Cy-Hawk: In era of big quarterbacks, Iowa's Nate Stanley, Iowa State's Jacob Park stand tall

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Gil Brandt has been evaluating quarterbacks for a long time.

It’s an inexact science, but he has one guideline:

“The taller they are, the better I like them,” said Brandt, who was the architect of Dallas Cowboys teams from 1960-88 and is now an analyst for “When we set up a criterion many, many years ago for the computer, the taller you were at the quarterback spot, up to 6-foot-6, the more plus points you got.

“I don’t think we ever drafted a guy that was under 6-2.”

Iowa sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley launches a touchdown throw to receiver Nick Easley against Wyoming at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

Brandt’s going to love what he sees Saturday, when Iowa (1-0) visits Iowa State (1-0) for in-state bragging rights for another year.

The Big Game will feature a pair of big quarterbacks, both starting for the first time in this rivalry, which kicks off at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast by ESPN2.

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Iowa sophomore Nate Stanley is 6-5, 237 pounds, the third-biggest quarterback to ever start for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa state counters with Jacob Park, a nimbler junior who goes 6-4, 210, the second-tallest starting quarterback in the Big 12 Conference this season.

The trend toward bigger quarterbacks — statuesque athletes who “look the part” — is not new, but it does seem to be accelerating, experts say. Park and Stanley are perfect examples.

“Usually what happens is the 5-10 or 5-11 guy is better at high school,” Brandt said. “When it comes to playing at the next level, the big guy gets a lot better. College weight programs, they make them stronger, they make them quicker.”

Park, Stanley stand above peers

The average Big Ten Conference starting quarterback in last week’s season openers stood 6-3 and weighed 222 pounds. In the Big 12, where spread offenses are more in vogue, that figure was a still-formidable 6-2, 213. That puts Park and Stanley above the norm.

And that “average” would have been considered monstrous in the 1980s, when Chuck Long starred under center at Iowa. Long is 6-4 and played at 215 pounds, a very big quarterback for his era.

“These guys are bigger, stronger. They’re up to 230-235 pounds and all muscle,” Long marveled. “If we got up to 220, we had a gut on us.”

Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park (10) fades back to pass against UNI during the second half Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. ISU defeated UNI 42-24.

As evidence of how big quarterbacks are growing these days, consider what happened this offseason when the Hawkeyes and Cyclones were both looking to move one to another position.

Iowa backup quarterback Drew Cook (6-5, 235) landed at tight end. Iowa State made headlines by shifting former starting quarterback Joel Lanning (6-2, 230) to middle linebacker for his senior year.

Quarterbacks used to be more apt to find new homes at wide receiver or safety. Times certainly have changed.

Does bigger necessarily mean better?

“Being logical about it, the more weight you have — assuming it’s more muscle weight than fat — the stronger you’re going to be to be able to take those hits and be able to run around and run over some people,” said Long, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “The lighter you are, the harder the hit hurts.

“I think for Stanley particularly, in Iowa’s offense, they don’t get rid of the ball fast. So you’re going to take some hits under their system. So it’s better to have a bigger quarterback.”

Stanley arrived in Iowa City from his Wisconsin home last summer and immediately got that message. He said Hawkeyes strength coach Chris Doyle assigned him an ideal weight, and it was 25 pounds heavier than the 212 he reported at.

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“I think it helps to be a little more durable,” Stanley said of his new physique. “Also, being able to see over the line of scrimmage is easier.”

Stanley threw three touchdown passes and was sacked twice Saturday in his first career start, a 24-3 home win over Wyoming. He rarely looked to run, with a long gain of four yards. He’s happy to operate in the pocket in Iowa’s pro-style offense. And he intends to keep his weight at that 237-pound level Doyle established for him.

“There definitely is a point where you can get too big,” Stanley said. “I don’t want to get too bulky so I can’t move as well.”

'First big test' for Park

Sage Rosenfels started and won two Cy-Hawk games as quarterback at Iowa State before enjoying an 11-year NFL career. He understands the fascination with large quarterbacks but says good ones “come in all shapes and sizes.”

Rosenfels played at a sturdy 6-4, 225 pounds, but said he felt more comfortable in offenses that allowed him to make plays off of bootleg rollouts, going back to his days at Maquoketa High School.

“Usually (big quarterbacks) have a stronger arm, a longer whip and more strength to get the ball through the wind,” Rosenfels said. “Usually, you can’t move as well. Football is a sport where it’s best to be lower to the ground, more agile.”

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Rosenfels pointed to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (5-11, 215) and 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie (5-10, 180) as examples.

Park has the big arm and the shiftiness with his feet, said Rosenfels, who was the TV analyst Saturday for the Cyclones’ 42-24 win over Northern Iowa.

Park emerged last year to take the starting job from Lanning. He completed 27-of-35 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. His lone carry picked up three yards.

“He can throw without having to step into it,” Rosenfels said of Park. “He can throw in small spaces.

“I think this (game against Iowa) is his first real big test. Last year, everyone was trying to figure things out (in Matt Campbell’s first year as coach). Now, this is his football team. He has a big responsibility out there. I think there’s just a different level of maturity that goes into Year 2.”

Stanley 'more athletic than you would think'

The good news for Cyclone fans is Park has some big shoulders to help carry that load. Despite the success of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Wilson and Drew Brees (6-0, 210) of the New Orleans Saints, it’s still stature that most attracts NFL attention, said Josh Liskiewitz of Pro Football Focus.

“When you consider how big offensive linemen are, it’s a huge advantage to not only see over them, but to better dissect what the defense is doing. Drew Brees is often on his tippy toes and he’s trying to find lanes. (Shorter quarterbacks) have to work those lanes instead of just working over the top, so I think their vision is restricted in a sense,” said Liskiewitz, who focuses his scouting on Big Ten players.

“As long as you’re above 6-2, it’s generally OK. They like it if you’re 6-5 or 6-6. As soon as you start getting taller than 6-6, you have issues with your stride being too long, your mechanics being too deliberate, too slow.”

Liskiewitz called Stanley’s size “very prototypical” for what the NFL is seeking in quarterbacks these days. But, echoing Rosenfels, he said that needs to be paired with mobility and accurate passing.

That’s where athletes like Brees have been so brilliant about making up for a lack of height.

“You have to be able to adjust within the pocket. I’m not just talking about scrambling; you have to be able to slide,” Liskiewitz said.

Playing in a pro-style offense will score points for Stanley with NFL scouts as well, Liskiewitz said. His two Hawkeye predecessors, Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, are both in the league partially for that reason.

Not that Stanley needs to be thinking NFL in his first year as a starter.

“For now, it will be his ability to work off play-action. Is he finding open weapons? Is he making the easy throws?” Liskiewitz said. “I don’t think he’s going to be asked to do much this year, with those two stud running backs (Akrum Wadley and James Butler).

“But down the line, those Iowa guys are going to be really well-schooled at playing under center, making the drops, and it’s going to help them at the next level.”

Stanley’s size won’t hurt either. Brandt was impressed after one viewing.

“He looked a lot more athletic than you would expect a 6-foot-5, 235-pound guy to look,” Brandt said. “If I’m Iowa, I’m excited about him.”