With three classes down, it’s time to look at the Sophomore class from the 2015 Stanford football team. Since none of these players are eligible to depart for the NFL draft, there is no uncertainty about the status of this group heading into 2016. Depending on the outcome of a certain position battle, there’s a strong argument that this class is the core of the 2016 Stanford Football team. Let’s give them a look:
Terrance Alexander CB- Was a regular part of Stanford’s defensive back rotation, and ended up making 25.5 tackles, fifth most among Cornerbacks on Stanford’s defense. He also broke up four passes on the season. With Ronnie Harris gone, he’s likely to see more action in 2016, especially with all the spread teams in the conference.
Joey Alfieri OLB- Alfieri saw regular playing time this year, especially while Kevin Anderson was out due to injury. Alfieri made 7 tackles for loss, with three and half of those being quarterback sacks. Stanford essentially chose to play with two down linemen in 2015, so this job most often entailed rushing the edge from a down position. With Anderson leaving, it’s Alfieri, Peter Kalamabayi, and Mike Tyler essentially rotating three for two, pending the emergence of one of the freshmen.
Isaiah Brandt-Sims WR- IB-S got a hint of a whiff of a glance of a cup of coffee, having been targeted a whopping two times during the year. Neither of these targets ended in a reception, and it’s going to be a challenge for Brandt-Sims to rise on the depth chart this year with Michael Rector returning. Still, his speed is intriguing, and I’d expect the coaches to push him this offseason so that they can get him on the field more in 2016. At 5’11” 177, expect him to put on some weight under the tutelage of Shannon Turley. He’s going to need some bulk to be able to meet the run-blocking demands Shaw-Vita-Gren makes on its pass catchers.
Jesse Burkett C/OG- With Graham Shuler’s departure now official, Burkett now becomes one of the pivotal members both in this class and on this team. Despite flying under the radar for 2015, there’s talk that this could in fact be Stanford’s starting Center in 2016. That’d set the line at Bright, Fanaika, Burkett, Caspers, and Tucker, giving this class three fifths of the starting offensive line. He’d certainly be the least known quantity among outsiders, but I think it’s fair to say these coaches have an eye for talent in this position group we can trust.
Keller Chryst QB- Stanford’s de facto backup Quarterback in 2015 made more noise with his crushing highlight block than his passes, something we’d expect to change in 2016. Chryst projects as a classic pocket passer, and it’s hard to know just how much his limited duty helped him for the future. He completed 5 of 9 passes and averaged five yards per attempt for the year. Coach Shaw pledged to get Chryst and Junior Ryan Burns regular playing time in 2015, but that fell by the wayside as the reality of the season unfolded. If he does win the job, this clearly becomes the most vital class for Stanford’s 2016. The biggest question is how much of Stanford’s offseason will he and Burns have before the coaches make a choice?
Brandon Fanaika OG- Expect Fanaika to man the Left Guard spot vacated by Outland Trophy Winner Joshua Garnett. His Ogre Fellowship now complete, Fanaika will be asked to step into a full-time role in the Tunnel Workers’ Union. If Burkett ends up starting alongside him, the interior of Stanford’s line will be significantly inexperienced. 2014 was derailed in large part because of the struggle of integrating four new starters. 2016 is going to be largely determined by the ability of the coaches to integrate three starters. Aside from quarterback, Stanford’s 2016 is going to be determined right up front. For his part, Fanaika will need to get up to speed on his pass protection, since he didn’t have to do that as an Ogre.
Denzel Franklin SS- A good candidate for a role on Stanford’s special teams. With Dallas Lloyd and Zach Hoffpauir returning and the existence of Justin Reid in the class below, he’s going to be hard-pressed to make appearances on Stanford’s two-deep in 2016.
A.T. Hall OT- So far there has been a lot of presumption about Stanford’s offensive line. Fanaika and Bright are presumed starters. The Center issue is up in the air at least for the next couple of days. This is all to say that just because A.T. Hall’s name hasn’t come up frequently so far in our discussion, is not to say Hall won’t have a chance to compete for a starting role in 2016. At the very least, he stands to compete for some Ogre time, and as Stanford’s players repeated at Rose Bowl Media Day, you’re only one play away from getting in the game due to injury.
Alijah Holder CB- Probably the hardest hitting underwear model on Stanford’s roster (if not in America), Holder’s Pick Six against UCLA stood as one of the most electrifying plays of Stanford’s 12-2 season, and he lived up to his recruiting hype all season. This is your presumed starter alongside “Showtime” Meeks at Cornerback. Holder broke up seven passes, second most on the team, and finished with 32.5 tackles, seventh on the team in 2015. The hype has already begun for the Stanford Secondary in 2016, and Holder is a big reason many feel this group has such a high ceiling.
C.J. Keller LS- Prior to the Rose Bowl, Stanford hadn’t had a botched long snap all season long. Should Keller ascend to the starter, he’ll have some high expectations to meet. With Ukropina and Dallas Lloyd returning, this is the only part of the placekicking battery set to change in 2016.
Daniel Marx FB- Marx was enjoying a stellar season before an injury derailed his season. If he comes back healthy, look for him to once more lead the way for Stanford’s run game and perhaps build on some of the flashes of receiving ability he showed before he got hurt. Per this pre-Rose Bowl report, Marx’s severe lower leg injury may push his availability back until the second session of spring practice. The return of Chris Harrell helps stabilize this position, but if and when Marx returns, he’s clearly the starter.
Christian McCaffery RB- Threw for two TD’s in limited duty but not expected to compete for the starting quarterback position. Also saw time at running back and return positions.
Alameen Murphy CB- Helped fill the void during Ronnie Harris’ absence and was a solid contributor in his own right. He made 38.5 tackles on the year, good for fifth on the team. Slightly less celebrated than Meeks and his classmate Holder, Murphy will spend plenty of time on the field in 2016.
Bobby Okereke ILB- A highly prized recruit whose best opportunity is here. Even with Kevin Palma and the next player on this list returning, if Okereke can step up during the offseason, he may get the chance to be part of the committee it’s going to take to replace all the tackling that Blake Martinez did (he also broke up 7 passes, second most on the team).
Jordan Perez ILB- Perez’ speed doesn’t blow minds, so it remains to be seen if his experience playing alongside Martinez this past fall pays off in 2016. He had 20.5 tackles on the season, and though he’ll likely start alongside Kevin Palma at the top of the depth chart, he’s going to have to work on his pass coverage and overall game if Stanford’s going to absorb the loss of Martinez effectively.
Harrison Phillips DT/DE- Horrible Harry was lost in the fateful Northwestern game, and his loss for the year put the rest of the Stanford defensive line on a high wire for the remainder of 2015. Phillips was on track to have a break-out season before his injury. He returns this season with much to prove and no shortage of motivation after watching his teammates fight their way to a Rose Bowl Championship. Stanford is certainly counting on him to anchor a line that won’t be as thin, but certainly loses a great deal with Aziz Shittu and Brennan Scarlett departing.
Dalton Schulz TE- Enters 2016 as the top Tight End at Tight End U. With Hooper as the primary target from this position, it may have been easy to forget just how talented this Junior-to-be is, but it’s not a stretch to say that Schulz is capable of having a season every bit as impressive as Hooper’s. He made the most of his opportunities this past season, catching 10 of his 13 targeted passes for an average of 9.3 yards per target. He’ll have that many targets by Week 2 in 2016, and if he keeps up that catch rate, he’ll likely be following Hooper right to the next level after this season. That’d be a good thing for Stanford.
Brandon Simmons FS- A good bet to challenge for Kodi Whitfield’s starting Safety spot. Simmons is certainly athletically gifted enough to succeed at this position, but he’ll be pushed by Freshman Ben Edwards, who logged one more tackle than Simmons (seven to six) in 2015. Stanford will need improved Safety play in 2016 to survive trips to South Bend, Eugene, Pasadena, and Seattle, among others. Simmons has his hat in the ring. Will he seize the opportunity?
Solomon Thomas DE/DT- Grew right before our eyes alongside veterans Shittu and Scarlett and played an invaluable role in the trenches for Stanford, culminating in his scoop and score of a Cody Kessler fumble in the Pac-12 Championship Game. With Phillips, should be ready to step into a monster Junior season.
Casey Tucker OT- Reasonable minds may disagree as to which side of the line he occupies in 2016, but Stanford’s 2015 starting Right Tackle is a lock to man one of the bookend positions of the offensive line. As discussed previously, he’d be taking the Murphy Route by sliding over to Left Tackle, but I expect David Bright to push him for that Left Tackle spot. Regardless of the side, his experience looms as even more valuable now that Shuler’s departure is certain and he and Caspers will be the only returning starters. Tucker’s got work to do on his pass protection, as does Bright. Those skills are even more crucial in a season in which Stanford will be starting a new quarterback for the first time in four seasons.
Lane Veach OLB- At the moment seems like a likely special teams contributor.
Most Valuable Player- McCaffrey. I really shouldn’t need to explain this.
Best Bet to Become a Star- Solomon Thomas- I wanted to say Schulz, but his success is a bit too reliant on the big unknown at quarterback. A healthy Thomas is non-negotiably going to be a force in the Pac-12 this season.
Wildcard- Chryst- For consistency’s sake, I have to pick the other quarterback candidate here as I did Burns for the Juniors. This is already the most valuable class in my mind for 2016, but it’s a runaway if Chryst takes the starting Quarterback job, which is only, you know, the most important single position on the team.