The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don't have a great one, the odds of winning a Super Bowl aren't good. If you don't have a good one, odds are you aren't sniffing the playoffs. Given this reality, it's no surprise that signal-callers dominate the predraft coverage each and every year.
There's little argument that Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the top prospect at the position in the class of 2021 and even less argument that Lawrence will be drafted first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, though, the waters muddy fairly quickly. As many as five young passers could be selected inside the top 10, and there's more than a little dissension about what order those quarterbacks will be picked in.
Trey Lance, one of the players vying to be a top-10 pick on April 29, took the field for his pro day Friday. The North Dakota State product is a wildly athletic passer with arguably the biggest arm and the highest ceiling in the class but an inexperienced quarterback who has had occasional accuracy issues and played in just one game in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has all of the physical tools to be a force in the NFL. But he has flaws in his game and a resume that could prevent him from ever coming close to fulfilling his lofty potential.
Lance is the epitome of a boom-or-bust prospect. On Friday, the good and bad were both on display.
Scouts and coaches (including representatives from a fistful of teams with high picks in the 2021 draft) descended on the FargoDome for one of the most anticipated pro days this spring. The reason for that anticipation was twofold. First, NFL teams are just about always going to be intrigued by a 6'4", 224-pound running quarterback with a howitzer for an arm.
Second, those scouts haven't seen much of Lance in a while, and the 20-year-old signal-caller had a fantastic 2019 campaign in which he completed almost 67 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns without an interception on the way to leading the Bison to an FCS championship.
Lance played against Central Arkansas in October in what amounted to a showcase for scouts, but his performance left much to be desired, with 15 completions in 30 attempts for 149 yards and two scores with an interception.
Friday was an opportunity to show that outing was a fluke. That the real Lance was the one who tore up the FCS in 2019.
In some respects, that's just what he did. If there were any concerns regarding his conditioning after the long layoff, they were answered. Lance appeared to be in excellent shape and didn't look winded during the rapidly paced throwing session. There weren't any doubts about Lance's arm strength, but some of his deep throws were impressive nonetheless.
However, there were some bumps in the road. Lance completed 58 of his 66 throws, according to Jordan Reid of the Draft Network, which appears to be an impressive number at first glance. But having eight misses in the controlled environment was a lot, and most of those misfires came on similar (over)throws: corner and fade routes to the right side of the field.
Now, some of that could have been nerves, and Lance didn't do anything to substantially damage his draft stock. But the fact that said workout wasn't flawless should serve as a reminder that Lance isn't a flawless prospect.
From a physical standpoint, there isn't a better prospect at the position in this draft class. Period. Lance didn't run the 40-yard dash at his pro day, largely because he didn't need to. There's tape galore of him hurting opponents with his legs. He had 169 rushing attempts for 1,100 yards—you read that right—and 14 scores in 2019. There isn't a quarterback in the class with a stronger arm.
And some coaches believe that Lance is destined for stardom, according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, with one saying:
"This kid is whole other-level special. He has all the physical tools. Nothing fazes him, and I think he's a fierce competitor. He finds ways to make plays. He's a big, strong kid who is hard to tackle and can make you miss in space. He's extremely well-coached. You never saw just bad throws; most of them were where his guys are getting it right in stride."
According to NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Lance's game reminds him of another mobile quarterback who shone at the FCS level.
"Trey Lance, he reminds me of Steve McNair," Jeremiah said (via Julius Long of NBC 4 in Washington). "... You look at the power arms to be able to drive the football down the field. You look at guys that their teammates really, really rally around and love, I just think there's a lot of similarities between the two."
However, while functioning as more of a pure pocket passer against Central Arkansas in 2020 (possibly by design), Lance struggled to make reads and deliver accurate throws. He only made 17 starts and attempted just 318 passes as a collegiate quarterback. And that came against less than stellar competition, as he didn't make a start against an FBS team.
NBC Sports draft analyst Chris Simms said on Pro Football Talk that while he's impressed with Lance's physical traits, he's concerned his lack of experience could lead to a steep learning curve (around 32:30 mark):
"He [Lance] does have elite first-round traits too. The No. 1 thing is I'd be scared with just [a] lack of play. That's what would scare me. He's got a big-time arm, and he can fly. ... In a lot of ways, I like his technique and how he throws the ball more than I like Justin Fields. I do. But, the offense was a one-read kinda offense [at North Dakota State]. ... But it's [a] lack of throws and lack of playing that would just scare me."
Make no mistake—some team is going to roll the dice on Lance's physical tools and upside early in the first round. The lasers that Lance threw at the FargoDome all but settled that.
If a team like the Atlanta Falcons (No. 4) doesn't pounce in the top five, then someone like the Carolina Panthers (No. 8) or Denver Broncos (No. 9) will. And if those teams aren't interested, a club a bit further back like the San Francisco 49ers (No. 12) or New England Patriots (No. 15) could look to move up.
That notion of five quarterbacks picked in the top 10 isn't hyperbole. It'll be reality.