How Trey Lance is likely the key to the Detroit Lions draft

Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /
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Trey Lance, Detroit Lions
Trey Lance, North Dakota State (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

Draft day scenario 1: Is Trey Lance worth it for Detroit at #7?

Lance will likely still be on the board at number seven, and his name has been tossed around as a potential Lions pick even since the fall. Is this the right time for that type of high risk/high reward pick though?

While analyzing Lance’s workout in real time on Friday via the NFL’s own YouTube Channel, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared his limited body of work to watching an exceptional opening act to a film, but admittedly only the opening act.

"“It’s like you’ve watched thirty minutes of a great movie. You feel pretty good about the fact that it’s going to end up well, because what you’ve seen from him gets you excited about where it’s heading and where it’s going.”"

The direction he’s going in the first few scenes has been promising and then some, but heading into the draft, Lance is almost the very definition of a ‘boom or bust’ prospect. It feels like whoever ultimately gets him will either win big or be mercilessly mocked for years when the dust settles, with little middle ground.

The Upside

Lance is thought to have the strongest arm among his peers (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields) and appears to be the best runner as well. At just 20 years old, Lance is far from a finished product and presumably has the most room to grow based on his age and limited high-level experience. And of course, the types of numbers he put up in his single year as a starter in college are absolutely staggering:

  • 28 touchdown passes without a single interception in a 16 game season
  • 1,000+ yards and another 14 touchdowns on the ground
  • Undefeated 16-0 record, capped off with an FCS national championship.

As Jeremiah summarized 

"“If you’re into guys who throw touchdowns, run for touchdowns, never turn the ball over, and win every game, I think you might like him.”"

The Risk

For a team that’s in a full rebuild and trying to leave as little to chance as possible in getting it right this time, for me that feels like a little too big a risk for someone who still only grades out as the number four QB in this class.

Furthermore, if Lance doesn’t pan out as an NFL quarterback, nobody can claim that the warnings weren’t bright and clear right from day one. Here are several major red flags that should give Lions execs pause if they’re considering drafting him in the top ten:

  • Limited data and long layoff. Lance started only 17 games in college, playing only once in 2020 due to a COVID-19 affected season. His highlights look great, but it’s still a very limited sample size, and he’s coming off a long layoff from competitive football.
  • Level of competition. The statistics and the wins are impressive, and FCS is higher quality football than many immediately assume, but these numbers certainly need to be put into context. FCS is undeniably a lower level than most FBS teams, and Lance played for an absolute powerhouse, even more traditionally dominant at the mid-major level than Alabama in the big-time landscape (see next bullet).
  • The talent surrounding him. The North Dakota State Bison have completely steamrolled any and all FCS opponents for the past decade, with or without Lance playing QB. NDSU has won 8 FCS national championships since 2010 and had a decade-long stretch of losing only 8 total games. Same with his high school in Minnesota, which went 74-6 in the 2010s. It’s hard to say how Lance would handle playing on a team that doesn’t already have a clear talent advantage at most of the other positions as well–he’s never had that situation.
  • Accuracy. From a technical standpoint, the only knock on Lance is that he struggles with accuracy at times. This was really the only blemish at his Pro Day with a few sloppy incompletions on passes in the red zone with no defense.

This is more of a ‘ghosts of the past’  footnote rather than anything of substance, but still worth noting: Andre Ware was also picked seventh overall by the Lions in 1990, still commonly regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

My two cents

My opinion is that at number seven, and already with a young established starting quarterback on the roster, there are safer options (including fielding offers for another team to trade up for Lance) for this pick in the quest to stockpile young talent. However, if Holmes and Campbell liked what they saw that much, I could still get excited about the pick, as long as they have no illusions of throwing him to the wolves in year one (or even year two).

Even the highest estimates of Lance’s ability concede that he’s not going to be ready to be a starter yet, so any kneejerk cries of “draft Lance, trade Goff!” that fans may have are a recipe for disaster. Interestingly enough, I would have been more gung-ho about Lance at number seven if Matthew Stafford were still on the team.

It seems unlikely, but the dream scenario is if the Lions could somehow trade that seventh pick down, still get Lance somewhere in the 12-15 range, but also have another first or second-round pick to mitigate the risk. Then again, look no further than the Stafford trade for good reason not to underestimate Brad Holmes when it comes to transactional sorcery.