When General Manager George Paton spoke to the media in early March about the Broncos' quarterback plan, he vowed to take the best player available with the ninth-overall pick — no matter the position.
"We're open to any position with that first pick," Paton said on March 4. "We're going to take the best player that can help this football team. Quarterback, safety — it doesn't matter what player and what position. If it's the best player on the board, we're going to take him."
On Friday, Paton saw one of the top quarterback prospects in person, as he attended North Dakota State's Pro Day. Quarterback Trey Lance was the premier prospect at the Pro Day, which also featured highly rated offensive tackle Dillon Radunz. Nearly 10 general managers and a handful of head coaches were also in attendance, according to reports. Broncos Quarterbacks Coach Mike Shula and Director of College Scouting Brian Stark were also part of the Broncos' three-person contingent that traveled to Fargo.
Lance, who is NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah's third-ranked quarterback in this year's class, is a 6-foot-4, 226-pound player with intriguing athleticism and arm strength.
"I took it the same way I go into a game," Lance said of his mindset heading into his Pro Day. "I do everything I possibly can to prepare as best as I possibly can, so I don't really have anything to worry about at that point. It's just attitude and effort, which are the two things you can control without a doubt. I was looking forward to it. Six months has been a long time without throwing in the Fargo Dome. … [I] was just excited to go out and show what I've got."
During Friday's throwing session, Lance displayed that ability on a deep sideline pass to the left side of the field that he left in perfect position for a streaking wide receiver. Lance unleashed the pass at his own 34-yard line, and it settled into the receiver's hands at the opposing 13-yard line.
"He's going to want a couple throws back, but to me, this was all about horsepower," Jeremiah said of Lance's workout. "When you watch this workout today, you saw him power the football [and] get that first front foot down and then watch the ball explode out of his hand. You saw him from under center, you saw play-action, you saw him get on the move. But to me, it all came down to once he put his back foot in the ground, and that ball jumps. That was the throw of the day right there on that deep corner [route], working to the left side. But he was able to stretch the field with that power arm. Some touch throws down the field got away from him, particularly to the right side, but this guy is dripping with ability. I got a text from a buddy in the league, he's been doing this a long time, who said, 'This guy reminds me so much of Josh Allen.' Nitpick him all you want, but this is a guy that can make some special, special throws.'"
Lance started just 17 games at NDSU, but he did not lose a game as a starter. In 2019, he completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 180.6 quarterback rating as he led the Bison to an FCS national championship. He was named a first-team All-American and the Most Outstanding Player of the championship game win. He also became the first freshman to win FCS Offensive Player of the Year honors and hauled in several other awards, including Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and being named the top freshman in FCS. His 287 attempts in 2019 without an interception is a record at all NCAA levels. Lance also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
The Minnesota native played just one game in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced North Dakota State to move its season to the spring. In his one performance against Central Arkansas, he accounted for four total touchdowns as he went 15-of-30 for 149 yards, two touchdowns and his lone collegiate interception. He also ran the ball 15 times for 143 yards and two scores.
"I played every game I possibly could in college," Lance said. "It would have been great, anticipating winning another national championship in January and have to make the decision then, but it didn't work out that way. Everybody got cheated out of something with COVID. … So my mindset toward it is to control whatever I can control and not worry about everything else."
Lance threw 66 passes on Friday, and Jeremiah said Lance drew comparisons to Josh Allen after the workout. Jeremiah had previously compared Lance to Titans great Steve McNair. Lance's collegiate quarterbacks coach, Randy Hedberg, noted similarities between Lance and Deshaun Watson.
"I think both of those are obviously great people to be compared to," Lance said of the comparisons to 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, how he carries himself off the field, is definitely another … mentor for me."
Lance is clearly a dual-threat quarterback in the same mold as Watson, but he declined to run the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day on Friday.
The Broncos' evaluation of potential options for the ninth-overall pick will not end Friday in North Dakota. Paton is scheduled to attend several other Pro Days in the coming weeks ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
As he promised both when he took the job and again in March, Paton is leaving no stone unturned as he begins his first offseason in Denver.