Film Session: Trey Lance, North Dakota State

By Ryan Roberts | @RiseNDraft

The term outlier is thrown out a ton in the draft community. Usually used to refer to a player who does not fit into desired size or athletic thresholds, there are circumstantial factors that make for equally unique evaluations.

Every year we see more and more third year sophomores declare for the NFL Draft, creating a trend that has not been nearly as prevalent until recently. With the increased frequency, evaluators have begun showing comfortability with the positives and negatives that come from these specific early entrants.

Now projecting a third year sophomore coming out of the FCS level? That is a completely foreign task that is going to make for a fascinating case study and conversation.

A discussion that will need to be had during the 2021 NFL Draft cycle after North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance opted to officially declare following the lone Bison “Showcase Game” in their 39-28 victory over the University of Central Arkansas.

With only one 2020 game tape to examine, the lasting memory of Trey Lance in the yellow and green, the final evaluation is going to be equally interesting as it is controversial.

Of course, one game is not going to be the end all be all for the evaluation. The 2019 film will provide the majority of the context for evaluators while they form their opinion on Lance.

Still, It’s important to understand Lance’s final hooray in its entirety. As we say goodbye to one of the most talented FCS quarterbacks of all time, it’s time to put his farewell performance under the microscope. Just what did this lone start against Central Arkansas tell us?

THE EXCEPTIONAL

You want to quickly determine how strong a player’s arm strength is? It’s deep out time baby! Arm strength is never going to be something that you are going to have to worry about with Trey Lance.

The ball absolutely explodes off his hand. With a clean, smooth overtop release, Lance loads and fires without much wasted motion. When in rhythm, it’s tough for defenders to get in phase to make a play.

There are some big boy throws littered all over Lance’s film.

Even when his base isn’t consistent and his feet aren’t planting on the move, Lance continues to show some big time arm strength, including the ability to change arm speeds at a high level. He tapped into a little Mahomes magic on this left sideline dime that the wide receiver wasn’t able to corral.

One thing that can’t be undersold is Lance’s experience in a pro style system, working the play action game from under center. Ball handling is an underrated part of the position.

Too often we focus on simply taking the snap. Obviously that is the first step but it’s what comes after… consistency in drops, coordinating steps, working various play fakes; the stuff you don’t think about.

The play action work continues out of shotgun, where he consistently carries out fakes to keep the defense guessing. These are some of the elements that can get lost in the evaluation.

With the continued emergence and importance of athletic signal callers, Trey Lance easily fits the profile of what the NFL is currently valuing.

When considering the increased involvement in the quarterback run game that we have seen in recent years with Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton, it’s an easy projection for Lance when you pop on the North Dakota State film.

Lance could easily rest on his athletic profile, both possessing plus straight line speed and short area quickness. The physicality he runs with makes it a completely different conversation. He becomes a de facto running back with his ability to tote the rock inside the tackles.

If you are going to transcend the perceived level of competition, or lack thereof, it can’t be hard to find you on film. Obviously playing quarterback helps alleviate that possibility for Mr. Lance but make no mistake about it, he’s clearly a cut above athletically every time he steps foot on the field.

Forget the quarterback run game and the challenges that it can bring opposing defenses for a second. Mobile quarterbacks who can win outside of structure can be an absolute

headache for defensive coordinators, specifically those who implement a ton of man coverage. Once Lance breaks the pocket and declares himself as a runner, good luck.

Shifty, explosive and powerful… Lance is the full package as a runner. Once he is able to break the second level, his straight line speed is put on full display.

Clear windows, no worries. There are far too many quarterbacks that make easy things look hard and vice versa. The inconsistencies can really plague the position across the league.

Lance remains patient navigating the field, staying calm and composed to let things develop around him. He shows a great ability to settle into the pocket while climbing and extending laterally.

The term “arm talent” is often overused and too often carries little comprehensive meaning to most. I define it as ​the combination of arm strength, natural accuracy, changing arm speeds and ability to throw from various arm slots.

The best on the next level all have it. Lance is also in no short supply here.

The ball just looks different coming out of his hand. That physical profile is one that evaluators will have no problem betting on, even with some question marks about level of competition and game experience.

THE TROUBLING

I hate to break it to you all… Trey Lance isn’t perfect, nor should he be. The lack of game experience has been well publicized this offseason, as has his level of competition concerns.

The experience specifically is clearly evident in various areas of his game currently.

Revered for his decision making in 2019, rarely putting the ball in harm’s way, Lance did throw his first career interception during this “Showcase Game”.

Working an inside vertical off of a play action look, Lance failed to recognize the single high safety who maintained proper position on the concept. Instead, he opted to force the ball into an inopportune window… resulting in the turnover.

At times his ball placement can be a bit spotty, mostly due to being a touch late to pull the trigger. This is especially where the lack of experience comes into effect.

From a technical perspective, Lance does himself no favors in his lower half. For as explosive and flexible he is up top, his lower has a bad tendency to work against his upper body.

Far too often when working in rhythm inside the pocket, Lance does a poor job of getting his front foot pointed toward his target. This puts a lot of stress on his upper body and arm to make up for his lead foot, making things so much more difficult than it needs to be.

To be fair, we all must consider a couple key points for context. In an estranged offseason with limited time to prepare, Lance looked human against Central Arkansas.

They also are playing against a team in UCA that has already participated in three football games. Playing against a team in a groove with consistent game action is a huge advantage no matter the level.

Even so, there are parts of Lance’s game that are a little troubling and can’t be ignored. If you weren’t a Lance supporter heading into the game, you for sure didn’t leave one either.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This “Showcase Game” was a lose-lose situation for Trey Lance no matter what the final result was.

If he played extraordinary, close to a flawless outing, the naysayers would have dubbed it to be a glorified exhibition game against another FCS team. If he did absolutely terrible, then the flood gates would have begun to open up.

“He’s a one year starter on the FCS level.”

“He should go back to school.”

“Lance is overrated.”

“He has bust written all over him.”

Similarly to what we have already heard all offseason. No matter the case, this outing against Central Arkansas was never going to be enough for some.

So let’s revisit a question that was posed to begin our study: What did this ​lone start against Central Arkansas tell us?

Absolutely nothing we didn’t already know. Trey Lance is incredibly talented. He isn’t a finished product. He’s going to be drafted high.

Live with it.

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