Previously we looked at the departing 5th-years, the 5th-years to be. With Michael Rector returning and no word yet from Graham Shuler, it’s time to talk about the current Juniors who will be the 2016 Stanford Football team’s Senior class.
The Big Minus
Austin Hooper is taking his talents to the next level, and as of now he’s the only one we expect to leave from this class. It’d certainly qualify as an unforeseen shock if this group added another early departure to the list. Hooper’s loss is mitigated by the depth of top-shelf talent Stanford has at tight end, talent that Stanford feels is more than capable of absorbing the loss of both Hooper and Eric Cotton, which we’ll get to momentarily.
The beauty of Stanford’s passing game was that no receiver was targeted on as many of 20% of Kevin Hogan’s throws in 2015, meaning as great as Hooper was, this isn’t a situation as with Zach Ertz leaving where a huge chunk of targets, catches, and yardage is vanishing with no viable replacements. This isn’t to dismiss Hooper’s contributions, which were significant, or his talent. Losing an NFL-caliber player is a big deal everywhere but Alabama, Ohio State, and USC. It’s hard to begrudge Hooper taking his shot here. Best of luck to Austin, and now let’s get into who’s coming back to form Stanford’s eldest class.
David Bright OG- Listed as a Guard, Bright was inserted in Kyle Murphy’s crucial Left Tackle spot when Murphy went down with an injury in Corvallis. With guard likely manned by Johnny Caspers and Brandon Fanaika, the bet here is that Bright steps straight in at Left Tackle. When I talked to him at Rose Bowl Media Day, Bright was clear that he was comfortable at both spots.
If I’m right and Bright gets the Left Tackle job, Stanford would be bucking the “pipeline” they established by having Murphy slide from right tackle to left tackle when Andrus Peat departed. The coaches may decide to keep Casey Tucker at his Right Tackle spot for continuity’s sake or because they feel Bright is better suited for the job. Either way, it’s hard to imagine the 2016 TWU not featuring Bright at one tackle spot or the other.
Ryan Burns QB- Tackle Intrigue not sexy enough for you? Well here we get to the first part of the biggest single position issue facing Stanford. Coach David Shaw said that whoever won the back-up position spot would see regular action during the ’15 season, but things didn’t exactly play out that way. "Burnsie" didn’t throw a single pass I 2015, which puts him only nine behind Chryst’s output. Hard to say that there’s enough separation to prove anything conclusive. In talking to Chryst and Burns, you get the sense from both that they know they have to win the job. If I had to guess right now, I’d say Chryst, but it’d surprised if the coaches had this race called before it begins in earnest this spring.
Calvin Chandler FS
Eric Cotton TE- There can be no bigger indication of Tight End U than the fact that the talented Cotton is moving over to the other side of the ball in 2016. Those far more observant than myself may have noticed Cotton getting some run on defense in the second half of the Rose Bowl, and Coach Lance Anderson has confirmed that Cotton will in fact, be a defensive end next year. Hopefully this switch is more about Cotton’s exceptionalism concerns about that spot. Clearly Tight End is no worry even with Mr. Hooper bidding Stanford Bon Voyage. With two years to work with, here’s hoping that Cotton makes the most of the transition.
Treyvion Foster WR- Perhaps this group's Rollins Stallworth?
Ryan Gaertner CB
Lucas Hinds OT
Peter Kalambayi OLB- “The Squid” fell short of the huge expectations many had for him in 2015. It’s hard to say what went “wrong” with a player who showed so much explosiveness in 2014. He stayed healthy, and he still has the all the physical tools to be effective. Regardless, as the season went on, it was one of his lesser heralded classmates who took more and more snaps at that edge rush position. Kalambayi was credited with five QB hurries and one forced fumble on the season. That tied him for third on the team (hurries) with Solomon Thomas, who was coming from the inside. He had 32 solo tackles. On the plus side, that was fourth-best on the team. On the minus side, it was less than Alameen Murphy had as a defensive back. The Squid’s 4.5 sacks were also good for third on the team. This is not to say that he was a “bust” by any means, but there’s a firm conviction that he can be a much more disruptive force than he was in 2015.
Pat McFadden RB- A fullback who had three carries in 2015, he should be positional depth behind Daniel Marx and Chris Harrell.
Francis Owusu WR- The man who made the play of the year returns with a chance to make a significant contribution to Stanford’s pass game after playing a solid contributing role in 2015. Owusu represented the top of the second tier of Kevin Hogan’s top targets, with a 6.2% rate. His catch rate was 68.4%, slightly better than Hooper, Cajuste, and Rector, for what it’s worth. His 9.2 yards per target was essentially the same as Cajuste’s. He is definitely the top receiving threat in his class at Wide Receiver, and he is built to play at the next level. This should be a significant leap year for him.
Kevin Palma ILB- Made a meager 4.2% of Stanford’s tackles, but it’s hard to get many when your running buddy inside is a tackling machine. Palma played regularly in 2015, and he stands to be a first teamer in 2016. If there’s one area he’s got to work on, it’s pass coverage, and among Cardinal linebackers, he’s not alone. The departure of Blake Martinez leaves a huge void inside, and Palma’s likely going to have to step up for Stanford to get back to being an upper echelon defense in 2016.
Alex Robinson P- It was a great sign for Stanford that Robinson averaged less than three punts per game in 2015, and here’s hoping he remains as fresh in 2016. That being said, his 42.42 YPP would have put him in the middle of the pack had he punted enough to qualify among the league leaders. Don’t take it personally Alex, but the less we see of you, the better. All kidding aside, if Stanford takes a step back offensively, he becomes far more important than he was in 2015, so it’d still be good to see some improvement.
Greg Taboada TE- A very talented player who was the odd man out with Hooper and Dalton Schultz up to so many good things in the passing game in 2015. With Cotton headed to defense and Hooper headed to the NFL, expect to see plenty more of Taboada in the passing game, especially considering he was a very good run blocker in 2015.
Taijuan Thomas CB- Made 4 tackles in 2015. Clearly, the mother lode of underclassmen sprinted past Thomas on the depth chart this past season, but with Ronnie Harris departing, he does become the senior member of the defensive backfield among players who saw action last season. Veteran depth is a luxury, and Thomas should provide it in 2015.
Mike Tyler OLB- Tyler was one of the most pleasant surprises for Stanford. He actually outperformed Kalambayi by half a sack and that’s in two less games than The Squid. It wasn’t hard to notice Tyler’s snaps increasing as the season progressed. Tyler showed a good motor, an absolute necessity for a player whose 6’5” listed height makes him a very intriguing prospect in 2016. He’s not the athlete that Kalambayi is coming off the edge, but he proved to be every bit as effective and should see regular time atop the depth chart with Kevin Anderson graduating.
Most Valuable Player- Bright. He stands to slot in somewhere on the O Line in 2016, and if he indeed does get the Left Tackle, he’s suddenly playing the most crucial position on the most important position group in the program.
Best Bet to Become A Star- Owusu. He’s got the tools, and he’s got the talent. There’s a vacuum in receptions and he’s got as good a chance as any to fill it. Rector’s presence should only add to his opportunities, as he won’t draw the opposition’s best defender on most downs. If Stanford gets good QB play, Owusu can be an elite performer.
Wildcard- Burns. Obviously his value skyrockets if he wins the starting job, and even if he loses it he stands to play a big role as the clear backup choice should anything happen to Chryst. This is his make or break moment. How will he respond?