As we move through college pro days, I’ll be taking a look at the quarterback position as it relates to the 2021 NFL Draft. First, I’ll walk you through my quarterback evaluation process and kick off the series with a film analysis of North Dakota State Bison QB Trey Lance.
While a redshirt sophomore from an FCS program doesn’t usually come with much intrigue, Lance is an exception. In just 17 collegiate starts, Lance is a two-time FCS champion and the 2019 recipient of the Walter Payton Award. Lance completed nearly 67% of his passes for 28 touchdowns and 0 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. Unbelievable, really.
In total, Lance wrapped his career at North Dakota State 208 of 318 (65.4%) for 2,947 yards, 30 touchdowns, and just 1 interception. In addition to his passing success, Lance also ran for 1,325 yards, adding another 18 scores. Surely, Lance has the production of a top-flight NFL prospect. Does his tape share a similar story?
Trey Lance Film: Introduction to the Process
When it comes to evaluating young quarterbacks, there are five major characteristics I’m looking for. They are awareness, competitiveness, arm talent, mechanics, and arm strength. And with each major attribute, I will be looking for several sub-traits therein. Measurables do play a role, but they’re my “cherry on top” following film analysis. Therefore, I’ll discuss Trey Lance’s size, speed, and production in a limited capacity — especially with much of that information being unofficial at this time.
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With that said, let’s get this Trey Lance film analysis started with a list of the games I used for the evaluation process. Tape from the 2019 season includes Montana State, South Dakota State, Delaware, and James Madison. And because North Dakota State only played one game in 2020, I only had the Central Arkansas film to watch.
The Five Major Characteristics
First, and most importantly, I need to see mental awareness. How football savvy is he? Regarding football intelligence, I want to see some semblance of identifying coverage, solid decision-making, and poise when things amp up or break down. Why do I hold awareness so high in my evaluation? High football intellect can mask a multitude of physical shortfalls. See Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Lance checks off all the boxes when it comes to football intelligence. Just from watching five of his football games, I can already tell he has a firm understanding of play design, leveraging defenders, and identifying coverage. His decision-making appears to be a strength, albeit his competition levels challenged him less than you’d like.
As far as poise goes, this young man is beyond his years when it comes to playing under control and even-keeled.
Secondly, my desired quarterback must ooze unwavering competitiveness. Within that, I’m looking for leadership traits exuded by actions and performance through both preparation and gameplay. Is this kid clutch? How does he handle getting hit or making mistakes? If I’m running an offense, I need to know the signal-caller takes charge, is mentally and physically tough, and loves to play football.
Unfortunately, I need to meet the young man and speak to those who coached him daily before labeling someone a leader of men. Because in the NFL, that’s what you have to be. If you draft a 21-year-old quarterback, he better be able to command a huddle of professional football players. We’re talking players in their early-to-mid-30s with houses, wives, and children. It’s no easy feat.
With that said, one thing is for sure. Trey Lance loves contact. He never shies away from it, and rarely do you see him go down after the initial hit. While his competition’s size may play a role, the last clip involved a linebacker and defensive lineman, and Lance straight trucked them. That’s a very positive eye test for Trey Lance in this particular film analysis.
My third most important trait for the quarterback position is natural accuracy. I’m not talking about completion percentages here.
While throws are being completed, the manner in which a ball is located can significantly alter a play’s result, for better or worse. Does the passer leave yards on the field with off-target passes? In other words, I have to know my quarterback has sufficient arm talent to lead receivers and add proper touch when necessary to optimize play execution.
Clearly, this is my biggest concern with Lance’s game. In the NFL, receivers are rarely as open as he’s used to seeing them. And if he can’t hit small targets consistently, he better be rushing for 1,000 yards in the pros as well. Otherwise, he won’t be effective enough to hold down one of the 32 starting quarterback jobs.
However, because he’s the youngest of the top prospects at the position, we can assume there’s more room for improvement. As we’ll find in the next section, even small adjustments to make his mechanics more consistent could be enough to improve his overall accuracy.
The fourth characteristic to review is a player’s position-centric movements. When it comes to quarterbacks, I’ll be looking at their drop, setup, and release.
A passer’s footwork and throwing motion play a pivotal role in timing, accuracy, and pocket mobility. We’ll also touch on athleticism and escapability in this section. But let it be known, being athletic doesn’t always mean fewer sacks — and vice versa. See Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
From what I saw in this portion of film analysis, Trey Lance is much more polished than you’d expect a sophomore from the FCS to be. But he’s not there yet. Some of the inconsistencies in the release point and his footwork will need some cleaning up. However, that’s good news considering I have concerns with overall accuracy.
Luckily for Lance, he’s extremely athletic and has a solid sense of pressure. This will allow him to succeed in an NFL pocket almost immediately while polishing the rest of his game. Don’t get me wrong — Lance shouldn’t be expected to start Day 1. But whatever playing time he sees, his mobility and play extension prowess can be effective tomorrow.
Overall, I see a quarterback who is also an athlete instead of an athlete playing quarterback. There’s a big difference.
The fifth and final main attribute to consider is throwing with velocity. As discussed with accuracy, catchable throws off-platform don’t necessarily require a strong arm, making it easier. In general, arm strength makes all throws easier. And with the added speed of players at the next level, quarterbacks are often asked to throw into tight windows that close as quickly as they unfold.
We’ll dissect Trey Lance’s deep ball effort for this portion of the film analysis, zip on passes outside the numbers, and tight-window throws.
Because football rarely goes according to plan, quarterbacks must deliver catchable throws off-platform and on the move — a burgeoning trend in today’s NFL. Lance shows an impressive ability to extend plays and find open receivers off-schedule.
With that said, his velocity and trajectory on throws are quite inconsistent. As far as tight-window completions go, there just weren’t enough instances for him in 17 starts.
Conclusion on Trey Lance’s film study
After thoroughly examining a third of Trey Lance’s FCS games, his size and athleticism are what stood out the most. At an unofficial 6-feet-4 and 224 pounds, Lance has the build, and as we observed, the strength to project to the NFL. His vision and intelligence in the run game also show up in his quarterback play.
At just 20 years old, Lance already exudes the poise that many young NFL quarterbacks lack. He’s shown me enough on tape regarding progressions and coverage awareness that I’d safely be able to implement my offense of choice. Of course, that offense would have to include run/pass/options, zone-read schemes, and designed quarterback keepers. Systemically, Lance’s best traits would be wasted if I relegated him to the pocket.
However, I’m not sure I’d use a Day 1 pick on him, considering the time he’ll command adjusting to the jump from FCS to the NFL. Not only is that transition tough for any talented player, but Lance has many inconsistencies in footwork and accuracy. Not to mention, his lack of playing experience also concerns me.
But, if someone is willing to develop him, the tools are there. There’s so much to like that it’s difficult for me to believe Lance won’t eventually become a star at the next level. How long will you have to wait? When instant success is a widespread expectation — especially at quarterback — Lance may have to learn on the fly, which has its pros and cons when developing quarterbacks.
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