In Week 17, the Carolina Panthers played the New Orleans Saints in a meaningless game, which ended in a 33-7 blowout. However, there was one thing that went almost unnoticed by everyone, and that was the Panthers activating Tommy Stevens.
Almost ironically, Stevens was used as a Taysom Hill-type quarterback against the Saints. He had four rushes for 24 yards. Nothing flashy, but he showed that he had the ability to run a Wildcat-esque offense, one that teams around the league are now looking for.
You may remember that there was a tampering scandal involving the Panthers and the Saints with Stevens. The Panthers supposedly had a deal to sign Stevens as a UDFA while the draft was still going on. Funny enough, the Saints actually traded back into the seventh round to select Stevens to take him away from the Panthers. So if Sean Payton saw something in Stevens, surely it would be worth it for the Vikings to look into him.
Stevens is currently a free agent. He was just released by the Panthers because they are deep at quarterback. He is one of the few players that has experience running a Hill-type offense in the modern NFL. Unfortunately, very few of them are out there, and it seems like everyone wants one now.
Reports indicate that Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars have signed Tim Tebow to fill that type of role. John Franklin III was actually supposed to fill that role for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season until he got injured. You may remember Franklin from his time on Last Chance U. He actually logged two snaps at quarterback in the last regular-season game of 2019 against the Atlanta Falcons, totaling one rush for fourteen yards.
Sure, the Vikings tried something like this with former quarterback Joe Webb years ago, but they could never successfully capitalize on Webb’s ability because they couldn’t find a role for him. Some could argue that Webb was actually one of the first iterations of this type of quarterback. Eventually, they moved him to wideout and used him as a special teams player — a fraction of what he could have been.
Having these types of players drastically improves offensive performance. We all know that the Saints run this type of offense the best, and when Hill is in the game, the defense has to react completely differently than they would to a traditional quarterback like Drew Brees. It opens up a completely different playbook.
The dynamic that Kirk Cousins and Stevens could have would be very similar to Brees and Hill. Both Cousins and Brees are quarterbacks who aren’t super dynamic but are accurate passers. While Hill’s style of play is much more dynamic than Stevens’ more “run you over” approach, it still is enough to throw defenses off-kilter.
Adding Stevens to the quarterback room would also be great due to the lack of experience on Minnesota’s depth chart. No quarterback other than Cousins has even taken a snap in an NFL game, and don’t expect Nate Stanley or Jake Browning to do so any time soon. Though third-round pick Kellen Mond will likely land the backup role, they could still add Stevens as a third quarterback because of his experience.
Adding in this type of quarterback forces defenses to essentially have to prepare for two different offenses. First, you have your standard NFL offense, then the gadget quarterback offense. Taking time away from teams to prepare for packages and a quarterback you don’t even have to use is a huge advantage. The more time they use to prepare for Stevens, the less time they have to stop Cousins throwing to Justin Jefferson or Adam Thielen.
Adding Stevens makes a lot of sense for the running game as well. Minnesota was fifth in the league last year in rushing average, with 142.7 yards per game. However, when the Saints used Hill, they averaged 4.3 rushing yards per play, which was 0.2 higher than their season-per-game average. That may seem meaningless, but adding that extra threat will make more opportunities for other playmakers and could be the difference between a first down and giving the team the ball on the wrong side of the field.
Adding Stevens would also give Dalvin Cook some much-needed breaks and even open up running lanes for him. Cook has had 659 touches in just 14 games in the last two seasons, an unsustainable amount of carries. Given his injury history and that he just signed an extension, it seems more important than ever to preserve Cook for as long as possible.
Adding Stevens to this offense could extend Cook’s career. Stevens could take carries from him and even open up running lanes. Most teams don’t view Cousins as a rushing threat, meaning they can zone in on Cook in clear running situations. Adding in Stevens could fix this problem, creating holes for Cook.
Adding Stevens could lead to more creative play-calling, adding an extra layer to the otherwise vanilla Vikings offense. The possibilities are endless with Stevens at the helm. Mike Zimmer has been an old-school coach for as long as anyone can remember, but even he should see some value in having a gadget-type quarterback.
Players that have experience running the Hill offense are rarely available. Therefore, the Vikings need to capitalize on this opportunity and enhance their offense.