How Underdogs Like Trey Lance Historically Stack Up Against Highly-Ranked QBs

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman (USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to NFL Draft Week, ladies and gentlemen. After months of listening to the various talking heads picking and prodding at the NFL’s latest and greatest, we finally get to sit back and watch all of the drama unfold, starting on Thursday night. The marquee storyline in this year’s draft is the potential for five quarterbacks to be selected in the top 10, so I wanted to take a look at hometown hero Trey Lance and the historical ramifications of him being in the same draft class as two of the most highly sought-after quarterback recruits of the Rivals era — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

What stands out about this particular draft class is that, per Rivals’ rankings, both the No. 1-ranked pro-style quarterback (Lawrence) and No. 1 dual-threat quarterback (Fields) will almost assuredly be selected in the first round. Since Rivals started ranking their quarterbacks by those two categories, we’ve yet to see the top-ranked player in each category from the same high school class get selected in the opening round.

Lawrence and Fields were two of the three quarterbacks from the 2018 high school class who received five-star rankings while also being ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall. Believe me, Rivals doesn’t just hand out five-star rankings for signal-callers. In fact, from 2006-18, only 29 quarterbacks have received the prestigious five-star designation.

While it’s widely assumed that Lawrence and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson will be taken with the first two picks of the upcoming draft, the real drama starts when Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers go on the clock with the third-overall pick. The expectation is that, by giving up all of those future assets to move up to No. 3, the Niners have their eyes on either Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones, or Lance to be the next face of their franchise. While Jones was a highly ranked four-star from Rivals, Lance was quite the opposite. As a relatively unknown quarterback who was passed up by all the major Power Five schools, including his hometown University of Minnesota, Lance received a two-star designation from Rivals.

For historical context, I took a look back at all the quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2010. In total, 30 quarterbacks have had the opportunity to walk across that Thursday-night stage and shake commissioner Goodell’s hand for the primetime audience. Of those 30 quarterbacks, six were given a five-star ranking from Rivals coming out of high school. Those quarterbacks were:

Since 2010, 20 of the 30 first-round quarterbacks were given either a four-star or three-star ranking from Rivals, like Jones and Wilson coming out of high school.

Two quarterbacks, Josh Allen and Jordan Love, shared Lance’s two-star label from Rivals coming out of high school, while two others, Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones, were unranked. Of those four quarterbacks, Love was the only signal-caller selected outside the top 10.

It’s important to note that Allen was the only two-star and/or unranked Rivals quarterback selected ahead of a five-star quarterback (Rosen) in the first round. Wentz, Jones, and Love’s draft classes did not include a single five-star quarterback in the first round.

If history has taught us anything over the past decade, it’s that when the NFL has a first-round grade on former five-star Rivals quarterbacks like Lawrence and Fields, they’re the priority over diamond-in-the-rough signal callers like Lance. With Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills as the only example over the past 11 years of a front office correctly picking an unheralded quarterback over a former No. 1-ranked QB coming out of high school, the exception proves the rule.

That’s not to say that we should automatically dismiss the possibility of Lance being selected over Fields, but it would clearly be outside the norm. Thursday night can’t get here soon enough, as all eyes will be on GM John Lynch, Shanahan, and the San Francisco 49ers when they’re finally on the clock with that No. 3 pick.

Considering the historical trend, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both Fields and Jones go ahead of Lance. Hypothetically, if Lance is still on the board after experiencing a minor slip into the back-end of the top 10, the Carolina Panthers are reportedly “very open” to a potential trade down if a quarterback-hungry front office decides to pull the trigger and move up.

If I were to guess, I expect that someone is going to be trading up for Lance, as long as he’s still on the board after the 49ers and Falcons pick at third and fourth overall. However, we’re no stranger to the unforeseen chaos of an NFL Draft, and Thursday night should be full of unexpected fireworks surrounding the landing spot of Marshall’s favorite son.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be doing cartwheels in my living room if Vikings GM Rick Spielman decided to move up six spots and trade with the Panthers to bring Lance home.

As of Sunday night, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the San Francisco 49ers have shifted their focus down to two quarterbacks for the third overall pick: Mac Jones and Trey Lance.

In the eyes of one of the best offensive minds on the planet, Marshall’s very own has supplanted Rivals’ No. 1 dual-threat quarterback of the 2018 high school class.

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