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2021 NFL draft film breakdown: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

Trey Lance
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Sam Crnic looks at the film behind Trey Lance’s sole performance in 2020 and discusses his potential entering the 2021 NFL Draft.

One of the largest myths in college football is the statement that smaller school athletes rarely find success at the next level. From Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams, Eastern Washington) to Terron Armstead (New Orleans Saints, Arkansas Pine-Bluff), the NFL is packed with talented FCS players.

Perhaps the most interesting FCS player has been Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles, North Dakota State), who hails from the same college as one of the better quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trey Lance.

As a result of the current COVID-19 climate, North Dakota State (NDSU) could only play one game in the fall. This game was against Central Arkansas, who they eventually beat 39-28 in front of 26 NFL scouts from 20 different teams. While they were there to watch various prospects, Lance was the center of discussion. Accounting for four total touchdowns against Central Arkansas, Lance rushed 15 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns while going 15-of-30 in the passing game for 149 yards. For the first time in his collegiate career, Trey threw an interception, attempting 307 passes without one.

While one could question his overall stat-line, Lance looked as dominant as ever in various moments during the game. Finishing with a 17-0 record at NDSU, Trey brings a winning mentality to whoever drafts him in 2021.

As a team deprived of a winning record since 2015, the New York Jets may look Lance’s way if Sam Darnold cannot improve upon his inconsistencies.

Using All-22 film, we will take a look at some of the positives and negatives of Lance’s skillset in his sole performance of 2020. This is not a complete scouting report of Lance – I’ll be digging deeper into his 2019 film later in the offseason – but rather, a focused analysis of his sole showcase in 2020.

2021 NFL Draft Film Breakdowns:

To view the entire breakdown of Trey Lance through exclusive All-22 game tape, get your Jet X subscription (first month free / portion of proceeds donated to COVID-19 relief).

The Good

Running through the Power Read

Consistently asked to make reads on option plays, Lance exhibits a strong understanding of when to keep the ball and when to hand it off.

A talented runner with the ball in open space, Lance can effectively shed tackles and turn on the jets when given open space. Operating in a full house out of the pistol formation, NDSU runs a power read. Faking a handoff to the outside, Lance has to read the defensive end on the left side of the screen (No. 96). As he begins to handoff the ball to the running back, Lance notices the defensive end widening with the back. As a result, Lance makes the correct decision to keep the ball himself and run through the A-gap.

No. 96 doesn’t have a chance to catch up with the speedy quarterback, allowing Lance to break through the second level. Notice how most of the linebackers were also pulled with the potential outside zone handoff. NDSU does a great job of creating enough space for Lance through play design and blocking, allowing his impressive running skills to shine.

NDSU runs another power read here, this time resulting in a touchdown:

Instead of the pistol, NDSU operates out of the shotgun to execute the play. Before the snap, Lance motions a weak side wide receiver to receive a potential jet sweep once the ball is snapped. This time, since the jet sweep is going the opposite way as the play before. Lance reads the defensive end to our right (No. 50). As the DE immediately commits to the jet sweep off the ball, this is an easy read for the star quarterback.

Lance keeps the ball, traveling through the B-gap to break into the open field. While the SAM (strong side) linebacker (No. 45) looks to be in position to make a play on Trey, the right guard acts as a trap blocker to create a lane for Lance right as the linebacker (No. 45) drops down. Once bursting through the B-gap, Lance breaks two tackles before hitting the open field for the touchdown. In addition, his explosive speed is showcased as he outruns a defensive back down the sideline.

Running through the QB Draw and as a scrambler

Whether escaping the pocket through a designed run or to evade closing pressure, Lance displays a strong ability to read downfield blocks to find open running room.

In a designed quarterback draw, Lance receives a decent amount of help from upfield blockers to maximize the play. Off the snap, the running back locates the blitzing B-gap linebacker immediately, prompting him to lower his shoulder into him to secure the block. In addition, the right guard leverages his defender into the ground, giving Lance a lane to attack through. Once breaking through the second level, Trey finds himself open field. With the single-high safety (No. 26) approaching, the right tackle does a phenomenal job of traveling upfield with Lance to prevent a desirable tackling angle, resulting in a whiff.

From there, Lance jukes and stutter steps his way through a couple of defenders to maximize his gain. Throughout the film review, Lance’s ability to locate open lanes based on upfield blocking was superb, as he always found a way to gain much more yardage than what was given to him.

On this passing dropback, Trey showcases his ability to sense blindside pressure and effectively escape it.

Working out of the shotgun formation once again, Lance takes advantage of both linebackers operating in coverage. NDSU helps him see the field here, allowing him to motion the back before the snap. This movement also shifts the right linebacker’s stance, letting Lance know there’s either man coverage on the back, or that linebacker is playing the flat zone. Either way, there will be space up the middle. In addition, once the ball is snapped, the other linebacker also drops back into a deep zone coverage, uncovering an open middle of the field for a potential scramble.

Sensing edge pressure from the blitzing left-side defensive back (No. 33), Lance immediately turns his hips to escape downfield. Thinking it was an easy sack, the defensive back fails to square up to Lance, resulting in a broken tackle. Once approaching the endzone, Trey’s receivers start setting up blocks. Lance powers into the end zone and shows a glimpse of his strength as he plows a defender.

Deep ball placement

Although the two passes below were not completed due to drops by the receivers, Lance showed off his NFL-caliber arm talent with a couple of highly impressive deep bombs. He has a cannon of an arm, but most importantly, backs it up with soft touch and precise placement.

This right here is why you draft Trey Lance:

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