2011 NFL Draft: Ricky Stanzi the First Iowa Hawkeyes QB To Be an NFL Success?
Love him or leave him, Ricky Stanzi is currently participating in the NFL combine and turning some heads.
After a three-year starting QB career at Iowa and three "upset" bowl wins under his belt, the pro-style signal-caller smoothly sailed through interviews with his signature charm, humor and humble honesty. His Iowa coaches can probably take some credit in preparing him for the camera.
The web is now all a-buzz about his draft stock potentially rising with comparisons to Tom Brady and how he might be a bargain as a second-third round pick; earlier he was thought to be a fifth-sixth rounder.
Opinions on Stanzi varied throughout the postseason from "back-up/scout guy who won’t be a starter," to "back-up guy who’ll get a shot to start in a few years" and even potential "franchise guy" if developed in the right NFL system.
That’s quite a range of opinions. Hawkeye fans’ opinions have varied as much over his college career. But as this under-the-radar draft candidate is studied further, his history revealed, NFL scouts should take note of a few facts about Ricky Stanzi.
Relentless Work Ethic
Blaine Gabbert got up on the podium and touted about his work ethic and, "that’s the way he was raised," etc.
Stanzi didn’t get the chance to toot his own horn on a podium, but could easily make the same claims, and add, "not being the QB to make mistakes and lose the Insight Bowl this year."
Kirk Ferentz has said time and again that Stanzi’s work ethic was second-to-none the past two years, which was evidenced by his stunning improvement in interceptions and pass efficiency from 2009-2010. Sure, his win record suffered and he took fewer chances, but no one can deny that he set out and did what he said he would do; improve his individual skills to be a contender for the NFL. He was the first guy in and the last to leave at the football complex, watching endless hours of game film. Not only just watching it, but soliciting help from new mentors on how to watch film, since Stanzi was not satisfied with what he knew about football his sophomore year.
An even better example of work ethic is exemplified in his history at Iowa. He was offered a scholarship very late in November, almost getting bypassed by any Big Ten team. Arriving in 2005 at Iowa, he had to compete with then-QB Marvin McNutt for the back-up position behind eventual starter Jake Christensen.
At that time, some of his assistant coaches claimed he didn’t have what it took to be a Big Ten starter. He proved them wrong.
Stanzi beat McNutt out of the back-up spot, forcing Marvin to convert to receiver. Then he went to work to compete with Christensen (a year ahead of him), bound and determined to take the starting spot before his senior year. Ferentz saw enough improvement to allow Stanzi to compete with Christensen his sophomore year, letting each start games early in the season before making the starter choice. Stanzi took the spot from his veteran teammate, and Christensen transferred for his senior year.
There are echoes of this history unfolding leading up to the draft. Some claim he doesn’t have what it takes to compete as an elite quarterback in the NFL. That sounds like a perfect challenge for Stanzi; fly under the radar and swoop in by proving himself, not by self-promoting.
Stanzi has had his share of ups-and-downs in his three-year starting career at Iowa.
He had a so-so season in 2008, which ended on a positive note, beating No. 4 Penn State at home, then winning the Outback Bowl. 2009 was a fabulous season where Iowa went undefeated until Stanzi fell to injury against Northwestern, but ended again on a positive note with a highly-publicized Orange Bowl victory. Then came a disappointing 2010 season that didn’t live up to the hype, which can’t be blamed entirely on Stanzi, since individually he improved his performance overall.
Through all of this, Ricky kept his poise, ALWAYS showing amazing calm and professionalism on the field. Whatever you think about Stanzi, he never stormed off, showed a temper, hung his head in his hands or acted like the prima-donna icon after a victory. Win or lose, good play or bad, his temperament remained the same, and he flushed it like a pro, learning from his mistakes and always looking to improve, even in victory.
Some of the draftees have huge question marks regarding their activities off the field.
Ricky Stanzi doesn’t have that problem.
No arrest record, no trouble in college, kept his nose clean and to the grindstone.
Not only that, but someone might ask why he wore so many rubber bracelets on his wrists, and they will find out about his visits to the University of Iowa Hospital to see child cancer patients, including his relationship with one in particular—the four-year-old girl, Jenna, who sent pictures of herself in Hawkeyes gear before each game—for whom he once shaved his long hair in solidarity when she had to lose hers.
The coolest thing about all of this is that Stanzi doesn’t go around advertising what he’s done for charity and community service. He humbly lets his record and relationships speak for themselves. If anyone delves into that, they will be pleasantly surprised.
Tom Brady Comparisons
From the time he came to the UI campus with his shaggy-long hair, Stanzi began what has become a genius marketing strategy, whether by accident or on purpose, that has already created some buzz at the NFL combine.
Measuring in at the same exact height (6-foot-4) and two pounds off (223 vs. 225) Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, the comparisons are beginning to get eerie.
The film from Brady’s combine performance is painful to watch, and he went in the sixth round. Yet now he’s one of the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL. Stanzi, with a similar underrated Big Ten history, made another genius move by training with Brady’s throwing coach Tom Martinez. Now the web is a-buzz about Ricky being a potential “Patriot”, a label that makes all Hawkeyes fans chuckle, knowing Stanzi’s personal patriotic “Americanzi” history.
The kid even has a “Made in the USA 1987” tattoo on his back, for heaven’s sake.
Whether or not he ever plays for the Patriots, comparisons to Tom Brady can never hurt. If nothing else, it intrigues people who don’t know Stanzi to study his background and personality more.
Full of Surprises
If Stanzi does well at the NFL combine, he will definitely increase his chances of getting into a good system where he can flourish.
Most people think he can’t run, but just for fun, watch his first-down run against Derrick Morgan in the 2009 Orange Bowl. He didn’t have much problem running that day, even coming off an ankle surgery. His running speed is deceptive because of his height and somewhat gangly frame. I’m not saying he’s going to tear it up in the dash, but he can’t do much worse than Brady, right? I’ll be curious to see how fast he really can run.
His throwing will be the other big test.
Some claim he can’t throw a deep ball, but fans have seen him do it. He isn’t a power-passer and needs to work on the speed of his release, but is his arm really that bad? I think he’s got a bit of bad press on his arm. Hopefully his work with Coach Martinez will pay off, and he performs well throwing at the combine. I don’t think it’s an obstacle that’s impossible to overcome with a little more training.
Intelligence is another area he can surprise the scouts with.
He’ll claim he wasn’t smart enough to go to business school, but don’t let his humorous humility fool you. His football IQ clearly increased from 2009 to 2010, as demonstrated by his adjustments and audibles at the line this year, even during the Senior Bowl. He understands all the positions, where players should line up and isn’t afraid to command the linemen when adjustments need to be made.
During interviews at the combine, he talked about how fun it was to talk to NFL coaches about the X’s and O’s, since coming from a pro-style offense, he knows how pro offenses work. He mentioned learning a lot from the Bengals' coaches at the Senior Bowl and claims to be very comfortable talking technically about football.
In this arena, Stanzi should shine.
Already he’s built a reputation for being a great leader, given his history and what he’s accomplished at Iowa. He came in to start as a sophomore and had no difficulty taking the leadership reigns. His three years at Iowa built his confidence, and combined with his poise, makes him look like a leader and professional under center. His former coaches love him and no doubt are singing his praises to scouts.
He’s also comfortable in interviews, having done so many of them.
At the combine, he’s careful to think through what he says, coming off as relaxed and down-to-earth (dare I say charming?), throwing in a little humor and laughing when appropriate, often at himself. He seems just plain likeable, and that will definitely help during the interview process. It will also show scouts that he can come into a new environment and fit in. Humble enough to listen, learn and heed advice, yet confident enough to lead in the huddle and step up to handle a starting position mentally.
Stanzi learned what Iowa teaches best: you are not the star, the team is. The team is nothing without everyone playing for each other, rather than out for themselves. Let your skills speak for themselves on the field, not through your mouth.
That might not make him as sexy a prospect as Cam Newton, or give him endorsement commercials prior to drafting, but he’s not interviewing for the T.O.-Ocho show. Someone will pick Stanzi up, and I predict (assuming he stays healthy) they will not be sorry.
For the first time in a long time, Iowa fans have the potential to see a Hawkeye someday become a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
Should he be successful, he will surpass the legend of Chuck Long, even if he couldn’t beat Long’s Iowa statistical records. No one can predict what the future brings or what opportunities will unfold.
He has the physical make-up, ability and mental toughness. Now it’s all up to Stanzi. Like Brady, how bad does he want it?