Five reasons why Stanford needs to start Tanner McKee
After Stanford’s 24-7 loss to Kansas State on Saturday, the number one topic of conversation that I saw both on our message boards and also on social media was the need for Stanford to hand the keys to sophomore Tanner McKee and make him the permanent starting quarterback. While I want to be careful to not overreact to one game and be easily swayed by dominating opinions, I too think it would make sense for Stanford to name McKee their permanent starting quarterback.
I want to also make it clear that there’s more that Stanford needs to figure out beyond the quarterback situation. The offensive line didn’t do their job, the defense got off to a poor start, and the running game was inert. Stanford didn’t lose on Saturday purely because of the quarterback play.
Lastly, I trust that David Shaw had legit reasons to go the route that he did when it came to Saturday’s game. Tanner McKee is very green and Jack West is a more experienced quarterback who has a better feel for the playbook. In situations like this, it’s more than reasonable to see what both guys can do in a live game, look at the tape, and use the first game of the season as a chance to gather even more data.
When you consider how the Pac-12 North performed on Saturday as a whole, Stanford shouldn’t be feeling too bad about having their quarterback battle extend into the Kansas State game. The entire Pac-12 North looked weak with only Oregon pulling out a win (barely) over Fresno State. If Stanford can get quarterback figured out, they could be competitive in the Pac-12 North.
That all said, I do think upon seeing how Saturday’s game unfolded, Tanner McKee should be the starting quarterback for Stanford going forward. Below are five reasons why.
#1. The numbers say McKee: When evaluating quarterbacks for a starting job, one of the things you need to factor into the equation is the stats. Stats don’t tell the whole story and obviously shouldn’t be the only thing driving decisions, but they do matter and shouldn’t be ignored. When looking at the stats from Saturday, McKee is the one who came out on top. He went 15-18 for 118 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions for a 47.6 QBR (total quarterback rating) and a 156.7 passer rating. West in contrast went 8-12 for 76 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions for a 15.6 QBR and an 86.5 passer rating.
#2. McKee passes the eye test: At 6’6”, 225 pounds, McKee has better physical tools than West, who is 6’4”, 215 pounds. McKee is taller, quicker, and much more mobile. He had a couple of runs in the game that showed off his mobility. If you take stats out of it and you just go off who looks better based on feel and the good old fashioned eye test, it’s advantage McKee.
This is not a case where West looks like the better quarterback, but McKee has the better physical tools to work with. McKee looks like the better quarterback right now. That’s the point that I need to emphasize.
#3. McKee has a much higher ceiling: One of the things that Stanford needs to be thinking about is what type of team do they want to look like in October and November. Which quarterback has the chance to progress more throughout the season and once again, it’s advantage McKee. He’s got the better physical tools, he passes the eye test, and on top of that, he was rated much higher coming out of high school. In the 2018 recruiting class, Rivals rated McKee as a 4-star quarterback, 78th overall in the country, and 4th at quarterback. He was an elite talent coming out of high school.
West in contrast was a 3-star recruit, lacking the national acclaim as McKee. There’s a reason he’s never been the starter at Stanford before. He’s just not that level of player. As I said above, I trust that he has a good knowledge of the playbook and a good feel of the offense, but you’re not going to do much damage if he’s your starting quarterback.
McKee still has a lot of untapped potential and chance to grow. The only way he’s going to grow is if he starts and gets the reps that he needs. When you look at the overall package that he has and what his career trajectory could be, it’s clear that he needs to start.
#4. Offensive flow: While Stanford’s players will never admit it, it doesn’t help offensive flow to have two different quarterbacks alternating drives. Stanford’s offense would likely look a lot crisper and in synch if they were working with one quarterback as opposed to two. If Tanner McKee becomes the permanent starter, he’ll be able to start gelling much more with his offense and they’ll be able to get even more on the same page with each other.
#5. Removes a distraction: The elephant in the room all the way up until this point has been the quarterback situation. David Shaw keeps bringing it up so as to avoid us in the media asking about it, but even with him doing that, the elephant is still there. Players are getting asked about it in vague ways and they’re doing their best to give vague answers that are in support of their quarterbacks and coaches.
If McKee becomes the permanent starter, the elephant goes away and I think everyone involved will be happier for it. Of course, this shouldn’t be the driving reason behind naming a starting quarterback, but when you consider the other four points I’ve listed above, this fifth and final point becomes a nail in the coffin.
Conclusion: The bottom line for Stanford is that Tanner McKee is the best quarterback that they have right now. Both in the present and also when looking ahead to the future. He needs to become their franchise quarterback if they want to have the type of success that they are hoping to have. They might as well start that journey with him now and stop delaying what appears to be the inevitable.