Lions coach, GM get close look at Trey Lance as team weighs QB draft decision

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions could go a number of different directions in the first round of the upcoming draft. It's easy to envision the team drafting one of the top receivers in this class, plugging the roster's most-glaring hole. Trading back and snagging a linebacker also makes all kinds of sense. And you could even make a rational case for an offensive lineman at No. 7, solidifying an already strong unit for years to come.

But as the franchise embarks on what appears to be a multi-year rebuild, the position that will continue to come up annually is quarterback.

Trey Lance

Sure, the Lions just acquired former No. 1 pick Jared Goff, but few outside observers see him as the longtime solution. So the question becomes do the Lions look to take advantage of a deep class of quarterbacks this year or wait, take a serious look at Goff as the solution, and reassess the situation next offseason?

While the approach still is being debated by the franchise's new leadership, head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes made their way to North Dakota to get a closer look at one possible solution — Trey Lance. 

One of the most-intriguing, high-ceiling prospects in this class, Lance took part in North Dakota State's Pro Day on Friday, participating in a number of on-field drills, although he declined to run the 40-yard dash, leaving evaluations of his speed to his game tape.

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Not surprisingly, the Lions weren't the only team slated to draft in the top 10 there to look at Lance. The Falcons (No. 4) and Panthers (No. 8) also sent both their coach and GM, while the GMs for the Jets (No. 2) and Broncos (No. 9) also were in attendance.

Lance is a fascinating prospect drawing equally fascinating comparisons. Former scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said earlier this week the prospect reminded him of another former small school standout, and NFL MVP, Steve McNair. 

"I was around McNair late in his career with the Ravens and just the physicality that he plays with, the toughness," Jeremiah said.

"He's got a little room to grow in terms of just pure accuracy."

Jeremiah's colleague, Lance Zierlein had a more modern comp, Houston Texans superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

"He’s a rare dual-threat quarterback in that he’s tasked with setting his own protections and reading the full field," Zierlein wrote as part of his draft profile on Lance. "Coaches rave about his football IQ and film work. They believe he will come into the league more football savvy than most of the quarterbacks in this draft."

Lance has heard the comparisons, and he's flattered by them, but also noted after his Pro Day, "For me, I like to try to take a lot of pieces from different guys' games, but at the end of the day, I'm Trey Lance, I'm not anybody else."

And despite those lofty comparisons, the evaluation isn't easy. For starters, Lance played against a lower level of competition than some of the other top quarterbacks in this class, including Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, who each experienced the college football playoffs. 

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Additionally, Lance played just one year as a starter. But what a year it was. In 2019, he completed 66.9% of passes, throwing 28 TDs without an interception. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 scores. That's remarkable, regardless of the competition level. 

He's also extremely young. He'll be 20 when he's drafted in April. That portends to sitting a year and developing behind an established veteran, which would likely be the case in Atlanta or Detroit, where Matt Ryan and Goff appear to be entrenched in their starting roles for at least the 2021 season. 

Asked if he's comfortable sitting for a year, Lance was reluctant to blindly accept that, saying whichever team drafts him will expect him to come in to compete for the job. 

Getting a read on whether the Lions will actually consider Lance if he makes it to them at No. 7 is difficult. There's little questioning his skill set is a good fit, both his ability to make plays with his feet, and his comfort level working in an offense that leans heavily on the ground game and the play-action pass. 

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But these new decision-makers don't have a track record, and the only insight we have into their thinking was a comment made by Campbell to The Detroit News the morning before the team agreed to acquire Goff as part of a trade that shipped longtime starter Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams. 

Knowing Stafford was going to be moved, but not yet realizing an accomplished starter was coming back in return, Campbell was asked what kind of urgency the team felt to draft a quarterback this year. 

"What I do think is let's build this team first," Campbell said. "Let's build the nucleus and the foundation of this team first and get some roots in the ground. And once you get the roots in the ground and let it grow a little bit, we'll find the right guy at the helm.

"Once you do that now, to me, your odds are better if you do that first and then find the right guy to get under center than vice versa," Campbell continued.

"Not that we wouldn't go that way. I'm just saying that that's kind of, philosophy-wise, that's how I think of it."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers