The general consensus among experts is the top-four quarterbacks are in a tier of their own for the 2021 NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance.
The last of that group, Trey Lance, should be sending a thank you letter in the mail to reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert along with MVP runner-up Josh Allen.
Lance is nearly universally viewed as the rawest quarterback prospect with a consensus first-round grade in the upcoming NFL Draft. His physical tools will tantalize NFL teams in need of a quarterback between his arm strength, ability to extend plays with legs, and room to grow after making just 17 college starts.
His numbers in his lone season as the Bisons starter? 2,786 yards passing on 66.9% completion for 28 touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 169 rushing attempts leading to 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns as well.
He made one lackluster start against Arkansas State in Fall 2020 which could give NFL teams pause, but after what Herbert and Allen did last season, it will not have teams shy away from taking Lance early on Thursday, April 29th.
Lance shares many similarities with Herbert and Allen. All three were quarterback prospects with elite measurables but a lack of noteworthy college tape due to being hampered by a lack of surrounding talent.
Allen played by Wyoming where he needed to carry the team on his back. Herbert's highest-drafted receiver in his four years at Oregon was Dillon Mitchell, who was selected in the seventh round and has never made it onto the Minnesota Vikings 53-man roster. Lance put up excellent numbers as a redshirt freshman but he still did so while making wrong reads from time-to-time, it just did not matter as his raw talent dominated the FCS level.
Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields have dominant College Football Playoff performances on their resumes. Lance does not, but college tape and performance is not the end-all, be-all when evaluating prospects.
Herbert and Allen were selected due to their unreal arm talent and ability to extend plays with their legs. Given how much of a crapshoot drafting quarterbacks in the first round is, the success of the Oregon and Wyoming products may shift the NFL towards taking higher ceiling players rather than so-called "safe-bets."
In the NFL Draft, a "safe pick" can still bust.
Just last season, the Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa one pick ahead of Herbert. Many draft pundits saw Tua as the safer pick between the two. One year later, Herbert had one of the most dominant rookie seasons by a quarterback in league history and Tua was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
When Josh Allen was selected, NFL Twitter clowned the Bills for taking the "guy with the big arm" rather than Josh Rosen. Cleveland and New York selected Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold over Allen due to those two prospects being seen as safer picks.
In 2020, Josh Allen led his team to the AFC Championship Game and finished second in MVP voting. Meanwhile, Darnold will likely be traded, Rosen was cut, Mayfield appears to be a distant third-best quarterback in the 2018 class behind Allen and Lamar Jackson, the other prospect with unreal physical talent who fell for being a "risky pick."
So, with no exact predictive science for drafting quarterbacks, why wouldn't the NFL shift to being more risk-taking by drafting the signal-caller with superior physical gifts. The ability to extend plays with their legs can elevate a quarterback from dependable starter to elite passer, just look at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers. They can all extend broken plays to make something out of nothing. Lance has that same ability.
Some prospects with raw physical tools may be the next Ryan Mallet, but others will be the next Justin Herbert or Josh Allen. Might as well swing for the fences when taking a quarterback of the future.
Which one will Trey Lance be? That remains to be seen, but he will surely hear his name called sooner than later during Day One of the 2021 NFL Draft, thanks to players like Herbert and Allen.