Marquez Stevenson is a tough prospect to figure out.
He doesn’t show up with an elite analytic profile. He missed his first two seasons as a collegiate athlete with injury, breaking his collarbone as a true freshman and tearing his ACL before his redshirt freshman season. But when Stevenson had his first full season of production, he had 115 targets, 74 catches, 1,008 yards, and nine touchdowns. He was a first-team All-AAC receiver… at the age of 21.
And then Major Applewhite was fired. Promoted from his offensive coordinator job after Tom Herman left Houston for the Texas head coaching job, Applewhite ran the offense to which Stevenson initially committed. That offense saw Stevenson line up out wide and in the slot and regularly targeted him down the field.
The new head coach in Houston? Dana Holgorsen. Suddenly, a Kendal Briles-inspired offense that focused on choice routes downfield became a lot more diverse, and Stevenson moved full-time to the slot.
“That Briles offense was real fun. We were trying to score in six seconds, flying around, just finding grass,” Stevenson said of the different schemes in which he played. “But the Holgorsen offense really teaches you a lot of things. You gotta learn how to read coverages, you gotta block, you gotta learn how to run routes. That’s what really prepared me to go to the NFL.”
The biggest change was learning how to block. Stevenson suddenly wasn’t just running backside cornerbacks away from running plays with downfield releases every play—he was responsible for stalk blocking upfield, crack-replacing on safeties, and securing angles for the run concept. At 6-foot-0 and 180 pounds, it wasn’t necessarily his strength, but it was something he learned to take pride in because it kept him on the field.
Route-running became his strength. Stevenson already had the athleticism necessary to execute routes well—what he lacked was the pre-snap recognition. Stevenson and his quarterback—D’Eriq King to start 2019, Clayton Tune to finish it and start in 2020—had to read the secondary’s alignment and agree on one play call from a series of options given in the huddle: a route concept for man coverage, a route concept for zone coverage, an alert for off coverage, etc. If the quarterback and wide receivers weren’t on the same page, the play would be dead in the water.
Unhealthy start to his career; new system to play in. Throw in a mercurial quarterbacking situation, and it was chaos again for Stevenson in the backstretch of his career. King played the first four games of the 2019 season, Holgorsen’s first year at the helm, in which the Cougars went 1-3. With the new redshirt rules in place, King then elected to sit out for the remainder of the season to preserve his year of eligibility—and initially, it was reported that he wasn’t going to transfer out of the program. Stevenson lost his roommate and fellow 2016 class signee in King, with whom he had such a good rapport, and had to rebuild that trust with Tune.
So Stevenson never produced at the same levels of 2018 and never made it back onto the All-ACC team. Even when King transferred out following the 2019 season and Stevenson was eligible to declare for the draft, he remained in Houston.
2020 was a tough year for Stevenson and the Houston program: they went 3-5, had two games canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, and Stevenson only played in five games after sustaining an ankle injury against UCF. But Stevenson had no regrets.
“I came to Houston to get my degree and play for the Cougars, and I was excited to do that this year.”
Now that Stevenson is finally set for the NFL, teams have April 9 circled in red on their calendars, as that’ll be the day that Marquez “Speedy” Stevenson runs his 40-yard dash. Clocked in the 4.3s in high school, Stevenson is aiming for sub-4.3s with still over a month to prepare for his Houston pro day.
“That’s why they call me Speedy.”
If he runs a 4.2s 40-yard dash, they certainly will. And teams will be all the more ready to take a swing on his home-run ability come draft day.