With the 166th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the LA Chargers selected Easton Stick. The quarterback from North Dakota State University (NDSU) became just the fifth quarterback selected by the LA Chargers (including as the San Diego Chargers) since 2004. In this week’s Hodgkinson’s Huddle, I take a look at what it means for Stick, for the LA Chargers and for that 2004 selection.
Of course, that 2004 selection is current starting quarterback Philip Rivers. I use the word “selection” loosely. Anyone familiar with the 2004 NFL Draft will be acutely aware that Rivers wasn’t exactly the “selection” by the Chargers on that night. However, via a trade, it came to pass that Philip Rivers became a Charger.
The phrase “it came to pass” is particularly apt for Rivers.
He has led the league in various passing categories since becoming the Chargers starting quarteback in 2006. In 2008 he was the NFL passing touchdowns leader and NFL passer rating leader. In 2010, he was the NFL passing yards leader. Finally in 2013, he was the NFL completion percentage leader.
2019 will be his thirteenth consecutive season as the starting quarterback of the LA Chargers. In this time, Rivers has not only been highly productive, he’s been extremely healthy. As such, the position of backup quarterback of the LA Chargers doesn’t see a great amount of game time. It also means that the Chargers often only carry two quarterbacks on the 53 man roster. During this time, two players have consistently been the clipboard king behind Rivers. Neither Kellen Clemens or Billy Volek were drafted by the franchise.
The only drafted player to spend any significant time on the LA Chargers roster was Charlie Whitehurst. “Clipboard Jesus” was drafted with the 81st pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, the season Rivers became the starter. He made just two appearances between 2006 and 2009 before leaving the team. He returned for another short spell in 2012, making another two appearances.
Since then, two other quarterbacks have been drafted by, and subsequently left, the LA Chargers. Brad Sorensen was a seventh round selection in 2013. He was released a year later but quickly returned to spend 2014-2015 on the practice squad. In 2010, Jonathan Crompton out of Tennessee was selected with the 168th pick. He made it through training camp but was a victim of final roster cuts. The Chargers signed him to the practice squad but he was released just two days later.
Which brings me nicely to Easton Stick.
Incidentally, Stick was drafted just two places higher than Crompton’s 2010 selection. However, I genuinely believe there is a greater plan for him than simply making it through training camp. Could Easton Stick be the succession plan to Philip Rivers?
Before I delve in to what makes Easton Stick a potential long term replacement plan, let’s look at the circumstances around that possibility.
With Stick’s selection in the draft, the LA Chargers now have a packed quarterback room. As of today, they have four quarterbacks listed on their roster. Philip Rivers is the de facto starter, of course. Tyrod Taylor was one of a small group of free agent acquisitions. Cardale Jones was signed to a reserve/future contract back in January. Finally, Easton Stick was added in the draft. The last time that the LA Chargers carried four quarterbacks in to the season was in 2005. That was the last season that then starting quarterback Drew Brees played for the Chargers. He left for the New Orleans Saints after playing out a year on the franchise tag. 2005 was essentially a contract year for him.
Fast forward to 2019 and the LA Chargers have a starting quarterback in a contract year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the circumstances are identical but there are some small parallels. Currently both sides of the Philip Rivers contract talks are quiet. Reportedly, negotiations haven’t even begun on an extension. Both sides seem happy to progress in to, and through, the season as such.
However, there can be no escaping one simple fact.
Despite having one of his most productive seasons in 2018, Rivers will turn 38 during the upcoming season and even if he plays for a couple more years, a succession plan must be in place. If the selection of Easton Stick isn’t that plan, what form does it take?
The LA Chargers look set to be an early Super Bowl favourite. As such, that will rule them out of the race for a 2020 NFL Draft quarterback. They just aren’t going to be drafting high enough to snag a Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm or Justin Herbert.
The 2020 free agency market at the quarterback position doesn’t throw out too much in terms of franchise altering pieces. Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill are the names that currently head the list of potential free agents, and I emphasise “potential”. There’s no guarantee that they reach the open market and if they do, have they really proven during their time in the league that they can win? Aside from Prescott’s rookie season, you would say not.
Which leads me back to, can Easton Stick be the succession plan?
One thing is for sure about Easton Stick, he can win. As the starter at North Dakota State University (NDSU) he achieved a 49-3 winning record. Not only is it a winning record, it’s THE record for winning by a starting quarterback in FCS history. He has twice won the FCS National Championship as the starting quarterback, in 2017 and 2018. In 2015, Stick was part of NDSU’s Championship winning team as the back up to Carson Wentz.
Stick emerged from behind Wentz’s shadow in 2016. He became a team captain immediately and led the team throughout his time as the starter. Although you can’t replace the experience that Philip Rivers brings to the team, Stick will be able to provide leadership as his replacement.
He can also provide productivity. Despite starting for one year less than Wentz, Stick holds the NDSU record for passing yards, touchdowns, yards per game and total offence yards.
The total offence yards statistic is one that’s key to understanding what makes Easton Stick a unique proposition.
He is a true dual threat quarterback. That doesn’t always translate perfectly to the NFL, but Stick doesn’t just look to tuck the ball and run with it. He can take time to diagnose the play, pass when it’s there and extend with his legs when it isn’t. Like any good dual threat quarterback, he can execute designed quarterback runs as well. In addition to his NDSU passing records, Stick holds the Missouri Valley Football Championship conference records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
For many quarterbacks that come out of college, the transition to the NFL involves learning systems that they aren’t used to executing in college. Many have never taken a ball from under center. Stick already has this in his repertoire having run similar schemes at NDSU. Another skill in his repertoire is his mastery of the play action pass. With Stick at quarterback and Melvin Gordon at running back, it would be a nightmare for opposition defences trying to diagnose who to stop.
With such an impressive resume, people may wonder why Stick fell to the LA Chargers in round 5. As much as there is a feeling that if you can play, it doesn’t matter where you play, trying to make it as an NFL quarterback from outside of the FBS division of college football isn’t easy. Also, Stick lacks the ideal height that many NFL teams covet at the quarterback position.
However, his former team mate Carson Wentz has shown that FCS quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL.
Incidentally, Easton Stick is also taller than Drew Brees, the last quarterback not named Philip Rivers to start for the LA Chargers.
As always, any and all feedback on “Hodgkinson’s Huddle” is appreciated over at @ojhodgkinson on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall (AP)