Criticisms of his game include inconsistent accuracy and a tendency to run too much. A few months ago, after hearing so much pre-draft credit for Lance, a former NFL general manager watched the one game Lance played that fall (North Dakota State wasn’t having a full season because of the coronavirus pandemic 2020 and instead played this spring) and got away with it unimpressed.

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“I don’t get it,” said the ex-general manager.

But in an NFL draft full of uncertainty after an interrupted college football season, there are suddenly many coaches and evaluators who believe they are “getting” Lance and seeing a player who will be the next great quarterback in the league could if given a season to practice and learn. Some have suggested that his combination of speed and arm strength makes him like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. Daniel Jeremiah, design analyst for the NFL network, compares him to another league MVP, the late Steve McNair. It is forecast to advance to third place in the draft that starts Thursday.

They base this belief on more than just his ability to throw 70 yards or execute a blazing 40 yard shot. They believe in Lance because of his wits and because, despite his lack of experience and notoriety, he seems more ready than most college quarterbacks for maturity and preparation.

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“He’s incredibly intelligent,” Jeremiah said during a recent conference call. “I spent time with him and spoke to a number of teams that spent time with him and were kind of blown away by the interview process with him. The character, the work ethic, all that stuff is exceptional. “

The demands on NFL quarterbacks are immense. Game names can be 10 or more words long. The defense is laden with clever disguises designed to lure unsuspecting passers-by into mistakes. When Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold spoke of “seeing ghosts” early in his career with the New York Jets, he was expressing a sensation felt by many young quarterbacks.

More and more teams are looking first for quarterbacks who can process a tremendous amount of information quickly and make quick decisions. Lance, a lightly-recruited quarterback and security officer from Marshall, Minnesota who hasn’t attracted interest as a major college quarterback, might be the player they’re looking for.

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“He had responsibilities in terms of protection,” said Jeremiah. “He was responsible for checks. So he had a lot more on his plate than most, especially in his first year as a starter. “

The state of North Dakota has already sent quarterbacks to the NFL. In the past five years, two of his QBs have been designed – the Indianapolis Colts ‘Carson Wentz (number 2 for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016) and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Easton Stick (166th in 2019) – and a big reason for that is the assistant head coach and coordinator of the passing game, Randy Hedberg. As a junior college quarterback who started four games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977, Hedberg challenges many of his QBs and challenges them with concepts that are more common in professional games than in college.

The North Dakota State Offense is a West Coast program that weighs heavily on the long game names found in many NFL offenses. Hedberg said he would like his quarterbacks to “verbalize” these games in the crowd, a departure from the no-huddle approach many college teams use, where everyone looks at a sign held up by an assistant coach. It forces its passers-by to look at the other players and repeat the game for them – a small facet of leadership that many young quarterbacks find difficult to master at the next level.

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Hedberg also requires his quarterbacks to take protective measures, identify any potential pass rushers at the border, and make sure they are blocked. Again, this is something that many college quarterbacks are not prompted to do and must take time to study when they get into the NFL.

“I want you to know who won’t be blocked,” said Hedberg. “If we have five-man protection and they bring six with them, he has to know who that sixth man is so he can throw that person hot.”

While many college offenses are filled with games where the quarterback only looks for open receivers on one side of the field, the North Dakota state offense – like that in the NFL – is fraught with “full-field throws” where the quarterback takes the Must complete the entire scan box as you go through its checklist of options for each game.

Lance responded well to these challenges, Hedberg said. The coach still wonders how well Lance read the defense on his first college start in 2019 when he saw an impending lightning bolt and checked himself into a running game that he turned into a 61-yard touchdown.

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“Not many young quarterbacks can do that,” said Hedberg.

And while the system has given Lance an early understanding of the things he needs to do in the NFL, those who have worked with him say that the reason they expect him to do well with the pros is because how hard he studies and describes him as being far more diligent about his preparation than most of his age. That spring, while working with quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery, Lance pulled out the tablet he was studying opponents with. In addition to the defense film clips, Lance had photographed pages and pages of notes taken in minute detail from his meetings and film sessions with North Dakota state coaches – something Avery only sees from the NFL quarterbacks he has trained.

What impressed Avery most, however, was Lance’s insight into the defenses he was facing. He examined not only how a cornerback might position themselves if they covered a receiver, but also how that cornerback would play in relation to the other players in secondary school.

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“The way he sees things and the love for nuances and details is unique,” said Avery. “He’s more advanced. There are NFL people who don’t prepare as well as he does. “

Lance seems obsessed with details and even text Avery every night before training to find out the name of the field they would use so he can investigate the best routes for the next morning. Not that he had to worry about being late – Lance was always early for training.

“I am definitely describing my work. My preparation is something that divides me, ”Lance said after his pro day in March. “Attention to detail at the limit is something I consider to be one of my strengths.”

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People who know Lance point out that his father, Carlton, a former Southwest Minnesota defender, in the CFL and World League of American Football, was a huge influence on his development. Lance said in March that both his father and mother, Angie, played huge roles. His parents “were always super realistic with me,” he said, telling him that his “words and actions had to go together”.

Carlton coached his son early and in high school, and Hedberg and Avery both said Carlton taught Trey to look at defense through the eyes of a defensive player – much like how Bill Belichick coached a young Tom Brady. Doing this so often will give a quarterback a deeper understanding of what a pass rusher or defensive back might be doing and look for tiny tells in their body language.

“He can work on the limit as quickly as anyone else I’ve trained,” said Hedberg. “He can see protection and cover very well.”

These are things you can’t expect from a small quarterback with limited experience, but for Lance, they’re a big part of what NFL teams look out for.

“At the NFL level, of course, it gets a little more complex,” said Hedberg. “But I think he’ll learn that as he progresses through his time in the NFL.”