STANZI: Deja vu all over again

16 08 2011

 

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Ricky Stanzi (13) passes to a teammate during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 25-0. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Ricky Stanzi has been in this position before – and thrived.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie quarterback was taken in the fifth round out of the University of Iowa with the second highest career win total in school history (26-9), 7,377 passing yards (3rd),  56 TDs (3rd) and a reputation for being a clutch, big-game performer.

Already one of the fan-favorites, Stanzi finds himself in a familiar position; the backup quarterback the fans are looking to be the future of the franchise.

After two seasons, the Chiefs’ fans are not convinced current starting quarterback Matt Cassel is the captain that will guide their ship to a championship. However, Chiefs coaches and management seem to have a vastly different opinion.

The situation mirrors Stanzi’s previous quarterback competition as an Iowa Hawkeye in 2008.

Stanzi started the 2008 college football campaign as a red-shirt sophomore, second on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Jake Christensen. By the time the first regular season game rolled around, Stanzi had worked his way to co-starter with Christensen and the fan-favorite at quarterback, despite only throwing four career passes at the college level. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said at the time, both players would rotate and get playing time.

But it only took one week for Stanzi to set himself apart as the frontrunner for the starting job.

Stanzi entered the game in the second quarter of the first game of the season, against Maine, after Christensen threw an early interception in the end zone – much to the displeasure of the 70,000+ on hand in Iowa City. Stanzi only went 9 of 14 passing with 90 yards as the Hawkeyes dominated Maine 46-3.

He started the next game against Florida International, going 8 of 10 passing for 162 yards and three touchdowns in his first start while also splitting time with Christensen. Iowa rolled FIU 42-0 earning Stanzi his first career victory.

Iowa then played in-state rival Iowa State, and Stanzi earned his second career victory as Iowa won 17-5.

Coach Ferentz went with experience on the road as Iowa traveled to Pittsburgh. Christensen started the game and split time with Stanzi, but Iowa lost 21-20.

Stanzi’s third start followed against Northwestern. Stanzi threw for 238 yards and a touchdown as Iowa lost 22-17. But the performance, despite the loss, was the first time he played the full game without splitting time with Christensen — and would essentially be the last.

Stanzi earned his first road win against Indiana, 45-9, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Christensen came in late for mop-up duty, signaling his official demotion to second-string quarterback.

Stanzi finished the 2008 season 8-3, including a win against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, with a 4-game winning streak, and Christensen transferred to Eastern Illinois University following the season. Stanzi went on to lead the Hawkeyes for two more seasons finishing near the top in all of the Iowa passing categories. He even set the mark for 21 consecutive games with a touchdown pass (longest in school history) and is the only player in NCAA history to start three games against Joe Paterno (Penn St) and win all three games.

But if the fans want Stanzi to repeat his previous success dethroning the incumbent quarterback, they should allow him to follow the script he used while at Iowa. It is a similar script Cassel parlayed into his current position.

In 2007, Stanzi spent his entire freshmen (red-shirt) year holding the clipboard, more like sending in the hand signals at Iowa, on the sidelines. He made one appearance at the end of the game in Syracuse, attempting four passes and only completing one to a Syracuse defender, in Iowa’s 35-0 shutout of the Orange.

In 2007, Cassel was also on the sidelines holding the clipboard behind Tom Brady, only making six relief appearances (4/7, 38 yards, 1 Int). Then in 2008, he burst onto the season after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season. The Patriots went 11-5 (10-5 with Cassel as the starter) and missed the playoffs in 2008. In 2009, Cassel signed a lucrative deal to be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.

Ironically, it is that contract which may be the biggest obstacle to Stanzi taking over the starting role. Organizations may preach they want the best 53 guys on the team and the best guys will be the ones who start. But we all know finances play a role in roster spots and positioning.

The best opportunities for Stanzi to start in the NFL, is for Stanzi to follow in the steps of Kurt Warner and Cassel (ironically) and impress the fans and coaches so much while the starter is out with injuries that they can’t justify taking him out, or being traded to another team in order to be the starter (just like Matt Schaub and Kevin Kolb).

Regardless of how it happens, the best scenario for Stanzi and Chiefs’ fans, is to wait until 2012 before expecting Stanzi to start in the NFL. Anything sooner and you could end up with another Rex Grossman, Jimmy Clausen or Alex Smith. And no one wants that.

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Moeaki: Chiefs offensive MVP candidate

9 01 2011
Tony Moeaki, Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs rookie tight end Tony Moeaki makes on of the NFL 2010 season's best catches.

Sure, Jamaal Charles led the universe in yards-per-carry (6.4 avg) and finished second to Arian Foster in rushing yards (with 1,467). Yes, Dwayne Bowe led the league with receiving touchdowns (15) and finished 7th in the league in receiving yards. And then there’s Matt Cassell, who finished 8th in NFL passer rating (93.0) and a stellar 27/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hold onto that Cassell thought for a second.

But a key offensive addition to the Kansas City Chiefs may have contributed just a much to their success as Charles, Bowe and Cassell – rookie tight end Tony Moeaki.

With Moeaki, a third-round draft pick out of Iowa, getting three or more receptions in a game, the Chiefs were 8-2 (40 rec, 465 yds, 2 TDs). But when he caught less than three passes in a game, the Chiefs were only 1-5 (7 rec, 91 yds, 1 TD). Moeaki did miss the Arizona game due concussion symptoms and the Chiefs won, and Moeaki tallied a reception in every game he played during his rookie season. And during their first playoff game since 2003, Moeaki only had one reception for 22 yards in the Chiefs’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens. So technically, they would be 1-6 when Moeaki gets less than three receptions in 2010.

This was not something that escaped Chiefs’ opponents. It was apparent schemes were created to mitigate Moeaki as the key relief valve for Cassell, as well as to ensure the tight end stayed in protection to give his quarterback extra time in the pocket. Opponents knew with Moeaki out of the picture, Cassell’s comfort level would decrease, opening him up for more mistakes.

Moeaki will not supplant Charles as the Chiefs’ team MVP or even offensive MVP, but he definitely is the team’srookie offensive MVP. Of course his only real opposition for that would be gimmick specialist Dexter McCluster. Moeaki broke the team’s rookie receptions record (previously held by Tony Gonzalez) and was only a few yards (4 yards) shy of setting the Chiefs’ rookie receiving yards record.

With a full year of NFL experience under his belt, Moeaki should be positioned to have a breakout sophomore season, as well as find himself on everyone’s fantasy football draft list in 2011.

Now back to Matt Cassell … Chiefs Nation needs to keep something in perspective. Cassell is not “the chosen one” or anything like that. He had a good season in a very safe offensive scheme. It was a low-risk, low reward system. In comparison, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ Josh Freeman finished better than Cassell in passer rating (95.9) and passing yards (Cassell: 3,116 yards; Freeman: 3,451 yards). Cassell threw more touchdowns (27 Cassell, 25 Freeman), but Freeman threw fewer interceptions (6 Freeman, 7 Cassell). Unless Cassell can become a threat with his running ability, his numbers and impact are just average. He is not a threat to any opposing defense.

Mr. Pressbox Out!!

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Ricky Stanzi: Destination NFL (part 2)

20 11 2010
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi looks to throw a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Ball State, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 45-0. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Now, the optimum destination for Ricky Stanzi would be a team with a veteran quarterback on the downside of his career. This will give Stanzi a few years to learn the NFL as a backup before taking the reins of an NFL franchise. It is the formula that has worked tremendously for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Tom Brady in New England, Kurt Warner in St. Louis and even Steve Young in San Francisco. Warner and Young were not drafted by the teams mentioned, but that is not the point.

The clear number one destination for Stanzi would have to be the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning is on his way out in a few years, has set or will set just about every passing record known to man, and has a Super Bowl ring. The Colts have also not had a credible backup behind Manning and have been playing with fire for years. One bad hit to Manning and the Colts go from Super Bowl contenders to Average Joes in a flash. Stanzi would have time to grow and learn in the system, and already looks the part directing the offense on Saturdays for the Hawkeyes. The Colts would trade a little bit of Manning’s arm for a more mobile quarterback who could evade the rush and still get the ball downfield. Plus, the Colts are already poised as the professional affiliate of the Iowa Hawkeyes with four Hawkeyes currently on roster (Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, Pat Angerer and Mitch King) and even had former Iowa fan-favorite Ed Hinkle on the roster briefly a few years ago. Stanzi would also be a huge lift to the Colts’ budget once Manning gone, freeing up more money for more offensive weapons.

A close second, would have to be the Washington Redskins. The Redskins currently have Donovan McNabb, who may not be the best when it comes to grooming his replacements (just ask Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb), but a year or two as a backup under Mike Shanahan would set Stanzi up to be the successor in Washington and be Shanahan’s guy for the future. McNabb may have just signed a five-year extension in Washington, but the terms of the contract make it very easy for them to dump him early without too much heartburn. And Shanahan is a proven quarterback-friendly coach. He is behind Super Bowl quarterbacks Steve Young and John Elway, as well as other productive quarterbacks Jake Plummer (the good Denver version), Jay Cutler, and Steve Beuerlein. Stanzi has comparable arm strength to McNabb and any questions about Stanzi’s overall arm strength can be nullified with a system that Shanahan has thrived in for years; medium to short passes to receivers who can make things happen, and then short passes to the tight end and running backs. And Stanzi would be perfect for the Redskins with their third-round pick, their second pick of the draft after trading their second round pick for McNabb.

The Seattle Seahawks also provide a good situation for Stanzi. Matt Hasselbeck’s days are numbered and the Seahawks clearly overpaid for Charlie Whitehurst as his backup. Pete Carroll will also like to draft a guy he can groom for his specific offensive scheme. Stanzi will have at least two more years before being the full-time starter and Hasselbeck is prone to injury, so he could get some early familiarization work in before being given the keys to the car. Carroll also has a solid history with top quarterbacks; Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and Drew Bledsoe. The Seahawks have some young offensive talent that could form a nucleus for the next few years as Carroll works on building his version of the Seattle Seahawks after the departure of Mike Holmgren. Although I cannot possibly picture Stanzi wearing that safety-green jersey in Seattle.

Cincinnati is the last stop in the tour of optimal locations for Stanzi. The Bengals are on the fringe of this list because it is uncertain how much longer Carson Palmer can hold up under the abuse he takes in the Cincinnati. The most likely scenario here is some sort of injury-shortened career for Palmer, and the Bengals will need to come up with a solid backup plan now, not after it’s too late. And Caron’s brother, Jordan, is not the future of the Bengals. Remember, he is Caron Palmer’s brother, not Caron Palmer himself. I’m not sure the current cast of players (Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Cedric Benson) are the best guys to start your career with, but if it meant starting slowly and not forced into a bad situation as a rookie, it might be worth it for Stanzi because Benson, T.O. and Ochocinco may not be there by the time he takes over as the starter.

There are also some teams out there with immediate quarterback needs that may have no other choice but to consider going with a rookie quarterback next season. These options put Stanzi in a very bad position. Even Peyton Manning struggled as a rookie quarterback thrust into the starting role to open his rookie season. More recent examples include Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford. Both have done OK, but Stafford has struggled to stay healthy. And being a rookie starting quarterback usually means the team isn’t very good and is desperate.

With the announcement that Brett Favre is not returning for the 2011 season (and I actually may believe him this time), the Minnesota Vikings may be the front-runners in the “Immediate Need” category. Brad Childress will most likely be gone as well, which will leave a talented supporting offensive cast in the hands of new head coach and Tavaris Jackson. That is unless the new head coach wants to instill his new system with a quarterback he chooses. Stanzi will be a tempting choice with his proven leadership skills after three years as a starter for successful Iowa Hawkeyes team.

Despite what rhetoric the head coach may throw out, the Kansas City Chiefs cannot be satisfied with Matt Cassell as their top quarterback option. Charlie Weiss has been credited with turning Tom Brady into a future Hall of Famer, and would have several of the same building blocks available in Stanzi. With one of the most successful running back tandems in the NFL, a pretty good offensive line, and one of the best young tight ends (Toni Moeaki) in the league – who he spent two years throwing to in Iowa City, the Chiefs could use an infusion of skill and confidence at the quarterback position. The Chiefs found a gem in the third round when they drafted a player from Iowa (in Moeaki), and could easily find another in Stanzi this year.

Despite having the worst record in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills are not as desperate for a quarterback as some may think. They have getting some pretty solid quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick this year. He has turned Steve Johnson from a nobody to a fantasy football stud and has been more comfortable at the helm of the offense now that Terrell Owens has left. They still may look to overhaul the offense, but as tempting as it would be for him to be a starter with a big paycheck in Buffalo, I could never wish such torment on anyone. I can’t imagine a more less desirable situation to be in.

A week ago, I would have put the San Francisco 49ers a little higher on the “Immediate Need” list. But with their new-found success with former Heisman Trophy-winner Troy Smith, they may not be as desperate as they were when Alex Smith and Mike Singletary were arguing on the sidelines during the Kansas City Chiefs game (week 3). The 49ers also don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to give Nate Davis, the fan-favorite successor to the Niners quarterback throne, his shot at being the starting quarterback. The traditional 49ers West Coast offense, with short, accurate timing patters, check downs to running backs and tight ends, and a mobile quarterback shifting the pocket fit Stanzi’s skill-set perfectly. And with an All-Pro running back (Frank Gore), top-tier tight end (Vernon Davis) and one of the hottest young wide receivers in the NFL (Michael Crabtree), Stanzi could find immediate success behind a developing young offensive line. But the 49ers would first have to admit the Alex Smith experiment is over before truly making a step toward drafting Stanzi.

Though, personally, I think Indianapolis or Washington are the best overall scenarios for Stanzi in the NFL, I think Minnesota, Kansas City or San Francisco would be great opportunities for Stanzi to demonstrate his abilities early as an NFL quarterback.

I guess we will just have to wait until late April to find out for sure.

If you missed it, I detailed the teams with outside chances of drafting Stanzi on Thursday.

Part 3, breaking down the numbers, justifying Stanzi as a legitimate NFL quarterback, is coming next week. In the meantime, I’ll let K.C. Joyner or ESPN start the conversation with his comparison of Stanzi deserving Heisman consideration, which also does a lot to justify Stanzi as an NFL-caliber quarterback.

Stay frosty. Mr Pressbox Out!!

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Ricky Stanzi: Destination NFL (part 1)

18 11 2010
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes

It is clear that Ricky Stanzi will be an NFL quarterback, and the first drafted Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback since Chuck Hartleib (1989, Houston Oilers). Let’s take a look at the teams that might be the best places for Stanzi to play on Sundays in the future.

For those who disagree with his potential as an NFL quarterback, stay tuned for my feature breaking down the numbers to prove Stanzi’s potential to play in the NFL.

First, let’s just remove all of the teams who have recently drafted a quarterback with a high draft pick, have an established, young quarterback, or will likely pass on Stanzi in the draft. That removes Dallas, Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami, Tennessee, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New York Jets, New York Giants, Green Bay, Denver, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Next are the fringe candidates; the teams who most likely will not take a serious look at quarterback but may look to add a solid insurance policy at quarterback – not a future starter.

The Arizona Cardinals lead this list with their uncertainty at the quarterback position. Derek Anderson and Max Hall are definitely capable quarterbacks in the NFL, but neither has shown enough to prove they are the “quarterback of the future” for the Cardinals. Pittsburgh may look for a more dependable backup to Ben Roethlisberger, but they also have to worry about the backlash of Roethlisberger’s recent indiscretions which may dictate a premature departure from the Steelers for the man once deemed to be the Steelers’ next “quarterback for life.” Plus it’s easy to see Stanzi make the transition from the Iowa to the Steelers offense and uniform.

The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints are not looking to replace Drew Brees anytime soon, but would definitely entertain the need for a solid backup standing on the sidelines. Chicago would also be an easy fit for Stanzi. But I believe the Bears have been doing everything to avoid a quarterback controversy with Jay Cutler, just look at their backups (Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie), but having an actual NFL-level quarterback standing on the sidelines may help Cutler’s performance on the field and would alleviate the death-blow that any injury to Cutler would currently be. Jacksonville definitely fits in that group as well. David Garrard is solidly cemented as the Jaguars’ starter, but they could benefit greatly from a capable backup behind him. Plus with free-agency and salary issues a future possibility with Garrard, having Stanzi in the wings may ease the Tums
consumption when it comes time to negotiate with Garrard, who will warrant a good-sized deal that the Jaguars may not be able to match.

The Carolina Panthers are on the fringe of the fringe teams. They just drafted Jimmy Clausen in the third round, but they are in dire need of a serious quarterback. I pulled no punches this off-season with my appraisal of Jimmy Clausen, which has been almost spot on. He is overrated, lacks the “IT” factor, and is just embarrassing to watch. He was drafted on hype and Notre Dame’s reputation, not on his NFL ability. Now, if the Carolina Panthers are willing to admit their mistake, Stanzi would be major upgrade at the quarterback position, but he would be more of an immediate fix (which will be discussed in Part 2) because the Panthers currently do not have a capable quarterback to mentor the Mentor, Ohio-native, Stanzi. But I don’t see them taking a quarterback in the top three rounds of the draft in two consecutive
years.

Part 2 of the series will cover the more likely destinations for Ricky Stanzi in the NFL Draft.

Part 3 will breakdown the justification why Stanzi is a solid NFL prospect.

Mr. Pressbox Out!!

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Mr Pressbox Pre-Draft: Mock this

21 04 2010

Opting to forgo a traditional mock draft that will be as useless as most people’s NCAA tournament brackets after the top five picks tomorrow night, I decided to add a little more foresight into my pre-draft analysis instead of a simple mock draft.

So, here are a few views from the Pressbox about what to expect from the draft:

1. Trades and trade rumors will intensify Thursday during the day leading up to the draft. During the draft, the trades will slow to a minimum. Then overnight Thursday leading up to the draft on Friday will hit a fever pitch heading into the second round. Overall, most of the trade action will take place during the downtime between days, not during the active draft rounds.

2. Sam Bradford will be the No. 1 pick by the St Louis Rams.

3. Ndamukong Suh will only escape being drafted by the Detroit Lions if someone trades up to the #2 spot (not likely)

4. Gerald McCoy will wear Warren Sapp’s old number for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

5. The Washington Redskins will draft a quarterback in the first two rounds. The stupid thing to do would be draft Jimmy Clausen at #4. The smart move is to draft OL Russell Okung with their first pick and then draft a quarterback with their 2nd round pick.

6. The 1st round will be top-heavy with OL picks.

7. The 2nd round will be a quarterback clearing house. Expect Colt McCoy (if available), Tim Tebow, Tony Pike, Dan LeFevour, and others, to go once the run on quarterbacks starts.

8. The Kansas City Chiefs fans will want the Chiefs to draft S Eric Berry, but Scott Pioli will choose a safer investment for the money paid to a #5 pick either drafting OL Bryan Bulaga or Trent Williams.

9. C. J. Spiller will most likely be drafted by a team trading up to get him. (Favorites: San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle or San Diego).

10. Tim Tebow WILL be drafted by a team who trades for the pick to select him. (Favorites: Seattle, Washington, New England or Minnesota).

11. The San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers will both draft running backs in the first or second round.

12. Tim Tebow will be mentioned at least once during every selection discussion of the first round on both the NFL Network and ESPN coverage.

13. One big name player will be traded during the actual selecting of the first round (involving either Washington or New England).

Follow Mr Pressbox on Twitter for pick by pick analysis during the first and second rounds, and comments all weekend.

With the first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft ….

Mr Pressbox Out!!

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Does Clausen draft day no-show foreshadow his draft stock?

17 04 2010

Not long after Jon Gruden compared Jimmy Clausen to Ryan Leaf (voted one of the biggest draft busts in history), Clausen made the best decision he has made in the last 3 years, declining the NFL’s invitation to attend the first round Draft festivities Thursday in New York.

This more than likely means Clausen sees the writing on the wall. He sees his stock value drop, while Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy gain ground on the draft boards. Clausen was a lock at #4 to the Washington Redskins prior to the Donovan McNabb trade. But since then, he has been slipping down the boards to #7 Cleveland, #9 Buffalo, #10 Jacksonville and even #13 San Francisco and #14 Seattle.

Clausen may have even got a phone call from other first-round free-faller from Notre Dame, Brady Quinn, who may have advised him the best place to be is at home watching on TV, not in New York with the world watching him suffer more embarrassment every time his name is not read by Roger Goodell.

He has already been compared to Ryan Leaf, and has a better shot at being mentioned in the same conversation with Nortre Dame quarterbacks Rick Mirer (former Irish QB who was #5 on the Biggest NFL Draft Busts list) and Brady Quinn than being compared with Joe Theisman and Joe Montana. The higher Clausen goes, the better chance he has of making the Biggest Draft Busts List in a few years.

Mr Pressbox Out!!

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Tim Tebow declines NFL Draft appearance, raises stock

14 04 2010

By declining the NFL’s invitation to be in attendance for the first round of the draft April 22, Tim Tebow demonstrated yet again he knows how to make a tough decision.

Sure he could have let the NFL use and abuse him like a circus elephant to try to increase ratings and sell advertisements for the made-for-prime-time Thursday night NFL Draft extravaganza. But he made the right call, which will likely end up as another touchdown in Tebow’s NFL career.

Anyone who has read my work knows I absolutely believe Tim Tebow is not worthy of a first-round draft pick. But they also know I believe Tebow is one of the top 5 quarterbacks in this year’s draft class .

Over-hyped quarterback prospect Jimmy Clausen has yet to make an official decision regarding his invitation. If he is smart, he will save himself the embarrassing fate of fellow Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn by watching his draft stock plummet from home.

As things stand now, after the recent trades and free agent signings, I believe Tebow will be drafted early in the second round, probably by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or a team that trades up to snag him before pick #40 (i.e. New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks).

My mock draft hits the streets Saturday. Stay tuned.

Mr Pressbox Out!!

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