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Trey Lance hoping to prove to NFL his one full year was enough

Trey Lance pro day

CHARLOTTE – Trey Lance only started 17 games of college football, and that's obviously not ideal.

But what he did with those 17 games had every NFL team traveling to Fargo on Friday to see what he could do.

While the pro day itself was hard to gauge (Lance hit some big throws, missed some others), the impression he's left on teams is hard to miss. After all, he didn't lose a game in his one full season, winning a national championship for FCS North Dakota State. But when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the fall season and he opted to enter the 2021 NFL Draft rather than hang around for the spring season, Lance left them wondering what a second season as a starter might have looked like.

So while he doesn't have the résumé of many prospects, he has the traits, and the potential.

He even talks like an NFL player.

"The biggest thing for me is controlling what I can control and not worrying about what I can't," Lance said Friday, making coaches around the league drool at his mastery of cliché. "I played every game I possibly could in college. It would have been great, anticipating winning another national championship in January and making the decision then, but it didn't work out that way. Everybody got cheated out of something with COVID.

"So my mindset is to control whatever I can control and not worry about anything else."

The Panthers were among the teams there, with general manager Scott Fitterer, head coach Matt Rhule, and offensive coordinator Joe Brady on hand for the workout. Picking eighth overall, the top decision-makers will likely hit all the top quarterback pro days this spring. (Brady went to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence's without Fitterer and Rhule, but they're probably safe since Lawrence doesn't figure to slide past the seventh spot.)

What they saw Friday was a big, strong-armed quarterback who can run.

During the NFL Network broadcast, analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared Lance to Steve McNair, while Lance's quarterback coach at North Dakota State said he had many things in common with Deshaun Watson.

"They're both athletic," Bison assistant Randy Hedberg said of Lance and Watson. "I think they can change arm slots and make throws different types of throws off-platform, and I think they probably have been in systems that have helped them along the line."

Of course, it's a long way from Fargo to Clemson, and a big difference between a year of FCS football and leading Clemson to a national championship.

But Lance has had the opportunity to work out with Watson lately, calling the chance to meet the Texans' quarterback "really cool for me."

And while he wants to be known as Trey Lance, he doesn't mind comparisons like the ones he's drawing now.

"I think both of those are obviously great people to be compared to," Lance said of McNair and Watson. "Obviously, they've both done what I want to do in the National Football League, and Deshaun is still doing what I want to do. So just the type of people they were, especially Deshaun, the way he carries himself off the field, he's a mentor for me."

Like Watson, Lance is a dual-threat quarterback, but he was almost a two-way player. Bigger schools recruited him to be a safety or a linebacker, but he said that put a "chip on my shoulder," so he chose a smaller school which would let him play quarterback.

Hedberg recalled seeing Lance play in high school and deliver a hit as a safety that might have drawn an ejection, and said it was consistent with his style.

"He plays with that defensive mentality," Hedberg said.

The 6-foot-4, 227-pound Lance ran 169 times for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019. Being able to do that for long in the NFL might be more difficult than doing it against Central Arkansas, and Lance knows that.

"I think for me, I pick and choose my battles," Lance said. "Watching my college tape, all 17 games, you don't see me take too many shots or pick a battle I don't win. I think one of my strengths is that I pick and choose my battles, when to get down and when not to.

"I understand that guys are bigger, faster, stronger at the next level, so I'll continue to pick and choose my battles with that."

While it's easy to pigeonhole mobile quarterbacks, North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz said that Lance has enough potential as a passer to make him dangerous even without that aspect of his game.

"I believe that the best thing about him is above his shoulders," Entz said. "He's extremely intelligent, he's bright, and he has great composure in the pocket, and he's going to be a great leader for whichever organization drafts him."

Lance threw for 2,786 yards in 2019, with 28 touchdowns and no interceptions, and showed the ability to move the ball downfield with his arm (9.7 yards per pass attempt). But that lack of experience will naturally be a concern for a team considering investing a top-10 pick.

Hedberg admitted Lance would be better off with time to learn the NFL game (Hedberg took his lumps as a rookie with the 1977 Buccaneers), but thinks with time, a team's patience will be rewarded.

"Trey can process at the line of scrimmage as quick as anybody I've coached, and I think he's able to see protections, and he's able to see coverages very well," Hedberg said. "I think it's going to be a little bit more complex obviously at the NFL level than the college level, but I think he'll learn that game as he progresses through his time in the NFL."

While sitting behind an established starter might be the ideal situation, Lance isn't going to defer automatically.

"Whatever organization I go to, they know what they're going to get out of me," he said. "I'm going to be as ready as I possibly can, Week 1, to go. I'm a competitor first and foremost, so I'm going to compete for that spot no matter where it is.

"I feel confident that regardless of where I go, I'll be ready to go."

View AP photos from Pro Day at North Dakota State, featuring quarterback Trey Lance and others.

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