NFL general managers and scouts are about to face their most difficult season of evaluation in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially ended the Big-10 and Pac-12 seasons (we all know there’s no chance of spring ball), and many smaller schools have decided to pull the plug on fall sports. Outside of the obvious first-round picks and well-established top prospects for the 2021 NFL draft, scouts will be throwing darts during their evaluations of players using film that’s over one year old.
One of those high-profile 2021 draft prospects is North Dakota State quarterback, Trey Lance. Depending on which draft analyst you trust, Lance ranks as either QB2 or QB3. Regardless of where he ends up on the 2021 quarterback rankings, his current draft stock has him as a top-15 lock.
But that was with one major assumption: He’d repeat the success he had as a redshirt freshman this year.
North Dakota State has already announced that fall sports are canceled, but they appear ready to make an exception for the football team (and probably Lance, in particular). The Bison announced they will play one game this “season,” an October 3 showdown against Central Arkansas, in what’s been dubbed by draft pundits as Lance’s showcase game.
One game. That’s all evaluators will get from Lance in 2020. If you’re a glass-half-full person, then hey, it’s better than no games at all. But if you’re true to the art of film study, you know that one game isn’t enough to reach a confident grade.
Lance does have 16 games (including playoffs) from 2019. It was a remarkable season for him; he accounted for 42 touchdowns and zero turnovers. That kind of TD:TO rate will catch the eye of any talent evaluator, but it’s important to note his lower level of competition and just one season of success. We need more evidence that he’s that kind of player (or close to it) over multiple seasons. And we’re not going to get that evidence in 2020.
I doubt Lance will return to North Dakota State for the 2021 season. He’s going to make the jump to the NFL, and he probably should. He’s clearly the third-best quarterback, at worst, in the class and he’d probably be in that same range in the 2022 draft even if he returned to the Bison.
It’ll be fascinating to watch Lance’s draft process unfold. Rarely will a general manager make a more career-defining decision than when he picks his first-round quarterback. Will any of next year’s decision-makers feel comfortable enough in Lance’s resume to risk their reputation on him?
We’ll find out in eight months.