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NFL Draft | Scouting the QBs

What to make of Trey Lance? Former coaches tout football IQ, physicality

Trey Lance, shown throwing at North Dakota State's pro day last week, is perhaps the biggest mystery among the five quarterbacks rumored to be first-round talents in this year's NFL Draft.
Trey Lance, shown throwing at North Dakota State's pro day last week, is perhaps the biggest mystery among the five quarterbacks rumored to be first-round talents in this year's NFL Draft.Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign 31-year-old quarterback Cam Newton, but there’s no question the organization is still in need of a long-term solution at the position.

North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is one way to address the situation.

In a recent mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Patriots would strike a deal with the Denver Broncos to trade up and snag Lance with the ninth overall pick. According to Kiper, the exchange would require the Patriots to give up their first- and second-round picks this year, as well as at least one selection — possibly their first-rounder — next year.

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“Don’t rule out a big move if [Bill] Belichick & Co. want to get their quarterback of the future,” Kiper wrote.

Lance’s college quarterbacks coach, Randy Hedberg, shared recently he would be a fan of the fit, citing the Patriots’ prestigious track record.

“I think he’s a franchise quarterback,” Hedberg said. “I think Trey can carry a franchise with his personality and his leadership. I think he has that ‘it’ factor. I think that’s important. When the guy enters the room, you know who it is.”

The Patriots sent scout Matt Groh to watch the 20-year-old Lance throw recently at North Dakota State’s pro day.

What would they be getting with Lance?

This past season, Lance played just one game before North Dakota State’s season was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. In his single outing, against fellow FCS school Central Arkansas, Lance showed to be a dual-threat quarterback, passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns while adding 143 yards and two scores on the ground.

The year before, as a redshirt freshman, Lance started 16 games, throwing for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns with no picks — an NCAA season record for passes (287) without an interception. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.

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Hedberg and North Dakota State coach Matt Entz listed Lance’s ability to dissect defenses as one of his biggest strengths. They both emphasized his communication skills at the line of scrimmage, where he can adjust protections based on what he’s seeing. His football IQ and anticipation translate after the snap, too.

“He’s got tremendous poise in the huddle as well as in the pocket,” Hedberg said. “His clock in his head was pretty good that way. When he tried to scramble or move away from pressure, he always kept his eyes downfield to make those throws downfield.”

Added Entz: “I believe the best thing about him is above his shoulders. He’s extremely intelligent. He’s bright. He has great composure in the pocket.”

Lance approaches the game like a defensive player, something Hedberg said he first noticed when he watched him make an aggressive tackle as a high school safety.

“I said after the game I thought he would have been ejected from the game if it were a college game,” recalled Hedberg. “I do think he plays with that defensive mentality. I really believe that. I think he’s a very physical-type player.”

Lance said he hoped to use his pro day to not only showcase his mobility and ability to extend plays, but also to demonstrate his comfort in the pocket. He said he’s been working on cleaning up his movements and “keeping [his] feet in the ground” as part of his pre-draft preparations.

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“That’s one of my strengths, being able to move the pocket, get out of the pocket, scramble, and make plays,” Lance said. “I kind of wanted to show that I can throw the ball a little bit more from the pocket, rhythm stuff, and things like that.”

According to Hedberg, Lance has also improved his throwing accuracy and athleticism since leaving North Dakota State.

“I think one thing he’s worked on during this offseason is shortening his delivery and working on trying to get his feet and lower half of his body into throws more,” he said.

One of the biggest questions Hedberg said he has received from scouts is whether 17 starts are enough of a sample size. Has Lance seen enough from defenses? Does he have enough, as Hedberg calls them, “pictures” of the game?

Trey Lance smiles during a break in the action at his recent Pro Day.
Trey Lance smiles during a break in the action at his recent Pro Day.Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

It seems unlikely Lance will be a Day 1 starter, but Hedberg explained why sitting back as a rookie is not necessarily a bad thing if the time is spent learning from a veteran player.

“I always feel it’s tough on a rookie to come into the NFL and start right away. Whoever it is,” he said. “I just think there’s a lot of learning. The speed of the game picks up. I really believe it would help any rookie quarterback to come in and learn from somebody, learn the intricacies of the game and the speed of the game.”

Hedberg expressed confidence that Lance will rely on his diligent preparation and study skills in order to have an impact once he settles in.

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“From a knowledge standpoint and an ability to process quickly, Trey has that,” he said. “He can process at the line of scrimmage as quickly as anybody I’ve coached. I think he’s able to see protections, and he’s able to see coverages very well.”

As for what Lance thinks about his readiness?

“I’m going to be absolutely as ready as I possibly can,” he said. “I’m a competitor, first and foremost, so I’m going to compete for that spot, regardless of where I’m at or what the situation is. I feel confident that regardless of where I go, I’ll be ready.”


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.