(Stats Perform) - Whether North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance will play his final game with the Bison is the big question that surrounds Saturday's highly anticipated game with Central Arkansas.
NFL scouts are eyeing the matchup as a showcase for North Dakota State's 2021 draft prospects. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Lance, who swept the Stats Perform 2019 Walter Payton and Jerry Rice awards, is often projected to be a first-round pick should he enter the April 29-May 1 draft as a redshirt sophomore.
"His level of preparation is even a step more," NDSU offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl said last week. "Since he's seen all these pictures from defenses through an entire season, now he can kind of revert to, 'Hey, I saw that picture versus X, Y, Z. We got this pressure and we adjusted this way with this game plan.' Almost being a step ahead."
Some leading NFL Draft analysts assessed Lance's skill set and considered whether he is about to play his final college game:
Ric Serritella, NFL Draft Bible
"The current trend around the NFL has teams transitioning to offensive schemes that mimic those at the collegiate level, ones that involve a lot of quick-read options. Lance is an appealing pro prospect due to his dual-threat style of play, prototype size and arm strength to make all the throws necessary at the next level. His decision-making clearly shows that he possesses a high football IQ and he has been a team captain at every level, a testament to his leadership. In addition, he hails from a football family and grew up around the game.
"The level of competition shouldn't worry evaluators too much, it appears he can compete at an elite level, no matter who the opponent. However, his lack of experience as a one-year starter means that he may not be able to immediately step in and start from day one. Since he is just a redshirt sophomore, Lance will not be eligible for any all-star games, but he should fully expect to receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, which would likely prevent him from participating in a proposed spring season, as he prepares for the NFL Draft. As it stands, he projects as a top 10 overall selection at this point in time."
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports
"Truly, everything from a physical/athletic perspective checks out with Trey Lance. He has a strong arm. He's accurate to all levels of the field. He's dynamic as a runner. All that will go a long way during the pre-draft process. The two weaknesses to his game are the fact that he doesn't have much experience as a starter and I don't know how adept he is at moving through his reads inside the pocket. North Dakota State asked him to be decently conservative last season, which obviously worked out very well for that program. But a team picking him in the first round will want him to have the ability to elevate those around him. Had he played (more than once) this season, I think Lance would've easily landed in Round 1. He's probably a fringe first-rounder and I could envision him ultimately going within the first 32 picks because of his raw talent and the clean film from 2019."
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
"Similar in ways to (Arizona Cardinals quarterback) Kyler Murray, Lance is multidimensional with the way he attacks the defense. His physical gifts create conflict for defenders with his athleticism and arm talent. But his natural ball-handling instincts also stand out, especially for such a young player with his meager experience. Honestly, I don't have a strong opinion about whether he should declare or not. It's such a personal decision. Yes, his stock is sky high right now, but if he doesn't feel ready for professional life, then he shouldn't force it. He needs to do what is best for him, regardless of what anyone else thinks."
Scott Wright, NFL Draft Countdown
"The scouting community will always be skeptical of small-school prospects who haven't proven themselves against elite competition - especially if they only have one year of experience. However, despite both of those concerns, Trey Lance is still considered to be an early first-round candidate, which speaks to how special of a talent he is. Of course, some patience and development will be required, but Lance profiles as a dynamic dual-threat weapon capable of beating defenses with his arm or legs. Hence, the optimistic comparisons to (Houston Texans quarterback) Deshaun Watson.
"Even though some have speculated that Lance could challenge Trevor Lawrence of Clemson to be QB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft, I personally think that is highly unlikely. Lance could absolutely give Justin Fields of Ohio State a run for his money to be QB2, though, and at worst will be the third option at the position in this class. I currently project Lance to come off the board in the top half of Round 1, perhaps as early as the top 3-5 overall.
Jordan Reid, The Draft Network
"Trey Lance is one of the more fascinating QB prospects of the 2021 NFL draft cycle. … At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds (listed NFL measurements), Lance is a sturdy-built and strong-armed thrower who is capable of layering the ball to all three areas of the field. What sets him apart is not only his quick maturation and grasp of the position, but his savvy, athleticism and competitiveness are ahead of normal standards of players at this stage in their career.
"The biggest question mark that scouts want answered from Lance is how he deals with adversity. Without recording an interception (in his college career) and winning every accolade possible, he has yet to face any type of negative plays within games. Also, his competitive nature can be put a bit in overdrive as he rarely gets himself out of harm's way as a runner, and he often takes some crushing hits from oncoming defenders. All eyes will be on his showcase game against Central Arkansas as that will be the only opportunity that we see the talented redshirt sophomore in action this season before possibly exploring his career on the next level. If he passes that test, he could assuredly be talked about as an early first-round pick."