CARBONDALE — While SIU's NFL hopefuls prepare to take on second-ranked South Dakota State in the FCS quarterfinals Sunday, six other Missouri Valley Football Conference players begin the process of watching their futures unfold during the three-day draft Thursday night.
Quarterback Trey Lance (North Dakota State), offensive tackle Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State), tackle Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa), wide receiver Cade Johnson (South Dakota State), defensive end Elerson Smith (Northern Iowa) and safety Christian Uphoff (Illinois State) all opted out of the spring season to focus on the NFL draft. Lance, a 6-foot-4, 226-pound sophomore who became the first freshman in the history of the FCS to win the Walter Payton Award in 2019, is one of the most intriguing players in the draft and is widely expected to go in the top 10.
Lance is projected by some, including NFL.com's Charles Davis in his latest mock draft, to go third overall to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have made it pretty clear they want to draft a quarterback, and this year's pool offers several highly-rated prospects. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is expected to go first to Jacksonville, followed by BYU's Zach Wilson at No. 2. The 49ers, who went a disappointing 6-10 last fall, return incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo, but have made it clear they intend to take a quarterback with the third overall pick.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if Garoppolo would be on the roster come Sunday, the final day of the draft, at a press conference Monday.
"I can't guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday, so I can't guarantee you who will be on our roster on Sunday," Shanahan said. "So, that goes for all of us."
Lance led the Bison to the FCS national championship and an undefeated season (16-0) in his only season as their starting quarterback in 2019, helping NDSU defeat second-ranked James Madison 28-20 in the title game. NDSU's leading rusher and passer, Lance put up 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and completed 192 of 287 passes for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and was not intercepted the whole season. NDSU didn't play an FBS opponent that year, which may have been one of the reasons Lance participated in two NFL Pro Days in Fargo.
The 49ers could draft Lance, Alabama's Mac Jones or Ohio State's Justin Fields at No. 3. ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr. has Lance going to Atlanta with the sixth pick, after a trade with Miami, which would go up to 4 to take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, one of the most talented players in the draft, regardless of position. ESPN's Todd McShay has Lance going to Denver at No. 9. CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson projects him to go to the Patriots at No. 10 after they trade up with Dallas from 15, and NFL.com's Chad Reuter has the Chicago Bears throwing their first-round pick at 20, their third-round pick at 83, and a first-round pick in 2022 to Carolina to go all the way up to 8 and take him. You may remember the Bears giving San Francisco their third pick in the 2017 draft, as well as two thirds and a fourth, to go up one spot to 2 and grab Mitchell Trubiskey.
Radunz, a two-time All-American who every team got a glimpse of on film while watching Lance's tape, could go early in the second round.
Brown, Johnson, Smith, and Uphoff are projected in the later rounds. Former Bison linebacker Jabril Cox, who transferred to LSU after the 2019 season and played last fall, is projected by some to go as early as the second round.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story
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