Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley is interviewed following the final spring practice of his college career, April 26. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
The narrative is being set for Nate Stanley.
The Iowa quarterback has earned the prevailing opinion that he’s got the physical tools (at 6-foot-4, 242 pounds with a strong arm) and the mental capacity to play, and perhaps thrive, in the NFL.
“His ability to learn quickly — he’s a highly intelligent guy — will be a huge advantage,” Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said during last week’s Hawk Central radio show on KxNO (AM 1460) in Des Moines. “During the course of an NFL career, you might play for four or five or six teams, even. Your ability to learn systems quickly and adapt really allow you to be successful, certainly.”
In other words, at minimum, Stanley has the makeup to be valuable to an NFL franchise at least as a backup. O’Keefe should know; the former Iowa offensive coordinator was with the Miami Dolphins for five seasons before returning to Iowa City as a quarterbacks coach prior to the 2017 season.
And that timing dovetails with Stanley’s emergence as a starter. O’Keefe has seen Stanley grow into the position.
“He’s very serious about improving his game,” O’Keefe said. “He has a very organized approach to how he goes about it on a daily basis. He studies all offseason, as well. He’s looking all the time, trying to find the next way to improve.”
It’s not just pro-Hawkeye people saying Stanley has a chance at the next level.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently ranked Stanley as the No. 2 senior quarterback for the 2020 draft (behind Oregon’s Justin Herbert). Longtime NFL Draft analyst Gil Brandt puts Stanley No. 3 (behind Herbert and Michigan’s Shea Patterson). And although those lists don’t include underclassmen such as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Georgia’s Jake Fromm, ESPN’s Todd McShay earmarked Stanley as a late first-round pick in his way-too-early 2020 draft.
Stanley’s best statistical attributes as a Hawkeye are his 52 touchdowns against 16 interceptions and a 17-9 record as a starter.
But for his career, he’s completed “only” 57.7% of his passes. That rate needs to be in the 60s next season.
He’s got more work to do, especially with his footwork and ability to handle pressure. Stanley spoke after Iowa’s final spring practice about needing to be able to have better anticipation, so he can complete passes even when receivers are well-covered.
It's clear that Stanley is entering the refinement phase of his college career.
O’Keefe was thrilled to see how Stanley handled the relentless pressure from Mississippi State’s pass rush in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl. He threw three touchdown passes against the nation’s No. 1 defense in Iowa’s 27-22 win.
“As great as (the pressure) was against Mississippi State, it’s going to be that way pretty much every Sunday once he’s past college football,” O’Keefe said. “So, you need to get the ball out. You need to make decisions quicker.”
Obviously, Stanley will be Iowa’s most important player in the 2019 season.
The fact that he’s getting some early NFL love is a good thing. He’s extremely motivated to improve every facet of his game, which should only help the Hawkeyes.
A few other things that O’Keefe said on our show worth mentioning …
The race for Decision 2020 is getting crowded in Iowa.
No, we’re not talking about the Democratic primary field for a presidential nomination.
The talk on our show was about the three-way battle among redshirt sophomore Peyton Mansell (the listed No. 2), redshirt freshman Spencer Petras and true freshman Alex Padilla to be Stanley's successor. We asked O’Keefe to give us a quick scouting report on each.
“He can move his feet probably better than anybody in the pocket. Has a good sense for the pass game.”
“His strength is anticipation in the throwing game, I’d say. Especially the deep ball.”
“He just walked in the door in January, right? He has a great command of the huddle, takes charge. Probably has moved along learning the system faster than anybody I can remember. It’s been quick.”
That’s worth noting. O’Keefe, 65, has been coaching quarterbacks since the 1970s. Don’t count out Padilla, who I thought was surprisingly cool in the pocket in the team’s final practice April 26.
Iowa backup quarterback Peyton Mansell discusses his preparation behind starter Nate Stanley. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
One of O’Keefe’s first bosses shared some wisdom that applies to Iowa’s offense today.
O’Keefe was once told that it takes three years to get really good at your job.
Why three? The first year is an adjustment. The second is about figuring things out.
“After that second year going into your third year, you’ll find ways to improve the process to make it even better,” O’Keefe said. “And that’s when you’ll start to get good at what you do."
That philosophy applies to Stanley, naturally. But it also applies to Brian Ferentz, who is entering his third year as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.
Ferentz, 36, was the guest on our previous week’s show, and he shared that he is more confident in his own skin as a play-caller.
"He’s highly organized and very methodical as far as organizing the staff, the responsibilities, our methodology concerning gameplan," O'Keefe said. "Same thing applies for his play-calling. I wish at his age I was as good as he is right now.
“He’s stuck with it and continues to simplify things all the time, which is really the road to genius."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.