Twenty-five years after the legendary Steve McNair received the 1994 Walter Payton Award, a similar-styled quarterback, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, also earned the outstanding offensive player award in FCS college football.
Daniel Jeremiah, lead NFL Draft analyst for the NFL Network, sees a lot of McNair’s skills when he watches Lance direct an offense today.
“Yeah, I think when you watched – I was around Steve towards the end of his career – but when you watch him when he was younger, too, you’ll see him run and you’ll see him … he’ll get hit by a linebacker at the 4-yard line and find his way into the end zone, and you see the same thing with Trey Lance,”Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network Analyst
“Both guys came from a lower level of competition, both guys were dominant at that level. You look at the power arms to be able to drive the football down the field. You look at guys that their teammates really, really rally around and love, I just think there’s a lot of similarities between the two.”
The late McNair was the No. 3 selection in the 1995 NFL Draft. Lance is expected to be an early selection on April 29, the first night of the three-day 2021 draft, and Friday morning is an important step toward potentially making it happen. He will throw before a reported 27 NFL teams, including four head coaches, at North Dakota State’s annual pro day inside the Fargodome. NFL Network and an ESPN network will provide live reports.
The NFL attention is reminiscent of Carson Wentz’s NDSU pro day five years ago. In the 2016 draft, Wentz was picked second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, surpassing McNair as the highest drafted quarterback from the FCS.
According to reports, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Lance will not run the 40-yard dash or participate in agility drills during the pro day. NFL teams are most interested in evaluating the dual-threat’s passing accuracy. He is considered to have excellent arm strength and a high football IQ from working in a pro-style system.
Lance declared for the draft as a third-year sophomore and will be only 20 at the time of it. He made only 17 college starts, but his redshirt freshman season was extraordinary – he passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns without an interception and rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 TDs, earning the Jerry Rice Award (most outstanding FCS freshman) in addition to the Walter Payton Award – both presented by Stats Perform. Lance also was voted the national championship game’s most outstanding player as NDSU won its third straight title.
“He wants to throw the ball down the field. He keeps eyes up to see what the defense is doing while he’s moving,” Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg told Mike Garafolo for an NFL.com story. “He throws the ball on the run extremely well, both to the right and left, going both directions. He’s extremely athletic.
“That’s the way the NFL is going with quarterbacks.”
While comparing Lance to McNair historically, Jeremiah also likens him to Ohio State’s Justin Fields in this year’s draft class. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is expected to be the draft’s top overall selection and BYU’s Zach Wilson also is considered among the top four QB prospects.
Jeremiah believes the COVID-19 pandemic and North Dakota State playing only once in the fall while delaying most of its schedule to the spring semester were key factors in Lance’s early entry into the draft. Had Lance waited to enter the 2022 draft, Jeremiah believes he would have been the top-rated quarterback.
“Being the fourth quarterback,” Jeremiah said, “we’re seeing Josh Allen (third QB in 2018 draft), what he’s done. If you look at (Patrick) Mahomes (second QB in 2017) and (Deshaun) Watson (third QB in 2017) went to more established teams with some players and pieces in place, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Lance will be joined by two other former North Dakota State players at the pro day, offensive tackle Dillon Radunz, an early round candidate, and cornerback Marquise Bridges, who was part of the 2020 draft class and had some tryouts in the NFL last year.