Grade: 1st round
(Top photo by Tim Sanger/NDSU Athletics)