North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance was linked to the Panthers since before the 2020 season had reached its halfway point.
He’s a player many draft experts believe will be available at No. 8, perhaps giving the Panthers the ability to draft their future franchise quarterback.
When Lance’s name was first mentioned, I was initially against it. I thought the Panthers could get by this offseason without having to reach for a quarterback this year. Rather, I thought that the Panthers should draft Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 8, which would help Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
But after listening to multiple draft experts explain to me how Lance has the potential to be a game-changer, I’ve started to change my mind.
I still like Pitts, but if Lance is there at No. 8, then the Panthers should take a hard look at drafting him.
Here’s the case for and against draft him.
The case for Trey Lance
The case for Lance is simple.
The Panthers need a long-term answer at quarterback and Lance has the potential to be that. He’s 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds. He can run over defenders and he can make throws many quarterbacks cannot make.
His 2019 season for North Dakota State was amazing. He threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and completed 67% of his passes, without throwing a single interception.
I didn’t even mention what he did on the ground. That same season, he ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. The best quarterbacks in the league today can run and throw.
Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson are all able to extend plays with their legs when needed and make throws on the run.
Lance appears fit for that, too.
Jordan Reid of the Draft Network and Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports compared Lance to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who before his injury in 2020, led the NFL in pass yards.
If Lance can have a career similar to Prescott, then drafting him at No. 8 would be a success.
The case against Lance
What gives me pause is just what draft experts say.
“He hasn’t played much football,” Reid said.
The 2019 season was Lance’s only full season in college. He threw one pass in 2018 and he played in only one game in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that one game, he struggled passing.
He completed 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas. Sure, this was only one game, but it was against mid-tier FCS competition. It wasn’t against Alabama.
Lance did run for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
But that game against Central Arkansas was also only the second time Lance threw more than 23 pass attempts in a game.
He still has a lot of learning to do, and probably won’t be ready by Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
He seems to rely a lot on his legs, and based on some of his highlights, prefers to go through defenders, rather than get down and avoid contact.
Football is a violent sport. And as we’ve seen with a player like Cam Newton, who can run while taking and delivering punishment, those hits add up and take their toll.
For quarterbacks, longevity and staying healthy is arguably one of the most important traits.
I asked Reid, if he had the chance to draft Lance or Pitts, who would he take. He said while Pitts is one of the best prospects in the draft, he wouldn’t pass up on Lance. He likes Lance’s potential.
I do, too. But I still need more time to make a final decision.
With Teddy Bridgewater entering Year 2 of a three-year contract, the Panthers could wait until next year to find their quarterback of the future.
However, that opportunity may not be there next year. The Panthers may end up having an average or good year and picking later in the draft.
The Panthers won’t be a complete team until they have a great defensive line, a franchise quarterback, and a great offensive line to protect him. They have none of those right now.
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