Rating Stanford’s Position Groups
Also known as: The part where we get messages from angry parents that we disrespected their Johnny’s years of effort for Stanford and have we ever played a down of football in my life. Because friendships trump media conglomerates any day of the week, I grabbed lunch with Andy Drukarev of Rivals after the Stanford media event last week. After we finished talking about our lives, our families and our future goals and dreams, we finally got to the most important topic: Stanford football.
I decided to rank each of the position groups:
10 is national champion caliber
9 is conference champion caliber
8 is top-25 caliber
7 is passable for a Power 5 conference team
6 is below a Power 5 conference level
5 is below a Division I level
By “national champion caliber”, I mean that if all the units on the team were approximately of that strength, we would expect that team to be a strong national title contender, and so on.
Andy was a sanity check but I came up with and finalized the numbers. Any ratings you agree with are his doing, and any you vehemently disagree with are mine. Here goes:
Quarterback – 8
I dropped this from an 8.5 after realizing that if our starting quarterback goes down, we have a total of maybe 20 collegiate pass attempts on the roster, though of course, that’s a problem most college football teams face. Hogan’s hard to peg, and a subject of much discussion on our board accordingly. As David Shaw points out, and his efficiency numbers are second only to Luck in school history. His stats are strong and he’s gone to two Rose Bowls, but how much of that is the surrounding talent? Of course, he has two years remaining to put the questions to rest and bump his rating into that 9-10 range if he takes the team on his back and leads them to another top-10 season, especially against this year’s schedule.
Tailbacks – 8
Lot of talent there and a lot of options should a few of the guys not pan out, but little experience, of course. Plus, there are no indisputable can’t-miss stars in waiting (in contrast to, say, the 2012 offensive line class, which you knew was going to crank out some dominant, NFL-ready stars). So the running backs alone are a 7.5, but throw in the solid fullback Lee Ward with this group, listen to David Shaw rave about his running back options, and look at the recent history of Stanford running the ball, and we’ll round up to an 8.
Offensive line – 9
Probably the most controversial rating of the lot, but when David Shaw says this is the most talented group he's had in eight years, and you have a potential top-five NFL pick returning at the most important position in left tackle Andrus Peat, I’m going to be bullish. It’s true that most of the starters are new to their positions and thus the line will need to gel, but if it’s in an Ogre formation or as the sixth or seventh linemen in heavy or goalline sets, most of these guys have seen meaningful snaps before. The coaching here is obviously top-notch and if it’s third or fourth and short and Stanford is running left behind Andrus Peat and Josh Garnett, hey, if you stop that, congrats, you deserve to win. The key to the season will be how quickly the right side of the line clicks – center Graham Shuler, right guard Brendan Austin or Johnny Caspers and right tackle Kyle Murphy – but I’m buying.
Tight ends – 7
It was a heck of a run there with Jim Dray, Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, all of whom went on to play in the NFL. Now it’s time to reload. Honestly, a 7 would mark progress after the group was all but absent last year. The talent is there in Austin Hooper and Eric Cotton, but I’ll believe it when I see it again. (Ed: Maybe Dalton Schultz can leave an early mark?)
Wide receivers – 9.5
Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste are All-Conference receivers, and then the depth looks to be just as strong with Michael Rector, Francis Owusu and possession receivers Jeff Trojan and Jordan Pratt. Maybe the formation that gets Stanford's 11 best guys on the field is going four-wide, single-back, no tight end? Would love to run some up-tempo spread in addition to the ground-and-pound game we know and love, because this group looks up for the challenge. Montgomery and Cajuste have the physical goods, but can they take the leap to dominant to move this group to a 10? Guys like Justin Blackmon and Calvin Johnson seemingly caught everything remotely in their vicinity and went for 150 yards every game in college. Montgomery’s not that far off and Cajuste’s combination of size and speed is unworldly, so hopefully the coaches let the reins go and the receivers rise to the occasion.
Defensive line – 8
Henry Anderson, David Parry and (newly beefed up) Blake Leuders are proven commodities, but where’s the depth? Luke Kaumatule? Aziz Shittu? A young, young Solomon Thomas? A currently injured Ikenna Nwafor? DL is the unit where depth matters most, and so while the starting front is maybe a step off last year’s 9.5 mark, if Oregon or Wazzu or UCLA or a bowl or playoff opponent goes spread and tempo, who will be fresh for the fourth quarter?
Linebackers – 8.5
A similar story courses throughout the defense: the starters are proven, if a half-step back from last year’s stars, but where’s the depth? At DL, the depth shortage is most acute, both from looking at the roster and also from positional realities – it’s conceivable that a 220-pound ‘backer could play nearly all defensive snaps and still be strong in crunch time, but it’s harder to see that from a 280-pound lineman. Here, Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters are proven outside ‘backers, and then Peter Kalambayi is a capable backup, but then what? Inside, I see A.J. Tarpley and Joe Hemschoot starting inside, with Blake Martinez and Noor Davis capable backups per David Shaw, so there is some solid depth inside, which has this group teetering on the verge of a 9. Still, saying that there’s the talent to replace Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy isn’t the same as meeting that level of production, so let’s see what happens when rubber meets road.
Defensive backfield – 9
Give Wayne Lyons another offseason of weights, film study, training, and positional awareness, and you tell me where the weak link is. Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons are your corners and both have All-Conference, if not All-American potential. Jordan Richards (one of the two or three best in the country, per Shaw) is one starting safety, and the other is either a proven upperclassman in Kyle Oglubode, or up-and-coming star Kodi Whitfield. At times, teams could pass on Stanford last year, so this unit is starting from a lower baseline than the front seven, plus there’s the question of depth in nickel and dime situations after Ronnie Harris and the loser of the Whitfield/Oglobude battle.
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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