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Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder with so-called quarterback projects. What you see today is not what you will get tomorrow if you are right. And if you are right, you may have hit a Josh Allen home run. But if you are wrong, you may have a Christian Hackenberg strikeout for which to answer.
When you come out of a North Dakota State and you play one game and one game only there in 2020 as a redshirt sophomore because COVID wrecked the schedule, you are The Mystery Man of the 2021 Quarterback Class, and one of the Mystery Men of the 2021 NFL Draft.
You are Trey Lance. You are 6-foot-3, 226 pounds and you are big trouble when you leave the pocket and run like the wind and you can throw the hell out of the ball. You are a natural-born leader and you dominated the FCS as 2019 offensive player of the year and it is still not enough to check all the boxes.
You counter that you have started the same amount of games — 17 — as Mac Jones did at Alabama and dominated your competition. They argue that your one and only game last season was against Central Arkansas.
“He’s got great athleticism, can do some great things with his legs, he’s got the big arm and the ability to make every throw,” NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner told The Post. “Those are things to me that you know.
“When I watched the tape, I think there’s a lot of inconsistencies in his game, from a technique standpoint, from a decision-making standpoint, and so there’s a lot of up and down with him. And so for me, I’m always leery of guys that are wildly inconsistent in those areas — missed throws that they’re supposed to make, can make a great read one time and then the next time comes back and you just shake your head going, ‘OK, no idea what they’re looking at or why they would make that decision in another situation.’
“So, although there’s huge upside physically, to me there’s a lot of questions.”
There are no questions from Dillon Radunz, Lance’s left tackle at North Dakota State who is held in high regard by the NFL.
“I think there’s no doubt in my mind that he could definitely be ready if they think he’s not ready by this next season,” Radunz told The Post by phone. “Maybe it’d benefit him to be behind a quarterback, but at the same time, I think he could easily be a plug-and-play QB.”
Lance was 16-0 as a redshirt freshman and led NDSU to its third straight national championship with a win (6-for-10, 72 yards passing, 30-166-1 TD rushing) over James Madison.
“He performs well under pressure like that,” Radunz said.
Radunz marveled at Lance’s arm talent and arm strength when he first stepped foot on campus. Lance is mellow off the field and anything but on it.
“A go-getter, I guess,” Radunz said. “He’s gonna take the shots that he wants, he’s gonna run the ball … I remember the first few games he wanted to lower his shoulder the whole time, and even in the playoffs he lowered his shoulder. He’s a team guy, he’s gonna get the extra yards when he can.”
Future Trey Lances will have the opportunity to resource video and instructions on Quarterback Confidential (KurtWarnerQBC.com).
“You just haven’t seen a whole lot of him since that season in 2019 to really know, ‘Has there been improvement, where has he gotten better?’ ” Warner said.
Mitchell Trubisky started 13 games at North Carolina. Mark Sanchez started 16 games at USC. Kyler Murray started 17 games at Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Dwayne Haskins started 14 games at Ohio State.
“There’s not a great track record of quarterbacks drafted in the first round with under 20 starts,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller told The Post. “So you worry about that a little bit. But on the other side of that, he’s playing in an offense that’s very pro-style at North Dakota State. They’re running play-action. He’s asked to do a lot at the line of scrimmage. So you’re trying to really justify the 17 starts at a low-level competition as well. It’s not like 17 starts at Alabama like Mac Jones has.
“And then you’re trying to look on the other side, he’s incredibly mature, he’s intelligent, and a very good athlete. So I think in a year where because of COVID, scouts weren’t able to go to Fargo to get to know who Trey Lance is. Now, not having that ability to sit with him, and bring him to dinner, and poke and prod, and put him on the white board, there’s little mystery there of what can he do, what can he learn and where can he get to as an NFL quarterback?”
Miller does see similarities with Josh Allen, who threw six interceptions in 11 games in his last year at Wyoming and completed only 56.3 per cent of his passes. Lance threw 28 TDs with a 66.9 completion percentage and zero interceptions on 287 throws and rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 TDs.
“Athletically there definitely are, because he’s a strong quarterback, right? And he’s got a beautiful deep ball, he can beat you as a runner. … I say this as an enormous Josh Allen fan, but the turnovers were just — you almost had to bite your hand writing your notes because they were so ugly,” Miller said. “Trey didn’t have an interception last year at all. That’s where the biggest difference is.
“But who he can become is probably more like Josh Allen. … The thing about Trey is I almost take issue when people say he’s not pro-ready. … You’re hoping that you can just clean some things up and that with more experience he’s just gonna get better. … I think the big things he does well are pro-ready, you would just like to see that expand a little bit.”
Lance’s second Pro Day is scheduled for April 19. The Kyle Shanahan 49ers, currently linked to Jones, will be there. The Mystery Man gets one more chance to end any mystery.
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