Trey Lance vs other non-FBS QBs in the NFL

If you followed my writings in the last couple of weeks or months, you could realize that I am not a big fan of Trey Lance. Not because I think he can’t be good in the NFL, but because I think the hype is too big around him. People want their teams to trade up in the top5 and pick him, which would be very risky in my opinion.

I hear you, he has very high ceiling, he didn’t throw a single INT in the 2019 season, he ran over 1,000 yards, he can make any throws, etc. That is great and I really like those points, but would have he been able to have the same success in a stronger FBS conference as well? We will never know. He might be the best QB from this class, he might not. We won’t see it immediately, maybe in 3-4 years.

So I’ve decided to take a look on the non-FBS QBs, who were drafted, what did they do in the NFL so far. Originally, I wanted to compare QBs taken in the first 2 days of the draft in the last 5 years, but after I saw how few there were, I expanded my search and I collected every non-FBS QBs, who were drafted since the 2010 draft. What do you think, how many QBs were drafted and how many of them came outside the FBS level?

So, in the last 11 drafts, there were 130 QB picks and only 8 QBs were non-FBS QBs. To be exact, they all were coming from the FCS level, which is the Division 1-AA. These 8 picks are 6.2% of the whole QB selections. This is a very low amount and speaks for the big difference in the competition level. There could be a very valid question, why does this make so much sense regarding QBs, but not by other prospects? We can see every year safeties (Jeremy Chinn, Kyle Dugger) or Oline men (J.C. Tretter, Terron Armstead), etc, being drafted from lower level, but we have less than 1 QB per year. Why so? I can’t tell you exactly the reason, you should ask evaluators, scouting people. I guess things are progressing slower on lower level on the field, the schemes are not so complicated (of course there are complicated schemes on every level, but I mean the average is not so high), the opponents are not on the same level than players from the FBS, etc. Everybody could tell positive examples, but I am talking now about the average level of competition. Taking a non-FBS QB is risky and often not needed, since there are more than enough QBs from the FBS level every year, who could offer a slightly higher quality. In 2020 there were 141 former FCS players on NFL season-opening rosters and there are several others from Division II or Division III or even from NAIA level. You can find gems on every level, but you have to dig deep. There are two great opportunities for those lower level players to show themselves. One is the East-West Shrine Game and the other is the Senior Bowl week. Jim Nagy and his staff working every year hard to discover good players from lower levels and give them the opportunity to show their value for the NFL teams on the Senior Bowl.

Ok, but enough from theory, let’s see those 8 guys who were drafted in the last 11 drafts. I put Trey Lance in my spreadsheet too.

Really sorry, that is so small, but there is lot of information. We can see, that only one QB was drafted in the first round (Carson Wentz in 2016 as, #2) one in the second round (Jimmy G in 2014 at #62), every other QB was drafted on the 3rd day. Other interesting thing is, that two of the 8 drafted FCS QBs came from the North Dakota State University (NDSU), which was Trey Lance’s college as well. Only 3 of the 8 had more than three appearances (Wentz, Garoppolo, Skelton), but 2 of those 3 won Super Bowls (or at least they were in the winning team). Four QBs didn’t even have a single throw in the NFL.

As we can see, non-FBS QBs (who were drafted) had not too much success in the NFL, but Lance has a very high ceiling and he is better than most of the top FBS QBs. Or at least people say so. Let’s see, some scouting reports about the above mentioned QBs.

„There’s a lot to like about Wentz, but still so many question marks. The size and big arm stand out, and it’s not just aesthetics – his velocity is an asset at the short and intermediate range at the next level. The concern is whether or not the big arm loses accuracy beyond 20 yards to be effective. He’ll flash some touch on the deep ball, but it’s far too inconsistent at this point. Wentz would fit well into a vertical passing offense that will allow him to zip throws into the 15-25 yard range while moving the ball in chunks. His lack of timing in the passing game is a major concern, but if he can iron it out, the upside is immense. Any team drafting Wentz is banking on huge improvement in a number of areas, but given his relative lack of experience, the gamble may just be worthwhile.“ (PFF, 2016)

„Now that the quarterback position is in play with the No. 1 pick, it’s entirely valid to ask if Wentz is worth that kind of capital. Based on what I’ve seen, and given his developmental curve, I think the answer is yes—based on the proviso that if you see your franchise quarterback in the draft, you move heaven and earth to get him. I think Wentz has more of those top characteristics than Jared Goff—he’s more pro-ready, his flaws are entirely correctable and the upside laps any other quarterback in this class.“ (Sports Illustrated, 2016)

Two things jump out for me from these two scouting reports. 1. The last sentence in the PFF report says something about Wentz’s lack of experience. Although he played in 43 games compared to Lance’s 19. The other point is from the SI report, which says „the upside laps any other QB in this class.“ What does that mean? Was Wentz so good or the other QBs were so bad? Anyway, no words about generational talent or so, but at least he was pro-ready.

Garoppolo shined at Eastern Illinois as a quick-rhythm passer with exceptional accuracy, ball placement and timing. In addition, he displayed outstanding arm talent and a high football IQ while directing the Panthers’ warp-speed attack against FCS competition. He quickly got the ball out of his hands on an assortment of catch-and-throw plays designed to distribute the ball to his playmakers at short and intermediate ranges. Although the dink-and-dunk nature of Eastern Illinois’ offense led to questions about Garoppolo’s arm strength and range, the small-school standout eliminated these concerns with a pair of strong performances at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl” (Bucky Brooks, 2014)

„You cannot put Garoppolo’s statistical exploits into any proper context, because most all of his action is coming against lower-level FCS teams. You want to see a possible FCS breakthrough QB prospect dominate that lower-level—and Garoppolo did just that. He broke all the EIU records held by former QBs Sean Payton and Tony Romo. Garoppolo completed 62.3% of his passes in his career with 116 TD passes and 51 INTs. He averaged over 300+ yards a game in his last two seasons with 82 TD passes in 25 games (3.3 per game) in that span as well. Size wise he is OK, not great for a QB, but safe/fine. Garoppolo is coming in a little over 6’2” and 220+ pounds. He has a chiseled body with muscular arms. He is a decent, not great runner—he’s NFL adequate with his feet. Scouts have made mention that he has smaller hands, but no record exists of what the measurement is, so we have to wait. That could be a minor issue for our computer models as well…so we’ll have to wait and see. What makes Garoppolo great, to me, is beyond what you see in numbers. It is the incredibly quick release, accuracy, and ability to decoy defenses. Visually, you think you are watching Aaron Rodgers— current day.“ (College Football Metrics, 2014)

The one thing, I want to repeat, is the first sentence of the second report about Jimmy G, which mentiones the lower level of competition and how tricky it can be, so be careful with the evaluation and don’t forget, his success comes against – mostly – FCS opponents.

Last but not least let’s read some scouting reports about this year’s top FCS QB prospect, Trey Lance.

„The stuff he does in the pocket is so unique, a Dan Marino-type guy. Either everything comes so naturally for him or he has the best coach in college football.“

„He’s so young physically and mentally at the position. But his upside is tremendous.“

„He’s not going to be ready to play. He has to get in early, stay late and take a ton of notes just so he can learn the NFL position.“

„When all is said and done, he can be as good or better than (Trevor) Lawrence. He’s going to be a big, physical quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger.”

„He’s more of a thrower than a passer. He’s like a pitcher who’s only throwing 95 mph fastballs.“

He hasn’t played much football so he’s not where (Carson) Wentz was when he was coming out (of NDSU), but he’s talented and very smart. He needs an offense tailored to what he does best and you have to be really patient with him.” – Personnel executive for AFC team

Everything I can read, is that he shows lot of potential, but he is young and inexperienced and he will need time. On one hand it is very good, that he is mentioned as a top5 QB this year (some say he is the 3rd best behind Lawrence and Wilson) along with QBs from (mostly) top college programs, on the other hand he is not an immediate answer and he will need a year or two. If he won’t be a QB, I am sure analysts would talk about him as just a potential first rounder, but definitely not as a top10 or even top5 pick. Usually top10 guys are all on the „immediate starter“ level and Lance is not there at the moment.

I want to show you one last spreadsheet, where I put together the best years of every above mentioned QBs.

What we can see, is that 3 QBs dominated this list. I marked with red the best numbers from every category. Lance had the best completion percentage, the lowest INT number (zero) and he was the best in rushing attempts and rushing yards. His predecessor, Easton Stick had more rushing TDs and a higher yards per passing attempts number. Jimmy G had more than 550 passing attempts in his senior year, with a brutal number of TDs (53) and over 5,000 passing yards. His 53-to-9 TD/INT ration is very impressive, so in this category I can’t say Lance is the winner, because he had lower passing numbers, than Jimmy. All in all, I can say, that Lance had nice numbers, but those are not outstanding. If he would have played on East-West Shrine game or on the Senior Bowl game (I know he was not a senior, so he wasn’t able to participate on it), where he could have shown us, that all his traits are still there against higher competition as well, I would be ok with the „trade up into the top5 for him“ theory. Unfortunately without those extra proofs, I still think it would be risky.

As I always said, if he would fall out of the top10, maybe until 15, I wouldn’t have any problem to take him and let him sitting one year behind Cam Newton. But trading up for him to #4 or #5 would be very risky, which could pay out, but still he is not a day1 starter. In case coach Belichick pulls the trigger and trades up for him, I will cross my fingers for him and will hope he could be the QB everyone is expecting.

Thank you again your time to read my article. If you liked it, please help me to reach more people and share my writing or leave a comment, I would love to hear your opinion.

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