- Jake Bowtell
North Dakota State University
Trey Lance is a dual threat QB out of North Dakota State University. Lance was rated as a 3-Star prospect coming out of High School, per the 247Sports Composite, ranking 2,005th Nationally, 49th in Dual Threat QBs, and 7th in Minnesota.
Coming out of High School, Lance had offers from South Dakota State (2016), Northern Illinois (2017), North Dakota State University (2017), and Cornell (2017), while also having an unofficial visit with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 2017. Lance committed to NDSU on May 23rd of 2017 and enrolled on June 1st 2018.
Lance went on to feature briefly for NDSU in 2018, behind Easton Stick, before becoming the Bison starter in 2019, where he put together an FCS National Championship winning season. Lance guided the Bison to an undefeated record of 16 – 0, the first team at any level of college football to finish at 16 – 0 since Yale achieved the same feat way back in 1894.
After playing in the lone match NDSU managed against Central Arkansas before their 2020 season was put on hold due to COVID, Lance opted out of the 2021 Spring season with the Bison to focus on preparation for the NFL Draft.
With that in mind, the largest body of work we have to evaluate Trey Lance is his complete 2019 season. I watched 5 full games from his National Championship season, games against Butler, UC Davis, Illinois State, Missouri State and University of South Dakota. So, without further ado, let’s dig in.
In terms of passing volume per game, Lance averaged 12 completions from 17.9 attempts per game for 174 yards and 1.75 TDs. In terms of rushing volume, the NDSU quarterback averaged 11 carries for 68.75 yards per game and 0.77 touchdowns.
So, looking at Trey Lance in terms of game by game total statistical production, he averaged 29 touches of the football, 242 total yards at 8.3 yards per play and 2.6 touchdowns per match.
Lance has a sort of a slow wind up but once that ball is up near his ear that thing absolutely whips out of his hand. He has a nice high release point, he and fellow 2021 Draft Prospect Justin Fields are very different in that way with, Fields having an almost sidearm delivery a lot of the time, while Lance has a more vertical throwing motion. In terms of the whip, he was a baseball player in high school and I feel like it shows in his ability to really whip and zip that ball around the field. His hip leads his shoulder so he seems to be generating power from that twist.
This guy has an incredibly powerful arm. He can launch the ball deep almost effortlessly, he does not have to bring his whole body to bear to get that thing 50 yards down the field. Can zip it too, a throw against UC Davis, which was not his best game, he whips the ball from the left-hand hashmarks to outside the right-hand numbers, 25 yards onto the chest of his receiver without his feet particularly well set. The guy can make throws off platform, with power. Power is not an issue.
The feet in 2019 were sloppy. One particular thing that I noted very early on was his front plant foot, which plants almost horizontal as he throws the ball, and then twists to point towards his target as the ball leaves his hand. Looks highly uncomfortable. To me, this was not something I noted when I turned on the Justin Fields tape, Fields gets that foot down and pointed nicely, this is something I’d be have been looking at to see an improvement in his second full season. Obviously we never got an opportunity to see that, but we did get a look at Lance in 2021 with his 66 throw Pro Day. In that sampling, it seemed he had done significant work to tidy up his footwork, though that horizontal foot plant is still there (though lessened) when throwing to his right. The majority of throws that Lance missed in his Pro Day occurred when throwing to his right.
This dude can run. He’s quick. And he’s fearless, like watching Carson Wentz at NDSU, Trey Lance is not afraid to lower the shoulder and hit a dude to gain that first down. Lays a MONSTROUS hit on a DB en route to scoring the game sealing TD against UC Davis. He’s not a Lamar Jackson type athlete. There are no spins out of trouble. He puts the ball under his arm and takes off. He can make a cut, but he’s most often looking to just find that hole and take off straight up the field. I didn’t see any Madden plays in the 5 games I watched.
There was a big difference in how he managed his time in the pocket across the 5 games I viewed. Against Butler he looked utterly poised, while later in the season he was looking to escape a bit quickly. What I do like about him is that even when he does escape the pocket he’s looking first and foremost for ways to extend the passing play. He’s not making one read and then thinking run. He’s trying to buy time for a receiver to get open and he’s keeping his eyes down field.
There was an amount of variance across the 5 games that I watched in terms of his reading of the field. Against Butler, he looked absolutely composed, was getting through 2 – 3 progressions, delivering the ball where it needed to be when it needed to be there. UC Davis was probably the game I saw him struggle most, completing 13/23 for 156 and 0 TDs. He should have been picked off and taken to the house late in the game.
At times, he’s slow on the throw, particularly on some of those comeback routes, which leads to the DB being able to get a hand in and break up the pass. Working on a little more anticipation would probably be a plus in 2020/2021. He looks best when he relaxes and trusts what is going on around him. When he speeds the game up, things get dicey. When he lets the game come to him, he can pick it apart.
It’s worth noting that Lance was shouldering a lot in the 2019 season, his first as starter. According to an article in the Jamestown Sun by Mike McFeely, Lance was calling a lot of his own pass protection in 2019, and that was something that the coaches had hoped to see further development from in 2020. His future NFL team will be hoping that his willingness to shoulder that extra responsibility is a sign of his willingness to master the mental intricacies of his game.
Sometimes Lance falls into that same trap Trevor Lawrence found himself in in early 2019, of trying to fit throws that aren’t there because of his elite arm strength. But just because you can fit it, doesn’t mean you should. It’s about weighing up those probabilities and deciding on the risk vs reward. Knowing when to trust his arm, and when to run or bail out of a play, will be something he will need to continue to develop in the NFL. He will not have this part of his game ironed out after less than 20 starts in college.
I think one of the most overhyped aspects of Trey Lance is the fact that he didn’t throw any interceptions in 2019. If he was playing against LSU or Clemson cornerbacks, he would be throwing significantly more interceptions, which is worthy of consideration when it comes to thinking about his required development in the NFL against the best DBs pro-football has to offer.
This one I found tough to judge from a distance. In this part of my evaluation, I looked at how Lance responded to failure, having a tough day at the office.
Now, the Bison went undefeated and won a National Championship, and Trey Lance didn’t throw an INT all season, so how much failure did he have to deal with? Well, I looked at that UC Davis game, where he struggled to find consistency in his passing game, and I looked at the end of the game when things were on the line. He was almost picked off for a TD with less than 5 minutes to go and his team leading by just 4 points. His team was forced to punt. The defense won the ball back, and Lance had his number called and proceeded to smash his way into the end zone for the game sealing TD. In that game he also made one of his best throws that I saw in the 5 games, from left hash to outside right hand numbers.
A bad drive does not have to turn into a bad day for Lance, he has the ability to make a match-winning play even if his day hasn’t been up to scratch. And that to me is a valuable intangible quality. The ability to not let personal failure weigh you down. To transition from arm to legs for the benefit of the team.
WHERE COULD HE FIT IN THE NFL?
Based on his 2019 film, I think Trey Lance could fit in an offensive similar to what the Tennessee Titans ran in 2020. That is, a play-action heavy offense that utilises a QB with a strong arm to zip the ball and launch it long with the ability to make enough 1st down plays with his legs when he has to. Lance had plenty of experience under centre and shotgun while operating the NDSU offense in 2019, which will be a massive asset for teams who aren’t just looking for another College QB who ran 95% of his plays from the gun and doesn’t know how to handle a snap from under centre.
If I had to plug him into an NFL offense right now, I’d be installing him in Tennessee. Now, with the Titans already having their franchise guy in Ryan Tannehill, does that make him a candidate for selection in the draft by former Titans OC, now Atlanta Falcons HC, Arthur Smith? Possibly.
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feature photo credit: ESPN