McFeely: Bison QB Stick grabbing attention of NFL scouts
The biggest piece of news regarding Easton Stick coming out of head coach Chris Klieman's press conference this week was that the North Dakota State senior quarterback will miss two weeks of spring practice because of an "elbow issue," to use the coach's verbiage.
Stick has tightness in his right (throwing) elbow, Klieman said, and will be limited in how many throws he makes between now and April 20, when spring workouts end. Stick had an MRI, which found no injury, and he has been rehabilitating the elbow.
"He's progressing well," Klieman said.
Considering Stick is The Franchise for the 2018 Bison, who have their sights set on winning a seventh Football Championship Subdivision national title in eight seasons, any health news regarding the quarterback is big news. If Stick goes down, so might NDSU's championship chances.
The other nugget Klieman dropped is that NFL scouts contacting him are "raving about what Easton Stick can do."
This may come as a surprise to those who didn't see the underappreciated Stick on any FCS All-American lists last year or saw him listed only as an honorable mention selection on the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference team, but it is true. Following in the footsteps of QB predecessors Brock Jensen and Carson Wentz, it looks like Stick will get a chance to play professionally.
Physical attributes aside—excellent athleticism, great speed, big arm—Klieman says NDSU's system is an advantage to Stick.
"One of the biggest reasons is because of what we do offensively. We're not a spread team where he's looking to the sideline being told what the next play is," Klieman said. "He's calling the plays. He's running out of the huddle. He's doing all the things a next-level quarterback is doing."
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Stick is clearly not the freakish specimen the 6-5, 240-pound Wentz was, and there is no belief Stick is going to be a high draft pick. But much of the Wentz Wagon buildup to the 2016 draft when he went No. 2 overall to Philadelphia centered on how well-prepared the Bison quarterback was to step into an NFL offense. Klieman said that's factoring into Stick's attractiveness, too.
"Carson's success, being able to manage the game," Klieman said. "Forget about the physical tools, everybody knows what those are. Being able to manage the game and handle himself. Those are the things people see in Easton now. OK, you're the quarterback at North Dakota State so you're going to know some things to be successful."
Goodness. Could this mean NDSU is the Quarterback U of FCS? Maybe so. Jensen led the Bison to three straight national titles and got a chance with the Miami Dolphins before playing for a season in the Canadian Football League. Then came Wentz and his two championships. Now it's Stick, who is 34-3 as a starter (including the 8-0 run as a redshirt freshman in 2015 when he subbed for an injured Wentz) and has one title under his belt. He's coming off his best season, completing 62.1 percent of his passes (164 of 264) for 2,466 yards and 28 touchdowns as the Bison went 14-1. He threw only eight interceptions, and three of those came in the same game—a loss at South Dakota State.
The website nfldraftscout.com has Stick as the highest-ranked FCS quarterback prospect for the 2019 draft. He's ranked 19th among all college quarterbacks, ahead of FCS players like Gage Gubrud of Eastern Washington (23rd), Devlin Hodges of Samford (28th), Taryn Christion of SDSU (41st) and Jake Kolbe of Illinois State (45th).
By comparison, the 2018 quarterback crop includes FCS prospects Kyle Lauletta of Richmond (seventh among all QBs), Jeremiah Briscoe of Sam Houston State (22nd), Bryan Schor of James Madison (27th) and Chris Streveler of South Dakota (31st).
The website says NFL teams have drafted an average of 12 quarterbacks a year the last five years, while signing an average of 28 undrafted free agents. Unless Stick's stock rises strongly his senior year, it looks like he's headed down the Jensen route of getting a free-agent chance.
ESPN writer Adam Rittenberg included Stick in a piece looking ahead to the 2019 NFL Combine. He listed the Bison as the quarterback to watch in FCS.
"You'll be hearing a lot about him entering his senior season with the Bison. Stick has passed for 5,941 yards and 60 touchdowns in his first three seasons while continuing to develop as a running threat," Rittenberg wrote. "There will be the inevitable Wentz comparisons at the 2019 combine, but perhaps because of Wentz's NFL success, Stick's path will be a little easier."
First, there is spring ball to get through and then his senior season. The Bison's goal is always a national championship, and that will not change. But Stick could reach a remarkable individual milestone. If the Bison go unbeaten and Stick wins 15 games—the Bison have 11 regular season games plus the potential of four playoff games—he would have 49 wins. He would pass Jensen as the winningest starting QB in FCS history. Jensen won 48 games, 47 as a starter, from 2010-13.
Klieman knows what he has behind center.
"Next year at this time, we're going to be talking a lot about Easton Stick," he said, referring to NFL chatter. "I mean a ton about Easton Stick."