The NFL eyes shifted to Fargo for a day with the Bison of North Dakota State holding a pro day. The festivities were broadcast live nationally from the event to capture the growing fascination with Bison QB Trey Lance, a surefire top-15 pick in next month’s draft.
Lions GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell made the trip and watched Lance work out up close and personal. They were joined by several other prominent NFL decision-makers from several teams who could be in the quarterback market, including a few that select before the Lions at No. 7 overall.
I watched the pro day coverage and came away with a few quick thoughts on Lance, the Lions fit and what might happen with each.
The hype on Lance's potential is 100% legit
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
We didn't need the workout to know Lance was an outstanding athlete. His frame, his body control, his acceleration, his arm strength — Lance showed he had all of those athletic qualities in droves on his game tapes at NDSU. https://twitter.com/JimNagy_SB/status/1370405869658181636?s=20 He's a legit dual-threat weapon in the vein of Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. Like those NFL stars, Lance prefers to throw but can also make a defense look silly with his legs. I watched their FCS playoff run in 2019 in real-time and I recently went back and rewatched the games against James Madison and Illinois State, two teams who I know well enough to know the caliber of defensive scheme and talent. Illinois State loaded up everything to stop him and he still artfully avoided some pressures and shrugged off some tackles, not unlike the way Josh Allen plays as a runner for the Bills.
The Lions are the perfect team to give Lance the NFL redshirt season he needs
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Lance has just 17 career starts and it's at the FCS level. He's played one game since the 2019 season ended, and he didn't play particularly well in the Bison's win over Central Arkansas last fall either. Lance has a lot of ability but it's (probably) not ready to roll in the NFL right away. The Lions present the perfect situation for Lance to sit and learn how to be a professional and adjust to the NFL game for a season. Jared Goff isn't going anywhere in 2021; he'll be the starter for the Lions this fall unless someone comes in and takes it from him. But long-term, Goff is an expensive question mark. Detroit has the perfect setup to let Lance sit and learn, practice and develop. In former NFL QB Mark Brunell, the Lions have a quarterback coach who played with the same kind of style and found success after biding his time on the bench, too.
He's polished the throwing mechanics in his preparation
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Lance has always demonstrated pretty solid throwing mechanics. His release and over-the-top shoulder motion looked good enough at NDSU. But he showed the muscle memory of repetitive work at improving his feet, hips and core. Check this throw from the pro day, https://twitter.com/OnePantherPlace/status/1370426425019412480?s=20 The balance he's got and his weight shift--it's perfect. The front foot doesn't overextend or drift, the back heel stays off the ground to maintain the bounce and rhythm. I didn't see that consistently during his game tape, especially with the front foot. He's been working with QB guru Quincy Avery and also working out with Deshaun Watson. It's working!
Good on the Lions for doing their due diligence
The transparency of the new GM and new head coach to embrace the grind of the pro day circuit is admirable. They're not hiding from common sense as some other regimes, both in Detroit and elsewhere, try to do to keep everyone guessing. The Lions are in the quarterback market, period. It might not be Lance and it might not even happen in this draft, but Holmes is practicing what he preached in his (excellent) podcast appearance the other day: ignoring the QB position when you're picking in the top 10 is flat-out negligent. I'm glad they're open about considering a quarterback, whether they intend to actually take one or not. It keeps all options open, including trade consideration from other teams. They probably shouldn't deserve praise for doing this common-sense process, but after what Lions fans have suffered through in recent years, it's still nice to see the new regime not making rookie mistakes early on.
All the Lance-Lions talk is likely moot
(AP Photo/Sam Hodde, File)
For all this talk, all this back-and-forth between Lions fans who desperately covet Lance and those who want nothing to do with him, it's probably all moot. I don't see Lance falling to No. 7 and the Lions in the draft. There are a lot of projections with Lance heading to Atlanta at the No. 4 pick. They certainly make sense; Matt Ryan is nearing the end, the Falcons have the structure to help him succeed right away and the lowered expectations of a new regime taking over. Owner Arthur Blank has never been shy about making the controversial pick or empowering his Falcons front office from pursuing their desires. Lance might not even make it that far. It's conceivable the Jets at No. 2 or the Dolphins at No. 3 pull the trigger, though that No. 3 pick would more likely be made by another team (Chicago? Denver? Carolina?) trading up. And Lance might have that kind of allure to command a trade up into the top three. Unless the Lions are prepared to move up from No. 7, it seems quite unlikely Lance will be there to select. Will they covet Lance that much with other QB options (Justin Fields, Zach Wilson) also available? That's a question we won't know the answer to until April 29th. Beware anyone who tries to answer it for Holmes and the Lions with any degree of "lock" certainty...