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Is Ricky Stanzi being overlooked?

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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In 2000, an accomplished Big Ten quarterback slipped to the sixth round after an underwhelming combine performance and a series of mediocre individual workouts. Nobody questioned Tom Brady’s grasp of the game, though, and when the 2000 Orange Bowl winning quarterback put on the muscle necessary to play at the next level and an opportunity arose after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury in 2001, the rest was history.

When it comes to this year’s draft class of quarterbacks, we’re hearing a lot about prospects: Cameron Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick. A guy seemingly nobody’s talking about? An accomplished Big Ten quarterback who’s had some average workouts and a mediocre combine: Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi.

Am I comparing Ricky Stanzi to one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks of all-time?

Of course not. Not yet, at least.

As far as college quarterback prospects go, there certainly are some similarities between the two players. Stanzi was a three-year starter in Iowa City and went 18-4 as a starter before a disastrous three-game losing streak ended his Hawkeyes' once-promising 2010 campaign. At 6-4, 220 pounds, he actually has great NFL size, too. On film, several of Stanzi’s college performances remind me a lot of Brady. In 2009, he went 20 of 38 for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a gutsy 30-28 win versus Michigan. A few weeks later, after an inefficient first 58 minutes of a game in East Lansing, he led the Hawkeyes to an incredible last-second road victory over Michigan State. Had he not gone down with an ankle injury early on in a November '09 loss to Northwestern, Iowa could have been in the BCS title hunt that season. In 2010, he was one of the few bright spots on an Iowa team that crashed and burned once November started.

Beyond being a respected leader and winner during his time in Iowa City, Stanzi showed steady and dramatic improvement over the course of his three years as the Hawkeyes’ starter, too. He cut down on the interceptions substantially, going from 15 in 2009 to just six in 2010. Meanwhile, he threw eight more touchdown passes, as well. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that he improved his completion percentage from 56 percent to 64 percent. He did all this in a very pro-style offense.

The more I watch Stanzi on film, the more I really like what I see. For a team like San Francisco, Tennessee or even Seattle — a squad that has immediate first-round needs in addition to quarterback and might not be able to grab Newton or Gabbert — he could be a tremendous pick up. Oh, and if it means anything, he’s currently working with Tom Martinez, Brady’s personal quarterback guru.

So why isn’t Stanzi in any of the same conversations as the aforementioned seven quarterbacks? Why is he being treated like an also-ran?

Because he has done himself no favors in his pre-draft workouts and his combine and Senior Bowl performances were forgettable. Whereas the other quarterbacks have "sky is the limit" written all over them, there’s a widely held fear that he’s already maxed out his ability as a quarterback. To be certain, no one says the words “unlimited potential” when discussing Stanzi.

FOXSports.com's Adam Caplan walked away from the combine ranking Stanzi as his 13th of 16 quarterbacks, writing, “Stanzi’s performance was disappointing from an overall standpoint because he tended to aim the ball on many of his throws. He didn’t look like a natural thrower, which is a little bit of a surprise. He had better touch on his shorter passes. But I’ll say this about him: He looks much better on tape. He also performed much better during Senior Bowl-week practices.”

Russ Lande from the Sporting News wasn't quite as complimentary as Caplan, stating the following when summing up Stanzi’s combine performance: “Stanzi stepped up and threw passes into the ground in front of his receivers. Stanzi had a poor week at the Senior Bowl and was equally unimpressive Sunday. He simply lacks athletic skills and accuracy.”

Hey, maybe the scouts are right. Maybe we’ve seen all we’ll ever see out of Ricky Stanzi, a very accomplished college quarterback with NFL size. Maybe his underwhelming perfomance in February's underwear Olympics was a solid indicator of how he'll play at the next level.

Or, maybe they’re wrong.

Maybe, just maybe, he’s the next Tom Brady.

REMEMBER WHEN: FORGOTTEN MOMENTS IN NFL DRAFT HISTORY:

On the topic of Brady, for today’s “Remember When” piece, we look back at the San Francisco 49ers’ 2000 NFL Draft. After Steve Young was knocked out in the third game of the 1999 season, CFL castaway Jeff Garcia filled in for the remainder of the ’99 campaign and went 2-8 as a starter to finish the season. Though Garcia would go on to revive the 49ers franchise rather quickly in the early 2000’s, at the time, there was no guarantee that he’d be the quarterback of the future. Having traded their first-round pick (3rd overall) to Washington and using their second-round selection on a defensive end (Virginia Tech’s John Engelberger), San Francisco was on the clock in the third round with the 65th overall pick. The Niners were going quarterback.

Michigan quarterback Tom Brady was a local Bay Area kid who’d recently worked out with the team at the Niners’ facilities in San Mateo just a few weeks earlier.

The 49ers’ pick, though, was not the Michigan senior. No, it was another player at that very same workout: Giovanni Carmazzi out of Hofstra.

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Carmazzi was out of the league by 2002, and owns the dubious distinction of being the highest quarterback selected in the 2000’s to never take an NFL regular-season snap. As for that Brady guy? He’s had a fairly decent 11-year career in New England.

Of course, now in 2011, it’s easy to mock San Francisco’s decision to take Carmazzi over Brady. But the 49ers weren’t the only NFL team to pass on Tom Brady — 30 other teams did, too. In June of 1999, The National Scouting Service, an annual report on college football’s seniors, ranked Carmazzi as the third-best college quarterback prospect in the nation. Brady? Well, he didn’t make the list.

A 2000 OurLads’ pre-draft scouting report on Carmazzi said the following:

“Intelligent. Good athlete. Has a strong arm. Average in his setup quickness. Not nifty to avoid but is a strong runner who can get yardage once he gets outside the pocket. Has an over-the-top delivery with good wrist action. Can throw tight spirals -- loses some effectiveness when throwing from non-set positions. Shows touch, but can be hesitant and late with his passes. Is inconsistent with his overall accuracy. Rough around the edges but has good tools.”

A competing scouting service’s report of Brady wasn’t nearly as glowing:

“Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Can get pushed down more easily than you'd like. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can't drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own. Is not what you're looking for in terms of physical stature, strength, arm strength and mobility, but he has the intangibles and production and showed great Griese-like improvement as a senior. Could make it in the right system but will not be for everyone.”

Jim Mora, Jr., now working as an analyst for the NFL Network, was the defensive coordinator for that 2000 49ers squad. When I spoke with him earlier this week, he explained, “Nobody even noticed Brady at that workout. There were probably 50 different players at the facility that day, and from what I remember, Gio was the top quarterback.”

Nobody noticed a three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time NFL MVP? “You’re talking about Bill Walsh, Steve Mariucci, Marty Mornhinweg — some of the great offensive minds in the game. The only guy I remember even saying anything about Brady was Greg Knapp, our quarterbacks coach,” says Mora, Jr.

“Schematically, Tom didn’t make sense for our offense. Now, 11 years later, you look back and say, ‘Hey, when you’ve got a Tom Brady, you adjust the offense to him, not the other way around!’, but at the time — no one was thinking like that. Brady just wasn’t a fit for our offense at the time. I don't even remember him being a consideration.”

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But Carmazzi was? “Say what you want about Gio, but he had a very unfortunate shoulder injury that sidelined him and ultimately ended his NFL career. I’ll tell you this — when he first showed up to training camp that year, we were all very impressed. He was a heck of a good player and a great kid. Smart, too.”

Any regrets now?

“No, come on. I can promise you that nobody in the 49ers organization ever kicked themselves or regretted that pick. A few years later, we were back in the playoffs and had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jeff Garcia. No one ever looked back and said ‘Oh my God, we missed Tom Brady!’ If anything, we just felt bad about Gio’s injury and the way that all unfolded.”

So, there you go. Make fun of the 49ers all you want, but if you do, don’t forget to include the 30 other NFL teams that passed on Brady in 2000, too. And who knows, if Gio Carmazzi doesn’t hurt his shoulder? Maybe we’re mocking the Patriots for passing on him in rounds one and two.

Hmm ... OK, maybe not.

A Guy You've Never Heard of Whom You Should Probably Get To Know:

Week 1’s Subject: Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii

Week 2’s Subject: Blaine Sumner, DT, Colorado School of Mines

Week 3’s Subject: Isa Abdul-Quddus, Safety, Fordham

Week 4’s Subject: Cecil Shorts III, Wide Receiver, Mount Union

It’s easy to see a receiver coming out of Division III Mount Union and immediately assume he’s the next Pierre Garcon. But Cecil Shorts III, who did, indeed, break several of Garcon’s receiving records at Mount Union, is a very different type of receiver than the Indianapolis Colts star.

When Shorts III got to Mount Union out of Collinwood High School in Cleveland, he showed up as an undersized, but highly decorated, high school quarterback. After looking at a crowded quarterback depth chart and being gently nudged by some coaches, Shorts made the move to wide receiver during his freshman year, a position he’d never played before.

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Four years later, he’s leaving Mount Union with 63 receiving touchdowns, the second most in Division III history. His 4,705 receiving yards are good for third all-time in Division III history, as well.

At 5’11, 200 pounds, though, Shorts III’s game is much different than his Mount Union predecessor, Garcon. Whereas the latter is a physical presence at the line of scrimmage with great breakaway speed, Shorts III is more of a slants and quick-cuts guy who’ll be a threat underneath. He’s coming off a nagging ankle injury that hampered him a bit in 2010 and his 40-time (4.5) didn’t wow anyone at the combine, but he’s a track star at Mount Union, too. His speed is deceptive, as he’s one of those quick burst, change of direction types. The Browns were the only team to show up to Shorts’ pro day on March 26, but he’s by no means some obscure diamond in the rough. Scouts know about him and he’ll be a coveted late-round pick-up.

Again, it’s easy to bring up Garcon’s name when you see Shorts III’s school. But the NFL player who Shorts’ game most reminds me of isn’t an Indianapolis Colts', it’s New England Patriots' Wes Welker.

Schrager Draft Projection: Fifth Round

“On the Clock” Trivia Question of the Week:

Two different running backs were selected before 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George in the 1996 NFL Draft. Those two players combined for zero career Pro Bowl appearances and were each out of the league by 2001. Can you name them?

Answer below.

Reader e-mail of the week:

Peter,

Why are you so darn high on Cam Newton? You realize he’s no different than JaMarcus “Colossal Bust” Russell, right? They’re the same exact player and the same exact kid. Yet, idiots like you don’t seem to want to realize this. Ask any Raiders fan about how taking JaMarcus Russell worked out for them. The guy’s not even in the league anymore. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? As Keyshawn says, “C’mon, man.” They’re the same exact player! When you realize that, you won’t be shocked when he slips to the end of the first round.

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George C., Naperville, Illinois

George,

That’s not fair. Newton and Russell are not the same players and they aren’t the same person. I’ve actually heard that sentiment several times over the past few months and I just don’t agree. Aside from being tall, African-American, and out of the SEC — I actually don’t see all that many similarities between Newton and Russell. You’re not the only one making the comparison, tough, George. I’ve heard it casually made on sports radio shows across the country, have read it on various sites over the past few weeks, and have gotten emails from several readers saying the same exact thing. Personally, I think the Newton-Russell comparisons are just lazy.

Whereas JaMarcus Russell was a pocket quarterback from a pro-style college offense with very little mobility out of the pocket, Newton is a mobile quarterback coming from Gus Malzahn’s exotic spread offense. Russell showed up to the 2007 combine an overweight, doughy giant. Newton came to the 2011 combine looking like a Greek god. Newton has thrown two different teams no one expected anything from — Blinn College (Texas) and Auburn — and led them to conference and national titles. Though Russell had a dazzling record as a starter (21-4) at LSU, his Tigers never won an SEC title with him under center. Watching Russell’s college game film, you see a giant young man with a cannon arm sitting in the pocket throwing lasers to a host of NFL-ready receivers. Newton’s game film reveals a far different player and quite frankly, a much difference presence as a leader.

Are there “questions” surrounding Newton? I suppose. The Florida laptop stuff, the Cecil Newton money grab (if you ask me, $180,000 was a bargain for the money Newton brought to his eventual college program), and whether he’ll be able to adapt to an NFL-style offense are all worthy of further inspection. But let’s not compare him to a guy who essentially ate himself out of the league after receiving $32 million guaranteed. That’s not fair.

Is Newton committed to this game? I think so. I have no reason to think otherwise. That “icon and entertainer” quote was a mistake and he knows it. If the Panthers’ brass can sleep at night convinced Newton will be the first one in the facility and the last to leave, he’s the pick.

As for Russell, I still can’t say his failures in the NFL were completely his fault. Had he been drafted by another team and put in another situation, perhaps we’re talking about him as a perennial NFL Pro Bowler today.
Newton and Russell aren’t “exactly the same” player, George. And assuming they are, in my opinion, is just careless.

“On the Clock” Trivia Answer of the Week:

1989 NFL Draft:
No. 6 overall - St. Louis Rams: Lawrence Phillips, Nebraska
No. 8 overall - Carolina Panthers: Tim Biakabutuka, Michigan
 

Tagged: Colts, Raiders, Patriots, Tom Brady, JaMarcus Russell, Pierre Garcon

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