One of the most anticipated performances of the year by a 2021 NFL Draft prospect is in the books. North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance threw for 149 yards (15-of-30 passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and rushed for 143 yards on 15 carries (9.5 average, two TDs) in a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas on Saturday. It was the Bison's only game this fall, as the normal schedule was scrapped due to COVID-19, and as such, Saturday gave scouts their only opportunity to evaluate Lance this season. Not surprisingly, 25 scouts from 20 different teams flocked to Fargo to watch him play against the Bears.
Lance still has plenty of time before he needs to make a decision about the 2021 draft (underclassmen typically have until a mid-January deadline to apply for early entry). That said, I believe he has the potential to be rated the top QB in the class should he decide to move on to the next level. And yes, the pool of talent could include the likes of Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields.
Here are five takeaways from his performance on Saturday:
1) Lance is even bigger and stronger than he was last season. He looked like Dak Prescott from a build standpoint.
He was really driving the football as a passer, and he broke a lot of tackles when he ran the ball. He'll immediately open up opportunities to use designed QB runs for the NFL team that drafts him. At 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds (per school measurements), Lance could be turned loose as a runner in a similar way to how the Bills use Josh Allen.
2) There was some rust to knock off, which is something I expected with this being his first game after such an unusual offseason. He missed on a couple deep balls that I'm sure he'd like to have back, lost a fumble and threw the first interception of his career on Saturday in his 17th career start (that's right -- he did not throw a pick on 287 attempts last season). He got locked on the seam on the pick vs. Central Arkansas and took the defender right to the ball.
Let's maintain some perspective here, though. Lance and his NDSU teammates faced an odd trifecta on Saturday: It was their biggest game of the year, it was their first game of the year and it was their only game of the year. Understandably, I think he was a little bit juiced up early on and you saw that with some of the balls that were overthrown. He looked more comfortable in the second half.
3) Lance showed poise and the ability to come through in the clutch. NDSU trailed by three early in the fourth quarter before putting the Bears away, so it was good to see him lead a comeback victory, but his most impressive moment came later in the final quarter when the Bison held a four-point lead. Facing a third-and-4 with about three minutes left in the game, he drove a deep out and the throw was on the money. It basically secured the win for the Bison. I was happy to see him deliver one of his best throws of the day on that play.
4) There's still room for improvement for him in a lot of areas, but the skill set is undeniable. Lance showed ideal athletic ability, toughness, arm talent and competitiveness. All of the tools are in the box, but his competitiveness as a runner really stood out on Saturday. He has the ability to impact a game even when he misses some throws because of his ability and toughness as a runner.
5) I compared Lance to Andrew Luck after studying him this summer. However, I can't remember Luck missing some of the layups that Lance missed in this game. When it comes to size, arm strength, athletic ability and competitiveness -- I still see a lot of Luck in Lance's game. I just think the former Colts QB was a little more accurate. Today, Lance reminded me more of Dak Prescott. So, he's somewhere in the range of Luck (former No. 1 overall pick and four-time Pro Bowl selectee) to Prescott (two-time Pro Bowl selectee and former Offensive Rookie of the Year who's on pace to throw for more than 6,000 yards right now).
In other words, Trey Lance is really good.