The New England Patriots selected Cam Fleming in the fourth round (pick no. 140) of the 2014 NFL Draft. To the surprise of many, the big right tackle was the first Stanford offensive lineman taken this year (before even All-American David Yankey). As The Bootleg goes through the entire list of Cardinal players looking to make their mark on the next level, here is a take on Fleming's potential fit with his new team and a look back at No. 73's Cardinal career. By the way, Fleming just signed his deal with the Patriots: It's reportedly worth $2.5 million over four years.
If it's even possible for a six-foot-six, 318-pound behemoth to go largely unnoticed throughout three productive college football seasons, Fleming somehow did the trick during his Stanford career. It didn't take him long to anchor the right side of the Cardinal's accomplished line; he entrenched himself in a starting position by his sophomore year and remained there until declaring for the draft this past January.
The book is now closed on the 2011 Stanford offensive line that protected Andrew Luck, by the way. Fleming, Yankey, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, and Sam Schwartzstein are all done. Four of those five players were drafted.
For one reason or the other -- perhaps because he was constantly surrounded by some of the nation's premiere offensive linemen -- Fleming flew under the radar during his stay on The Farm. Even after Martin left and Yankey shifted back to left guard in 2013, more hype emanated from Stanford's left tackle position than from Fleming's spot on the right side. That's because youngster Andrus Peat had emerged there, and his recruiting pedigree grabbed the majority of fresh headlines.
Fleming quietly maintained excellent play on the right side. He gave up no sacks last fall, and the unusual quickness that he displayed to complement his gargantuan size eventually punched him a ticket to the NFL. David Shaw frequently utilized Fleming's truck-sized athleticism in the open field, asking him to bolt toward the sideline on quick screen passes to Ty Montgomery. There, the right tackle would target a defensive back nearly 150 pounds lighter than him, and he'd flash impressive agility to connect on the block in space. Early in Stanford's regular season win over Arizona State, such a block sprung Montgomery into the end zone untouched.
Then there were Fleming's fantastic efforts against Oregon in 2012 and 2013, just two of the games in which he asserted himself to deliver punishing, tone-setting efforts.
"He's just a road grader," Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren recently told Grantland.
A road grader that Stanford certainly wanted back for a fifth season, one in which he might have finally gotten the accolades he deserved.
"I thought he could become a feature lineman, a guy everyone talks about," Bloomgren said.
Instead, Fleming is headed to the NFL with the blessings of his coaches. They think he's ready, and the Patriots obviously agree. That means that four rigorous years as a student-athlete are almost over: Fleming is about to become the first NFL draftee to graduate with a Stanford degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He'll be a professional football player and a rocket scientist.
How He'll Fit in New England
This can be a happy marriage. For one, Fleming is an absolute technician on the offensive line -- he reportedly blew NFL teams away during the interview period with his impressive knowledge of scheme. That should work well with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in New England, two football figures renowned for their attention to precision.
The Patriots drafted three offensive linemen this year, so that could make for some intriguing competition amongst youngsters up front, though Fleming's size makes him project as a tackle while the other two draftees are interior linemen. New England already has two solid starting tackles (Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer), so Fleming will be initially viewed as a depth selection. Vollmer broke his ankle last season, so the Patriots need insurance behind him, especially since they didn't re-sign back-up Will Svitek.
The bottom line is that Fleming fits the mold of a Belichick-style offensive lineman, and he should have the opportunity to contribute in New England in some role.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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