Dominant offensive line play has been a vital cog in Stanford's rise to college football prominence. In Shannon Turley's quest to develop functional strength throughout the roster, the Cardinal have built versatile bruisers up front. No hog has fit the flexible Stanford mold better than David Yankey, and the intellectual brutality that no. 54 brought to the trenches convinced the Minnesota Vikings to select him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
The six-foot-five, 313-pounder assumed his role as one of the Cardinal's pull blocking bulldozers at left guard in 2011 (four of five starting members of that offensive line ended up drafted, by the way). He struggled out of gate -- Andrew Luck was flattened several times early in the season at Duke -- but blossomed into a high-level performer by the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the season. When standout left tackle Jonathan Martin graduated after that season, Stanford needed help protecting the blind side of Luck's successor. Yankey shifted over to left tackle for the 2012 season while the Cardinal groomed freshman Andrus Peat to take over there a year later. Yankey did a job worthy of All-America honors at tackle, one that included moving back to guard on select snaps to ram the defense on power once again.
"Yank the Tank" was a moniker that emerged over the past three years, and it was a fitting one. Stanford's offensive line achieved new levels of dominance while Yankey was one of its pillars. David DeCastro receives most of the praise for the famous 2011 obliteration of Washington in which the Cardinal rushed for a school record 465 yards, but it must be noted that Yankey was part of that line, too. He became its centerpiece in 2012, a season which saw him clear the way in several dramatic situations. Many fans remember Stepfan Taylor's game-winning 21-yard overtime touchdown run versus Arizona. Yankey completed displaced the key Wildcat defender on the play, levitating him in the process.
The Stanford "Tunnel Workers Union" offensive line wrote a new chapter in its book of ground dominance in 2013, and this one centered on a Thursday night showdown against Oregon. Over the course of a staggering 66 carries, the Farm Boys pummeled the Ducks. Oregon knew what was coming, but simply could not stop a Yankey-led 60-minute bludgeoning.
Yankey will graduate with a degree in Science, Technology and Society this June. He became a citizen of the United States this past week. Even though he lived in the American state of Georgia since age eight, Yankey was an Australian native -- his father is from Ghana and his mother is Slovakian, and they met Down Under. The family moved to the Atlanta area when Yankey's father got a job there.
How Yankey Fits in Minnesota
The Vikings likely hope that Yankey will be able to start at guard for them in a season or two. The common assumption is that he won't start immediately, but Minnesota's relative lack of depth up front means that Yankey should be able to contribute in at least some fashion early on. There was some concern regarding his combine numbers -- particularly the speed measurements -- but a season or two of NFL seasoning should put Yankey in good position for a solid career. He was too dominant, versatile, and smart during his Stanford career to expect anything less.
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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