Note: Two players tied for ninth place in the staff voting for the top 10 players, which is why the countdown begins with #9. Deal with it.
How we got here:
It’s not often that a college football program could say that one of their top ten players is also their back up quarterback. Two other programs that could potentially say so are Alabama and Clemson who have potential young stars in Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence respectively. That being said, it wouldn’t be shocking to see either quarterback be their teams starting quarterback by the halfway point of the season. Unfortunately for Tommy Stevens, that won’t be the case. In front of Stevens is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program and a Heisman candidate in Trace McSorley.
That being said, it’s the way Stevens wanted it. After all, Stevens had the opportunity to transfer this past offseason from Penn State and could’ve been one of the hottest quarterback transfers on the market with a chance to start at plenty of major programs across America. But no, Stevens decided that he wanted to spend his last two seasons in Happy Valley even if that meant being a starter for just one season. Now let’s get into how Stevens got to this point.
A former three-star recruit out of Decatur Central in Indianapolis, Stevens was the lone quarterback of the 2015 recruiting class. In 2015, Stevens was able to redshirt while sitting behind Christian Hackenberg and Trace McSorley. Once Hackenberg left following the 2015 season, Stevens battled Trace McSorley for the starting quarterback position for 2016 but ultimately ended up the second string quarterback.
Since then, McSorley has turned into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks while Stevens has turned into one of the nation’s best backups and offensive weapons despite not taking any meaningful snaps at quarterback. Over the past two seasons, Stevens has 30 passing attempts while also having 60 other snaps in which he ended up with the ball while either as a ball carrier or receiver. Last season, he finished with 27 carries for 190-yards and two touchdowns while totaling 12 receptions for 60-yards and six touchdowns.
What to Expect:
As a backup quarterback, Stevens will be ready to be called upon on a moments notice however the Penn State coaching staff hopes that situation does not arrive, especially in meaningful situations. That being said, if called upon at quarterback, Stevens is widely considered one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country and while there may be a slight drop off from Trace McSorley, Stevens could arguably step in and provide similar production as McSorley at quarterback. While the passing game may take a hit with Stevens at quarterback, there could be an uptick when running the ball as Stevens has seemed to be much more natural and confident in read-option plays.
Now, when Stevens isn’t at quarterback, he will be playing the LION position. A position that the Penn State coaching staff created solely for Stevens in order to get him on the field due to his tremendous athleticism and dynamic abilities. A true swiss army knife type player for the Lions, expect to see Stevens lineup at running back, wide receiver, and even in the tight end spot this upcoming season when not at quarterback. If McSorley stays healthy this season and Stevens stays more in the LION position, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Stevens post numbers similar to last season, taking upwards of 25 carries and totaling 10-15 receptions.
The biggest question is how will Stevens be used in some of the bigger games on the schedule in 2018. Each of the last two seasons, Stevens saw plenty of time against middle and lower tier opponents but was missing in action against higher tier opponents.
Ultimately, Penn State fans shouldn’t want to see Stevens at quarterback unless it’s in a blowout at the end of games or a few plays here and there by design. However, at the LION position, Stevens potential impact is limitless and even when he’s being used as a decoy, he will create an impact .It may not be his time at quarterback just yet and his time will come but for now, Penn State has the fortune of having one of their best players also be their second-string quarterback and like the last two years, they will find a way to get the most out of Stevens in a variety of ways that will keep fans and opposing defenses on their toes throughout the season.