Where will North Dakota State’s Trey Lance be selected among the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft? That’s one of most the compelling first-round questions on the board.
With Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence set to go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall and BYU’s Zach Wilson starting to settle in as the consensus No. 2 QB prospect, Lance has the potential to go anytime starting at No. 4 overall and sometime before No. 20 overall. It would surprise no one if Lance is the third QB taken. It also would surprise no one if he is the fifth QB taken.
Given the fluctuating draft stock of Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones, that further complicates where Lance will be picked. Lance is the classic high-upside prospect who attracts many teams but also is low on experience, which should detract a few teams.
We’ve ranked the seven NFL teams that are the best bets to land Lance, ordered by how well he fits their scheme and organization:
Trey Lance’s best fits in 2021 NFL Draft
1. San Francisco 49ers (No. 12 overall)
The 49ers say they’re sticking with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter, but that circumstance can change in a hurry, given they still have a favorable contract out. They can trade him without a June designation to get $23.6 million in cap relief while losing only $2.8 million in dead money. Should they opt to either replace Garoppolo or stash Lance to succeed Garoppolo in 2022, this would be worthy pick should Lance drop outside of the top 10.
There are some limitations with Garoppolo in Kyle Shanahan’s offense as he’s not the best pure deep ball thrower and can’t claim to have the same dynamic running element Lance can provide. Garoppolo works well within the QB-friendly system, but durability has been an issue and he has likely already hit his solid ceiling going into his age 30 season. Lance will turn 21 only on May 9. Putting Lance with Shanahan is sure to develop his upside quickly.
2. New England Patriots (No. 15 overall)
The Patriots should be taking a quarterback and the only reason they might be forced out of one in the first round is if Fields, Lance and Jones all get selected before their turn, including a team trading up ahead of them to end the run. Jones has been tied to the Patriots because of Bill Belichick’s affinity for top Alabama prospects from friend Nick Saban. In reality, Lance because of his dual-threat upside and versatile mind-set/skill set, would be the better choice.
New England hinted at wanting a different style of QB by adding Cam Newton late as a starter in 2020. Josh McDaniels would work better with a blank canvas and Lance has the work ethic and smarts to absorb the system well in a more regular offseason.
3. Carolina Panthers (No. 8 overall)
The Panthers have failed to hide the fact they would like to upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater. At the same, time also should be somewhat comfortable using him as true bridge QB for at least part of another season if needed, given their rebuilding mode. Carolina must weigh Fields vs. Jones vs. Lance and need to be prepared for someone trading up to either No. 6 (Eagles) or No. 7 (Lions) to grab a preferred option ahead of it.
Fields or Lance makes more sense than Jones because of mobility and athleticism being an extra valuable asset in Joe Brady’s offense. Fields is the more polished passer and runner coming out of the pro-favorable scheming of Ryan Day, while Lance stands out because of his stronger arm and natural downfield accuracy. The Panthers’ system is favorable to make either passer thrive with the right development and that QB beng dedicated to taking in all the needed coaching.
4. Washington Football Team (No. 19 overall)
WFT hasn’t totally separated from Carolina with its thinking, led by the former Panthers combination of Ron Rivera and Scott Turner. With Alex Smith not returning, Washington, if it can’t be positioned to draft a QB in the first round, would be looking at settling for a different veteran bridge or letting a competition between former young Panthers Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke dictate who starts.
The question is whether Lance would fall a little or if Washington has the capacity and willingness to move several spots to get him. Should he be available for whenever WFT ends up picking, Lance would be a no-brainer later than expected.
5. Denver Broncos (No. 9 overall)
The Broncos are the team taking Lance in Sporting News’ latest mock draft as they have let out more lukewarm feelings about third-year QB Drew Lock. John Elway has passed the final decision-making to new GM George Paton, who should be considering pushing for a great ceiling at the position. But Lance, with physical tools that remind him of him, should have great appeal to Elway has the long-awaited more exciting QB solution.
The Broncos could use help defensively with the edge rush and secondary, but offense remains a massive question mark because of Lock. Should Lance last past the Panthers, Denver has many good reasons to take him for Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur.
6. Minnesota Vikings (No. 14 overall)
The Vikings are locked into Kirk Cousins for one more season because of last year’s extension, but they have a favorable out ahead of 2022, when they can burn $10 million in dead money for $35 million in cap relief. That’s also when Cousins will turn 34.
Lance, a Minnesota native, would love going 235 miles southeast of Fargo to play professionally in Minneapolis, or 153 miles from where he played high school football in Marshall, Minn. In this situation, the Vikings could use 2021 to work on developing Lance’s upside, hoping it becomes a Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes situation for them in Year 2. Lance’s athleticism and accuracy would make him a great fit in Klint Kubiak’s classic West Coast offense, too.
7. Chicago Bears (No. 20 overall)
The Bears have been attached to potential trades for both Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson. Before then, there was some thought they would want another former NDSU QB, Carson Wentz. The bottom line is, Chicago is cap-strapped to the point even re-signing Mitchell Trubisky is tough and is now facing the potential of being stuck with Nick Foles as the starter.
Knowing that, the Bears should hope that either Jones or Lance falls to them in the second half of the first round. But if they want to be a little aggressive, knowing Washington needs a QB, too, ahead of them, they can target one of the non-QB picking teams from Nos. 10 through 13 (Cowboys, Giants, 49ers, Chargers) for a trade up. Remember that Ryan Pace did make a big move to get Trubisky at No. 2 in 2017, even though that didn’t pan out. Those slots would be important because it also would allow Chicago to jump Minnesota and New England.
Should Fields come off the board at the end of the top 10 behind Lawrence and Wilson, then the Bears should also try to get Lance instead of Jones.