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NFL Draft

QB Trey Lance’s Performance In 2020 Showcase Game Offers Zero Clarity

  • The Draft Network
  • October 3, 2020
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The North Dakota State Bison made their lone scheduled appearance of the fall Saturday, and with it came one of the hottest tickets in the NFL scouting community: the chance to check out quarterback Trey Lance in person. 

In all, there were between 25 and 30 NFL scouts in attendance to see one of the biggest hype trains of the summer leave the station for his one and only spin against Central Arkansas. Here's the good news: The Bison won 39-28 thanks to some sturdy play from Lance in the final quarter.

The bad news? Lance looked, by and large, pedestrian versus the gold standard he'd set as a redshirt freshman in 2019, where he accounted for nearly 4,000 yards of total offense with 42 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. Oh, right, and an undefeated 15-0 season and a romp to a third consecutive FCS National Championship.

When The Draft Network’s Drae Harris looked at Lance ahead of Saturday's game, he outlined one very simple objective for Lance: show progress.

“What will NFL scouts need to see from Lance to feel more comfortable with his projection? 
“Make no mistake about it, Lance had an excellent 2019. However, there were some things he needed to improve on. In his first year as a starter, he showed good command of the offense, the ability to call plays from a huddle, and even set the protection of the front. He displayed good arm strength and very good mobility within the pocket. However, his accuracy was a little spotty at times, particularly on downfield throws. He missed some of those deep throws and also wasn’t as accurate on the move as he was when he had time to set his feet.”

What we got wasn't exactly progression. But to be completely fair to Lance, his 2019 sample size was always going to be impossible to sustain. In fairness of total perspective, Lance's performance against Central Arkansas should not change anyone's perception of him as a player. Because for as small as a 15 game sample size is, a one game sample size amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted everything, including the preparation, of every sports team in the country is exponentially smaller.

But it's absolutely fair to state that Lance didn't play his best football game in his one and only shot at leaving a lasting impression in 2020. Effectively the entire NFL world was watching Lance perform, and we all came away from the game with all the same questions we had before the game:

  • Why is his deep passing so hit or miss?
  • Can he become a more consistent decision maker?
  • Is his play with high running usage sustainable?

Lance did indeed drop a gorgeous deep ball in the second half (a pass that dropped as his only incompletion of the fourth quarter). But there were a number of other misfires on open plays early on that, if Lance were to seize the day with optimal efficiency, he'd have hit. 

Lance logged two turnovers, including his first career interception (hardly indicative of some green decision making last season as a freshman). And, fittingly based on his play down the stretch in 2019, Lance only really got his legs under him in the second half by using his legs. He rumbled through Central Arkansas’ defense with power and a firm stiff arm to log a 54-yard touchdown romp to extend the Bison’s lead with the opening possession of the second half. From there, the North Dakota’s offense was more efficient and more potent, but his bittersweet performance isn't going to ease any of the hesitancy skeptics had ahead of the game when Lance was a hyped-up one-year starter.

He started this game 1-of-7 passing before finishing 4 of 5 for 56 yards and a score in the fourth quarter. Those who were enthusiastic about Lance ahead of the 2020 showcase should remain enthusiastic about him as a player. Those who were skeptical of the hype have every right to remain skeptical of his merits as a first-round prospect. For the TDN staff, this was the dilemma about Lance taking the field for a single game showcase in the first place: You were never going to be able to push the needle where it needed to go to move decisions and opinions off of a single game. And with a shaky performance, Lance will certainly see more skepticism about his merits due to the recency bias of his 2020 showcase being an up and down effort.

Ultimately, Lance is a competitor, and he undoubtedly enjoyed his final chance to compete with his brothers with the Bison. And in the grand scheme of things, the early misfires and lack of rhythm early on will be easy to gloss over for his supporters and early to reference for his skeptics. Fortunately, Lance took the field and left it with his health intact, which may have been the biggest and most important dynamic of his brief appearance on the 2020 scouting circuit. 

But as Lance presumably transitions towards the pro game in the coming months, he will prove to be an extremely challenging projection. His play in his 2020 showcase did nothing to offer the NFL the clarity it so desperately desired in making high-priced draft investments.

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