A Real Gamble for the Bears

The Bears and other teams need the April 19 pro day from Trey Lance because the overall body of work against sketchy competition is far too little to go on if you're thinking of trading up.
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The final pro day belongs Monday to quarterback Trey Lance and it might seem like overkill considering all the pro days already held.

Lance needs it, and the Bears need it to better know what's available to them.

The North Dakota State quarterback is not a known commodity, like Ohio State's Justin Fields, or even Alabama's Mac Jones. And Jones started fewer games than Lance. So, this extra intrusion on the time of personnel people does not go unwelcomed.

Lance already had his first pro day in front of 30 teams, on a day when the Bears also held a fateful meeting between general manager Ryan Pace and Seattle general manager John Schneider regarding Russell Wilson trade proposal.

It's worth another close look at the Bears because they apparently are considering the possibility some of these quarterbacks slip, and they might have the chance to draft one or even more in a trade up to take him.

First came a report from NFL Draft Network's Tony Pauline that Dallas has considered the possibility of trading down from No. 10 and one possible partner would be the Bears. Then, longtime NFL reporter John Clayton linked the Bears to interest in trading up to Denver's spot at No. 9.

Reports like these are numerous at this time of year because all teams talk to all other teams. The Bears could be talking to Denver simply to get a gauge on whether the Broncos actually are looking at drafting a quarterback. They've continued insisting Drew Locke will be their starter this year.

None of this means the Bears are planning a trade up. They simply are doing what all teams do and they're preparing for all eventualities. They have been crucified in the media for Pace not meeting with Deshaun Watson prior to the 2017 draft, so dotting all the "I's" and crossing all the "T's" is necessary.

They are preparing for a possible scenario when one could begin falling.

Moving up to draft Fields or even Jones might not raise many eyebrows, although taking any first-round quarterback might set off a celebration in Chicago among fans.

Jones was the top-graded quarterback in the nation according to Pro Football Focus, and the leader of a national champion team for a legendary coach. Fields is easily the most dynamic quarterback in the draft with a proven record against top competition and a dual-purpose style.

However, Lance is the unknown element. No matter what scouts or coaches say, the risk involved in moving up to draft him is tremendous.

He exhibited great quarterback skills operating against air at an earlier pro day. It's easy to throw with no defenders facing you.

There's not a lot to go on with Lance beyond great speed and productivity as a runner, and limited passing success against slower, less skilled defensive backs than Jones and Fields faced.

Fields ran for 181 yards on 30 carries in the FCS title game for 2019 before COVID-19 prematurely ended his 2020 season. He completed 6 of 10 for 72 yards in the 28-20 win over Ben DiNucci and James Madison for the title.

A quarterback running 30 times in the NFL invites disaster. Ask Robert Griffin III. He never ran it more than 13 times and his legacy is reconstructive knee surgery, another knee injury, three concussions, a dislocated ankle and a fractured shoulder bone.

There is only one Lamar Jackson, who is truly a running back/quarterback hybrid and once carried 26 times. Michael Vick wasn't even the runner Jackson is, although he had the speed — he lacked Jackson's total elusiveness and ranks third all time among  NFL players for fumble percentage.

So, Lance is going to need to show more of what he can do in the air, and this pro day helps.

While he had some nice numbers at North Dakota State against the weaker pass defenses, Lance struggled against stronger FCS defensive comeptition. 

In his final five games while facing four FCS playoff teams and a strong Central Arkansas team in Week 1 of 2020, Lance was 56 of 98 for 793 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He had one outstanding game among those five, against Montana State in the national semifinals when he was 15 of 21 for three TDs and 223 yards. In the other four games against tougher defenses, Lance threw two total TD passes, an interception and had 570 yards, or 142 yards per game.

Sure, there have been plenty of FCS or Division I-AA quarterbacks who succeeded to a good extent. Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve McNair, Rich Gannon, Phil Simms, Doug Williams — it's a long list of FCS success. They were all passers first and foremost.

What Lance has to prove is he is a passer, too, and not a Tim Tebow type of player.

His 17 starts against a lower class of competition is a flimsy foundation for a pro team's future, especially a team with a Bears general manager or coach who may have a lot on the line this season.

So someone has to prove something on Monday.

It's all a good reason for the Bears to make sure they know as much as possible about Davis Mills, Kyle Trask or Kellen Mond as quarterback options.

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