The hype has been high, but North Dakota State QB Trey Lance is not a first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This was none more evident than his one 2020 college game against Central Arkansas where his decision making and pocket presence were all over the map, but his athletic ability and arm strength were still on display. He is clearly talented, but needs to develop as a passer before jumping to the pros.
There were plenty of positives for Lance in the game. He is big, strong, fast, and his arm looks even stronger than last year. A big 26-yard run in the second quarter where he shook off a defensive lineman and used his speed to get the team into scoring position was huge. Lance’s first touchdown pass was also an absolute dime to his wide open tight end in the end zone. Central Arkansas has a tough defense, including future NFL CB Robert Rochell, and Lance was under pressure most of the game, but still finding the best option to throw to. His arm strength was on display every pass from sharp comeback and curl throws to a 50 yard toss near the end of the half (into double coverage broken up by Rochell however).
The second half was more of a showcase of Lance’s running ability: A gigantic TD run to start the half. He looked like Cam Newton at Auburn, pushing away defenders and taking good angles to score. This is the main reason you draft him. An offensive coordinator could get creative on offense and utilize his running ability and power, but will is good enough as a passer? He may have shown what his upside truly is in the 4th quarter.
Down 3 points with less than 10 minutes left, Lance threw a beautiful deep ball. It was accurate and dropped right into the receivers hands (who promptly dropped the pass). THAT was an NFL throw. Later in the drive, he hit a nice out route, wide open, for a touchdown as well. It was his best drive of the game from a passing perspective, and it is those passes that have made people Trey Lance believers. One more sharp out route pass late in the fourth continued to show the type of throws Lance CAN make, but he still has not made them on a consistent basis.
Those tools are clearly there, but is one or two legit passes a game worth the risk? The whole story of this team shows that there simply isn’t enough there yet for him to be a first round pick in 2021, let alone a top ten selection.
In the first quarter, Lance ended 1-for-6 for 14 yards and a lost fumble. His lone completion was a slight overthrow along the sideline that turned into an impressive catch, and his lack of pocket awareness led to a big turnover (only the second of his college career). This was an issue all game as pressure led to a lack of pocket awareness and presence. Though Lance kept his eyes up and still found the open receiver to target, he wasn’t evasive nor did he step up and ensure he would throw accurate passes to that open receiver. North Dakota State started to see more favorable match-ups in the run game and moved to that led by Lance himself, but he followed up his previous big run with an overthrow of a wide open receiver in the end zone.
In the second half, Lance’s passing stat line looked better. The key throw was a 3rd down throw off a receiver double move over the middle. Lance put the ball a bit low and away, but his receiver dived for a snag and it was a huge completion. Shortly after, Lance tried to hit another crossing route but was jumped by a defender who handed him his first career interception. He likely didn’t even see the defender and made a terrible decision resulting in Central Arkansas taking back the lead.
The rest of the game was more focused on screen passes, designed QB runs, and scrambles under pressure (and there was a lot of pressure). It just wasn’t the game of a future stud NFL QB.
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Final State Line vs. Central Arkansas:
15/30 for 149 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
15 rushes for 143 yards and 2 TDs
Many may look at the stat line of the game and watch the big run highlights and declare Trey Lance a top 5 pick still, but was he actually that player in his only game in the fall of 2020?
Trey Lance is talented. He is the best running QBs we have seen in years. He has a quick release and a powerful arm. He has NFL tools. But, he simply is not an NFL passer yet. With another two seasons in school (Spring of 2021 and Fall of 2021,) he could be #1 overall pick caliber, but he isn’t there yet due to his passing. In this game, his pocket presence was uneven, his reads were mediocre, and his accuracy was atrocious. If he declares, this will be the last collegiate game he plays, and it would leave NFL teams with a bad taste. Lance should return to school, work to improve, finish his degree, and hopefully become the complete QB that could dominate at the NFL level.
See his 2021 mock draft