The three-year Iowa starter had one of his best games in San Diego, leading five touchdown drives in a 49-24 rout of USC. Hawk Central
With isolation a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would seem to be a perfect opportunity for Nate Stanley to escape into his outdoors passion while back home in western Wisconsin.
But hunting and fishing are on hold for a good reason: The ever-responsible former Iowa quarterback doesn’t want to risk losing cell phone service ahead of next week’s NFL Draft. Stanley needs to be ready to answer to any team that is interested in his talents at the next level, and for the past month he’s been doing that with regularity from his parents’ home in Menomonie (population 16,540).
In a half-hour interview with the Des Moines Register, Stanley discussed the feedback he’s getting from the NFL as he waits to hear where his life goes next. He says there have been “10 to 12 teams that have consistently reached out” in recent weeks. Teams are frequently scheduling online video conferences that last 30 to 45 minutes at a time, and they’ll quiz him on how well he understands protections, coverages and everything else that is saddled to a quarterback’s shoulders.
This is an area where a three-year starter at Iowa who won 27 games and threw for 8,297 yards and 68 touchdowns particularly shines.
“Every team that I’ve talked to, my interviews have gone really well. I feel like I can explain (the Iowa offense) very well,” Stanley says, “which shows that I’m able to do a lot of different things at the line of scrimmage.”
Without naming the teams, Stanley says his primary suitors have established starting quarterbacks and are looking for a backup who can not only be groomed for future use but quickly acclimate to a system and deliver in a pinch.
That seems to be where the pundits see Stanley’s NFL future, too, although the quiet QB chuckles at how badly the pundits can whiff.
A pre-draft Athlon Sports writeup contended that Stanley “lacks elite arm strength.”
“I take personal offense to that,” says Stanley, whose fastball topped 90 mph as a baseball pitcher in high school. “… Because we’re throwing ‘post’ balls and ‘go’ balls that travel 45, 50, 55 yards down the field that are on the money.”
While questioning Stanley’s arm strength is silly, he understands that accuracy questions are valid. A crucial overthrow of T.J. Hockenson at Penn State in 2018 will forever be lamented. He never reached the 60% completion rate for a season at Iowa (topping out at 59.4% as a senior).
Stanley, though, wishes he could have in-person workouts with teams to prove his accuracy is far better than it was 3½ months ago, when he completed his Hawkeye career with a 49-24 Holiday Bowl rout of USC. Hiring New Jersey-based quarterbacks specialist Tony Racioppi (who he met at the Manning Passing Academy last summer) opened his eyes to things he was never trained to do at Iowa.
"I feel I was prepared for every single game (at Iowa), X’s and O’s wise," Stanley says. "But when it came to my fundamentals, I never really had any extended periods of time when we could actually work on throwing and my base. So that’s why all these NFL guys are going to (specialized coaches)."
Racioppi says there were three major things that he changed with Stanley’s delivery that has especially helped his accuracy on second-level throws and deep balls.
“Nate has become a more balanced, rotational passer,” Racioppi says. “Where before, he was more like a baseball pitcher loading weight on the back leg and coming over his front leg, bending at the waist and hurting his accuracy and power.”
Another thing that Stanley realized during his time with Racioppi was the need to shed extra pounds that were added under the watch of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Stanley’s Iowa playing weight was a true 243 pounds (there was no roster fudging, he says). He had slimmed down to 235 on his 6-foot-4 frame at the late-February NFL Scouting Combine, and now is consistently at 232 with the possibility of getting lighter yet without sacrificing power. Since Iowa closed its football facility in mid-March, Stanley has been running hills at his family’s home and until recently had access to the weight room at Menomonie High School, where his dad is a teacher and coach.
“I probably dropped 20 pounds of body fat and put some muscle back on,” Stanley says. “So, I feel really good with where my body’s at now.”
It's clear that Stanley has identified and addressed some of the negatives (accuracy, agility) that have him rated between the eighth and 15th draft-eligible QBs.
What does all this mean for Stanley’s future?
"I haven’t gotten a number on a specific round from anybody,” Stanley says. “But what’s been said, the interactions, it’s more than likely fourth round on."
Stanley will be an easy guy for a general manager to love. He’ll be a team-first player at the next level with a fierce competitive fire that helped him win over Iowa's locker room so quickly. He’ll be a fast learner. He’s a combination of a safe pick but one with upside, if his accuracy — his biggest knock — is truly enhanced.
He will find out his new destination soon, probably on Day 3 of the draft (April 25). After that, there will more than likely be some down time before reporting to NFL camps.
And, Stanley notes, hunting season for turkeys and pheasants is just around the corner.
“Obviously I’d like to go as high as possible (in the draft),” Stanley says, “but as long as I can continue playing football … I’ll be extremely happy.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.