2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Trey Lance (Fantasy Football)
Over the last few decades, we have seen several impressive fantasy seasons at the Quarterback position. From Michael Vick to Aaron Rodgers to Lamar Jackson, there is nothing better than having a QB on your roster that you can just set and forget each week. So what do all these dominant fantasy QBs have in common? The majority of them were threats in the running game! Since 2000, the 24 best fantasy QB seasons (on a per game basis) featured a group of players who averaged 25.8 rushing yards and 0.30 rushing touchdowns per game. That equates to a 16-game pace of 412 yards and 4.8 touchdowns on the ground.
If there is one player in this upcoming rookie class that can provide fantasy managers with a similar rushing upside, it has to be Trey Lance. And despite his limited experience at North Dakota State, we saw plenty of positives in his 2019 season that could translate into fantasy success at the next level.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.
College Production Profile
Trey Lance was not heavily recruited coming out of Marshall High School, only receiving five offers from schools such as Northern Illinois and Minnesota. He would commit to the North Dakota State Bisons, where he sat out for the majority of his first year. It was not until his 2019 redshirt Freshman season that Lance would receive the opportunity to showcase his potential. In 16 games, he threw for 2,786 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and an impressive zero turnovers. And while those passing yard numbers may seem modest, it was Lance’s overall impact that cemented his value as a top QB in this class. His immense rushing production gave the Bisons a unique dimension in their offense that led to an undefeated season and an FCS championship.
In 2020, North Dakota State would delay its season due to the pandemic, giving Lance only one opportunity to play that year. In their one game against Central Arkansas, Lance would struggle as a passer, completing only 50% of his attempts. However, he once again displayed his tremendous rushing upside, running for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a close victory. He finished his career with an 11.01 adjusted yards per attempt, which ranks only behind Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Kyler Murray in Sports Reference’s CFB database.
Despite his impressive numbers, there are a few concerns in Lance’s production profile. First of all, we only saw him play for 17 full games as a starter, which is the lowest among the consensus top-five QBs in this class. In addition, Lance primarily played against lesser competition in the FCS, which does put into question his ability to dominate at the highest level. Regardless, Lance is still very young (only 21 in his rookie year) and was by far the best player when he was on the field, showcasing some of that upside that we can look forward to at the next level.
*Per NFL.com and Anthony Hobgood, EXOS performance manager
Trey Lance has a very intriguing athletic profile, which clearly translated into rushing dominance on the field. If we take a look at his height and weight, Lance clearly passes the QB1 threshold in the Dynasty UDK (6’2.6” and 221 lbs). But what stands out the most is his vertical and 40-yard dash. Keep in mind these are not official numbers since Lance did not participate in those drills at his pro day. Instead, these were recorded as he was training for the NFL during the shortened 2020 season. Per Anthony Hobgood, EXOS performance manager who trained with Lance last winter, he was consistently clocked in the mid 4.50’s in the 40-yard dash. For reference, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton recorded similar 40 times. Furthermore, Hobgood also mentioned in his interview that Lance recorded his best vertical at 39.5 inches. And while these are far from official numbers, it is evident that Lance has the athletic profile to succeed as a dual-threat quarterback in the NFL. Keep an eye on his second pro day on April 19, where he might participate in more than just the passing drills.
What’s on Tape
If you followed along with my weekly Dynasty Report, you might already be familiar with my film evaluation process. In short, I try to watch 4 to 6 games, analyzing every snap for that player in each of those games. Let’s dive into Trey Lance’s tape!
Games Viewed: Montana State (2019), North Dakota (2019), South Dakota (2019), Butler (2019), Central Arkansas (2020)
1. Lance flashed outstanding ball placement on several intermediate and deep throws, primarily in his 2019 tape
One of the more impressive aspects of Lance’s game is his ball placement and his ability to throw his receivers open. This was evident on comeback and out routes, placing the ball close to the sidelines where only his receiver could make a play. Lance also displayed great touch, finding ways to arc his passes over defenders to avoid interceptions. And though his 2020 tape did not consistently show it, Lance also has an impressive deep ball. Not only does he have the accuracy to throw 40+ yards downfield, he also showcased plenty of arm strength and velocity in his 2019 tape.
Below is an example of one of his precise deep throws. He rolls out of the pocket, keeping his eyes toward the right side of the field to manipulate the safety. He then quickly pivots to the left, identifies the open receiver, and launches it for a 30+ yard touchdown.
2. Lance is a legitimate threat as a rusher
As you may have already gathered in my production profile above, Lance’s strength is his versatility as both a passer and rusher. Whether it was a designed run or an improvised scramble, he frequently showcased tremendous vision and elusiveness to create plays with his legs. In addition, he possesses the ability to absorb contact and maintain balance, which often led to significant runs after brushing off several tackles. And once he gets out into the open field, Lance has the speed to accelerate past most corners and safeties. Because he is such a threat as a rusher, I expect his future NFL team to leverage this aspect of his game to the fullest. As a result, Lance could be a very productive fantasy QB if given the opportunity to be a rusher at the next level.
3. He will go through his progressions before relying on his legs to make a play
While Lance is an excellent runner, he did not always default to that aspect of his game. More often than not, on designed pass plays, he would survey the field and run through his progressions before abandoning the pass. And even if the pocket was collapsing, Lance would keep his eyes downfield even in the face of pressure. If defenders do manage to get to him, Lance has the athleticism to escape, make a throw on the run, or simply rush for the first down himself. In short, do not mistake Lance as a rush-first QB. He is more than capable of being a high-IQ passer, making the right decisions despite defensive pressure.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Trey Lance was not a high volume passer in college
Because of the offensive scheme at North Dakota State, the Bisons relied heavily on the run game. As a result, Lance only threw the ball 18.6 times per game in his two seasons as a starter. For reference, that is the lowest average among the consensus top-five QBs in this class. In fact, Lance threw for more than 20 pass attempts in only 41.2% of his games over the last two seasons, averaging a 61.8% completion rate. While this may be alarming, it may not necessarily be a concern if he lands in the right offensive system. If he plays for a team and coach that will cater to his strengths, he may not need to throw 30 pass attempts per game to find success in the NFL.
2. He rarely avoided contact at the end of his runs. Is that sustainable in the NFL?
While it was very commendable to see Lance fight for every yard, I do have concerns about his running style. Despite being a quarterback, he rarely slid in the open field to avoid contact. Instead, he would frequently lower his shoulder to gain additional yards. However, once he arrives in the NFL, seeking contact against more athletic linebackers and defensive backs will likely not yield as much success as it did in the FCS. He will need to be more selective as to when to fight for yards or slide to avoid the extra collision.
2021 Fantasy Outlook
In some ways, Trey Lance remains an enigma because of the limited sample size in his college career. As a result, his fantasy floor could be lower than that of a Mac Jones or Zach Wilson. I do believe, however, that his fantasy upside could be as high as Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Especially if he can provide a 500+ yard rushing baseline each season, we could be looking at the next dominant fantasy QB even if his passing game does not translate into immediate success. A name that comes to mind is 2020 rookie QB Jalen Hurts, who struggled as a passer (51.9% completion rate) but still managed to finish as a QB1 in 3 of his 4 weeks as a starter due to his rushing ability.
Lance’s rookie production will likely be dependent on his landing spot, as there are only a few teams that could use an immediate starter at the QB position. Assuming the first two picks are some combination of Lawrence, Fields, or Wilson, it will be interesting to see if the 49ers take a chance on Lance at 3rd overall. An intriguing landing spot, if Lance were to fall, would be the Washington Football Team. I highly doubt he falls all the way to 19th overall, though I could see Ron Rivera trading up to draft their QB of the future. A team that boasts a talented WR corp, a young RB, and a coaching staff that drafted Cam Newton, Lance could be the missing piece to unlock the upside of the Washington offense.