We've written a lot about what Joe Moorhead wants to do in his offense. He wants a mobile QB who can progress through reads and make throws all over the place, the kind of guy who can scan the field and make the right decision immediately. Arm strength, accuracy, mobility, athleticism, decision making, field vision – all of these things are important for what Moorhead wants to do.
Basically, Moorhead wants a guy like Nate Sudfeld, formerly of the Indiana Hoosiers. Well, he probably wants someone like Deshaun Watson, because he's the best quarterback in America, but let's keep things in the Big Ten. Sudfeld is a big quarterback who primarily beat teams with his arm, and while he didn't always want to run it, he was certainly capable of getting a few yards with his legs. He was also mobile – he was good at moving around, extending plays, and finding targets down the field, partly because he was 6-foot-6 and could see everything as it developed.
What I'm getting at here is that Penn State has a guy similar to this (of course, not as good...yet) in Tommy Stevens. Over the next several hundred words, I am going to attempt to make the case why Stevens should be Penn State's starting quarterback in 2016.
Let's first start by giving a little background on Stevens. A native of Indiana, Stevens was originally committed to the Hoosiers, but flipped his commitment after Brandon Wimbush flipped his commitment from Penn State to Notre Dame. He came from a weird, run-heavy high school offense where he didn't throw all that frequently, but he was a good enough thrower that he was able to showcase some arm talent. Stevens is also a polished runner based on the system he played in as a high schooler, the kind of guy who is capable of reading a defense and beating them with his legs.
I would like to stress that using MaxPreps is an imperfect source, but here are Stevens' numbers as a junior and senior:
222-for-409(!), 54.5 percent completion percentage, 3,417 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; 281 carries, 1,627 yards, 17 touchdowns
Sure, the level of competition wasn't great, but Stevens showed he was comfortable with his arm and with his legs in high school. While the ability to be that kind of quarterback may not necessarily transition to college, the inherent understanding of how to do both things, at the very least, should.
But the thing is, by all accounts, his skill set has transitioned to college well. If you listened to James Franklin discuss Stevens during the 2015 season, he oftentimes seemed surprised at how easily he was transitioning to college. He knew Stevens was a good runner, sure, but it turns out he's a better passer than they expected. He's been on campus since last January when he was an early enrollee, and it sure as heck seems like he's adjusting to the college game well.
In fact, the biggest concern about Stevens (other than his arm) was that he needed to put some meat on his bones. He was 6-foot-4 and somewhere between 190 and 200 lbs. when he stepped on campus. Let's have Stevens give y'all an update from December:
6'4" - 6'5"— Tommy Stevens 4⃣ (@TMS_IV) December 8, 2015
185 - 225 lbs
Max Bench 250 - 315
Max Squat 370 - 430
Max Clean 240 - 300
Wild how 1 year @ PSU can make such a difference
So, basically, he is getting bigger and stronger, he's still good with his legs, and he's throwing the ball better than anyone thought he could when he came in. Just considering all of this, it sure seems like that he should be the guy, no?
But the thing that, at the end of the day, is the biggest knock against Stevens is his lack of experience on the field. I submit that this is not too big of a deal. Sure, Trace McSorley has played more than Stevens has, but I hardly consider 45 career passing attempts the type of huge leg up that makes or breaks a quarterback competition. For proof, recall that Franklin has essentially said that there is no frontrunner in the QB competition, which suggests to me that Stevens is making a good enough impression to make the coaches have some serious conversations (which, considering McSorley's performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl, probably says a lot about Stevens).
It also helps Stevens that Moorhead is now the team's offensive coordinator. If John Donovan was still around, I would be shocked if McSorley's experience running his system for two years didn't give him the leg up. But we're in a new era, one in which the slate is mostly clean and knowledge of an offense isn't too big of a deal (admittedly, chemistry with the other 10 guys on offense is big, and McSorley likely has a big advantage there).
Let's make things clear: Penn State has three really great options at quarterback. Ideally, the guy who gets the reins from day one is able to step in and win a bunch of football games, and whether it's McSorley, Stevens, or Jake Zembiec, I think they will. I just think the guy who will be able to do that the easiest is the guy with the best mix of size, speed, strength, and arm talent. I think the guy who will be able to do that is the one who has been better than anyone expected from the moment he stepped on campus. I think the guy who will be able to do that is the one who reminds me of guys like Nate Sudfeld, the perfect type of quarterback for the shiny new offense that Penn State wants to run.
I think the guy who will be able to do that is Tommy Stevens.