Depending on how the draft's first picks fall, the Broncos could have the opportunity to choose between two of the top quarterback prospects.
While Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have largely been assumed to be the first- and second-overall picks, the order that follows is completely up in the air. If the 49ers draft Mac Jones at No. 3 and the Falcons opt not to take a quarterback, the Broncos could have their choice between Ohio State's Justin Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance — assuming the Broncos decide they want to draft a quarterback.
A decision like that could come down to fit, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said on a conference call Wednesday.
Because of his youth and limited experience, Lance's ideal situation could be learning behind a veteran quarterback before eventually taking over, Herbstreit said.
"If he could go to a [team] who has a seasoned veteran who could almost coach at this point of his career, like a Matt Ryan-type-of-guy, he would benefit so much from having a chance to come in for a year — kind of like Pat Mahomes did with Alex Smith — and just have chance," Herbstreit said. "… It's not that he's only had 17 starts. … He had one game in 2020 with COVID. That, to me, is more concerning than he only had 17 starts."
Still, Lance's 2019 season as the Bison's starting quarterback was stellar and has earned him attention even though he played just one game in 2020 before the season was postponed until 2021. As a sophomore, Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and no interceptions, and he ran 1,100 yards and 14 more scores.
"What he did in '19 stands for itself: 16-0, throws for over 2,700 yards, 28 touchdowns, doesn't throw an interception, over 1,100 yards rushing," Herbstreit said. "That's absurd in high school, let alone college. And so what he can do as a player, his physical traits and abilities speak for themselves.
"But I just think because he wasn't able to play a year ago, I think it would be ideal for him to go somewhere where he just gets a chance to kind of learn how to be a pro, learn under a guy that's not intimidated or afraid of him, learn from an offensive coordinator, head coach and quarterback that are helping him kind of move throughout the year and grow, and then hand him the reins and let him go. … It's all about fit at this position."
Fields, meanwhile, appears to be more of a pro-ready prospect. A two-year starter at Ohio State, Fields led the Buckeyes to appearances in the College Football Playoff in both 2019 and 2020.
In Herbstreit's eyes, the work Fields has done is quite applicable at the next level.
"I think the good thing about him is he can work out of the [shot]gun, he can work under center. I think there's some versatility there," Herbstreit said. "If you're a team that really has the ability to control the line of scrimmage and run the football and want to work off play action off of that, like Baker Mayfield is doing a lot in Cleveland, Justin Fields can do that. If you want to work out of a 'gun and you want to be able to use inside zone running game with him in the 'gun and occasionally he can pull it because that backside end is crashing down, he can pull that and he can get those big yards for you. The guy is much more physical than I think people realize, when it comes to him running the football."
Because of Fields' ability to extend plays out of the pocket and make defenders miss, Herbstreit said he views him as an ideal fit for how NFL offenses are evolving.
"The game in the NFL is changing," Herbstreit said. "The days of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning [and the] seven-step drop, sitting back there and making full-field reads and making great reads and being consistent — that's a tough guy to find in 2021. Justin Fields, to me, is exactly where the NFL is trending, as far as his physical skill set. There's a lot of evidence and proof and a lot of big games that he played in, in his career. So I guess my answer to that would be I love his versatility. He can throw the ball downfield, he can throw the ball intermediately — he's got the levels concepts — and he can create off-platform very comfortably. I don't think you're pigeonholed if you take him. I think what I just described covers a lot of offenses. …
"The way guys like Pat Mahomes and Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and many others [play], the way the game is evolving and changing, and you've got a guy that is physically as gifted as he is and has played in as many big games and has performed incredibly well and his teammates want to play for him. I don't know, man. That's a hard one to pass on for me, personally."
Below the Fold
Lance, however, may be unique in this draft as a tantalizing unknown of sorts. He is "the most mysterious potential star in this month's NFL draft," as Tim Keown writes in a new feature on ESPN.com. "Lance presents the kind of conundrum that no longer seemed possible: He is an underexposed quarterback," Keown writes.