The Bootleg's 2011 Recruiting Preview

With the 2010 recruiting class signed and sealed, Stanford's coaches and fans can now only wait for it to be delivered on campus this summer. In the meantime, however, Jim Harbaugh and his staff won't rest on their laurels and instead will kick 2011 recruiting into high gear. The Bootleg takes an early look at 2011 recruiting with thoughts on Stanford's top needs and potential priority targets.

The Bootleg's 2011 Recruiting Preview

In Jim Harbaugh's first full recruiting class in 2008, he signed five players who have already been selected to the Pac-10's all-conference team by their second year in college – quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver and kickoff return maven Chris Owusu, offensive guard David DeCastro, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, and safety Delano Howell.  The next year, the Cardinal signed Scout.com's #15 ranked recruiting class, led by 5-star linebacker Shayne Skov and nine 4-star recruits.  Then last week Stanford wrapped up a third straight successful recruiting year under Harbaugh by hauling in a #24 ranked class marked by tremendous depth from top to bottom. 

The Cardinal hope to build on this momentum with the 2011 class.  Moreover, coming off of an 8-win season and Sun Bowl appearance with the added cachet of Toby Gerhart's Heisman runner-up campaign, Stanford's coaches can now finally market legitimate football success along with the school's other selling points. 

Indeed, Stanford is off to a torrid start with 2011 recruiting.  While most schools are just now starting to make inroads for the next recruiting cycle, Stanford already has commitments from left-handed quarterback Evan Crower, running back Amir Carlisle, athlete Ty Montgomery, and defensive end Daniel Davis as well as a soft commitment from wide receiver Justin Scott.  In the initial Scout Top 150 rankings, Carlisle ranks as the #108 overall player in the nation and #14 running back while Crower ranks as the #149 overall prospect and #10 quarterback, making Stanford one of just five teams nationally with commitments from multiple players on the initial top 150 along with LSU (an amazing five top 150 commitments), Ohio State, Alabama, and Nebraska. 

However, Stanford's exciting junior recruiting comes in the context of a 2011 class that may be short on scholarship openings for the Cardinal.  An exact guess on scholarship openings at this early date will always be unreliable.  Some unplanned attrition unquestionably will occur due to medical retirements, players not being invited back for a fifth year, and other factors, while some players expected to complete their eligibility may apply for an additional year due to injury hardship.  That said, at this point the 2011 recruiting class looks likely to rival the 2008 class as the smallest in the Harbaugh era.  Thus, while the early returns are very positive, Stanford may have to get more bang for its buck if it wants the class to rival the last two in either overall quality or depth.

Consequently, an assessment of Stanford's team needs may take on additional importance for the 2011 class as the Cardinal look to put together a relatively smaller class.  Fortunately, Stanford faces fewer acute needs with the 2011 class than with any class in recent memory thanks to two consecutive, especially deep classes.   In the past two classes, Stanford has signed 40 3+ star players, compared to just 19 in the 2004 and 2005 recruiting classes that the 2009 and 2010 hauls have essentially replaced on the roster.  As a result, the Cardinal go into the 2010 season and 2011 recruiting cycle with its best depth in years.  With acute needs less widespread than in the past, Stanford will have some leeway to emphasize stockpiling overall quality rather than meeting needs in putting together the 2011 class. 

Still, as with any year, some positions will be more important than others for Stanford on the recruiting trail this year.  Assessments of need can operate on one of two levels.  First, the talent poised to leave the program provides insight into what a team is losing in the short-term and what it needs to replace.  Second, the talent stockpiled in the most recent classes foreshadows future areas of strength or weakness for a program as the younger classes gain experience, develop through the maturation process or strength and conditioning program, and ascend into more prominent roles on the depth chart.  Using these two criteria, a few main positions of need emerge.

Most obvious is defensive tackle.  Among Stanford's current defensive tackles, Sione Fua and Brian Bulcke only have one year of eligibility left and Brad Hallick has two years of eligibility remaining but has yet to see any meaningful playing time, leaving just Matthew Masifilo and Terrence Stephens as the at-all-proven pipeline at defensive tackle once the 2011 class gets on campus.  To dramatize the severity of the need, this fall Stanford will have only ten players in the three most recent classes who weighed 260 pounds or more coming out of high school and eight of them will probably be slotted to play offensive line.   Only Stephens and likely future defensive tackle Eddie Plantaric represent the big boys on defense in the lower classes, though somebody like Josh Mauro may be counted on to play a versatile role on the line. 

Thus, defensive tackle looms as an enormous need for Stanford whether you look at departing talent in the upper classes or the depth of talent in the lower classes.  The Cardinal's need may be lessened in terms of quantity by the imminent shift to a defense that utilizes more 3-4 alignments, but that shift would heighten the need for a dominant, space-eating nose tackle.  The apparent tackle pipeline of Masifilo, Stephens, and Plantaric does not appear to include a prototypical nose tackle.  Getting at least one player and ideally multiple players who can fit that bill represents the most significant need of the 2011 class for Stanford.

It  is a tall order for Stanford because large space-eating defensive linemen are typically among the most-difficult- to-find commodities for any team in college football and in recent years have seemed especially rare in the academic echelons Stanford must scour for its elite recruits.  But early signs indicate that Stanford will make a full court press to attempt to fill this need.  Already, the Cardinal have offered four of the top ten defensive tackle prospects in the nation according to Scout.com: Desmond Jackson (#12 overall prospect), Kris Harley (#75 overall), Todd Peat (#90 overall), and Phillip Dukes (#106 overall).  These will be difficult recruitments to win but certainly rank at the top of the wish list for the Cardinal on the recruiting trail over the next year.   Peat in particular seems worth tracking as he comes from Pac-10 country (same high school as Stanford favorite Allen Smith) and has already shown clear interest in Stanford by visiting unofficially. 

No other need rivals the need for "really big guys" on the defensive side of the ball, but some positions do need help.  For instance, among Stanford's top six pass-catchers in 2009, all are on track to complete their eligibility by the end of the 2011 season.  Hence, Stanford will need entirely new receiving options from what is already proven to the Cardinal by the time current juniors in high school are true sophomores or redshirt freshmen in college.  Stanford partially addressed this looming need in the 2009 recruiting class by recruiting a trio of high-profile receivers in Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Drew Terrell, and Jemari Roberts, but that group's ultimate contributions, though much-anticipated, remain uncertain.  The contributions of the 2010 class at receiver are unknown as well.   Keanu Nelson may project as an excellent receiver but will just as likely be needed as a defensive back, Darren Daniel is currently listed as a quarterback but may be more useful as a receiver, and Jarrod West has not yet been admitted and may or may not end up at Stanford.  Taking the last two recruiting classes together, it is an open question whether Stanford's talent pipeline addresses the major need that will reveal itself once Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu, and tight end Coby Fleener complete their eligibility.  Moreover, the loss of Toby Gerhart and the increased relevance of star quarterback Andrew Luck in the offense elevate the importance of receiving targets in the Stanford offense.   For the past two years, the Cardinal relied on one of the most run-oriented offenses in the nation, running 63% of the time both years.  That will almost certainly change without Gerhart and with Luck becoming the star, further increasing the need to recruit receiving targets. 

Given these factors, Stanford would like to make a splash with wide receiver recruiting in 2011.  Already, Harbaugh has garnered a commitment from Ty Montgomery, who Scout has designated a 4-star receiver just outside of the initial top 150 overall prospects, and has strong interest from Georgia speed-burner Justin Scott.  The Cardinal are also swinging for the fences, long ago offering Scout's top two receiver prospects nationally in Kasen Williams (#18 overall) and George Farmer (#26 overall)  and also the fourth in Josh Turner (#38 overall).   Public reports have also linked Stanford to early offers to Charone Peake (#66 overall), Lafonte Thourogood (#100 overall), and Damiere Byrd (#139 overall).   Additionally, among the 89 receivers currently listed as watch list candidates for a Top 300 overall designation, Stanford has reportedly offered the aforementioned Justin Scott as well as Christian Conley, Tacoi Sumler, and Bradley Sylve.

Linebacker serves as the other most significant need along with defensive tackle and wide receiver.  Linebacker loomed large as a need in the just-signed class, but Stanford will likely have to further bolster depth there as it uses more linebackers in its defensive alignments under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.  Among linebackers who will be on campus when the 2011 class arrives, only Shayne Skov has played significant time at linebacker for Stanford.  Linebacker is the most unproven position on the roster by far.  Only the presence of Stanford's highest-profile recruits of the last two years, Skov and Blake Lueders, prevents it from presenting as an even bigger need than it does.  

Stanford hopes the sheer quantity of options among Skov, Lueders, Alex Debniak, Max Bergen, Jarek Lancaster, Joe Hemschoot, Cleo Robinson, and A.J. Tarpley can provide a solid linebacker corps, though one or two may be moved to fullback.  On the other hand, the use of more 3-4 would likely necessitate that some presumed defensive ends such as Chase Thomas or Alex Turner actually play linebacker instead.  In sum, the extent of the need at linebacker remains unclear.  As with wide receiver, the Stanford coaches will undoubtedly use the spring and summer practices to assess the quality of options already on the roster and thus the extent of the need the 2011 class must fill. 

As the 2011 recruiting cycle heats up, Stanford has identified a small but exciting group of linebackers as worthy of early offers.   Most notably, watch list candidate Daniel Davis is already verbally committed to the Cardinal and may project at linebacker or defensive end depending on the scheme and his growth.  Other current priorities appear to include Trey DePriest (#15 overall prospect), James Vaughters (#42 overall), Jason Gibson (#77), and Jarrett Grace (#135) along with watch list candidates Nathan Broussard and A.J. Johnson.  

Defensive tackle, wide receiver, and linebacker appear to be the main needs, but other needs include interior offensive line and fullback.  At interior offensive line, Stanford hopes the last three classes provide enough to populate a good unit for the post-2010 period in which Stanford will be without current all-conference interior linemen Chase Beeler and Andrew Phillips.  David DeCastro is already a star and Sam Schwartzstein, Khalil Wilkes, and the just-signed duo of Dillon Bonnell and Cole Underwood will probably compete for the other two spots.  That group may turn out to be excellent, but aside from DeCastro, the group is unproven.  Moreover, the inevitability of injury or other factors limiting the contributions of some linemen necessitates that Stanford uses the 2011 class to continue providing quality options at offensive line.  Because Stanford needs two tackles and three interior linemen on the field at a given time and currently has one proven underclass player at each, interior line is a marginally more questionable area of depth than tackle going forward. 

At fullback, Stanford faces a gaping hole when three-time all-conference stud Owen Marecic completes his eligibility after one more season of play.  The only fullback on the roster and arguably one of the best fullbacks in the history of the Pac-10, Marecic cannot truly be replaced.  Stanford will use the upcoming spring practice to try out other options at the position to back up Marecic in 2010 and become the heir apparent. Alex Debniak memorably raised some serious eyebrows in last year's spring game. The transition toward a less thoroughly run-dominated offense may well lessen the reliance on a traditional fullback.  Still, Stanford might want to recruit a bruising fullback in the next class.

At this point, it remains too early to confidently single out interior line and fullback candidates among the players currently on Stanford's radar.  Most of the offensive linemen Stanford has offered so far project more obviously as tackles, which may be in line with Stanford's approach this past year of recruiting quality nominal tackles with the confidence that athletic, versatile pieces can be slotted to various places along the line once they arrive on campus.  Supposedly elite offensive linemen Stanford has offered include Christian Westerman (#6 overall prospect), Conor Hanratty (#52 overall), Matt Hegarty (#58 overall), Tyler Moore (#69 overall), Landon Turner (#85 overall), and Spencer Drango (#118 overall).  Stanford has also offered watch list candidates Brendon Austin, Watts Dantzler, and Austin Blythe. 

Although positions of relative need can be identified, they do not seem to put the Cardinal in likely dire straits with the possible exception of the more gaping hole at nose tackle.  For the most part, selecting positions of need for the 2011 recruiting class comes down to judgment calls subject to subjective calculations of what to expect from promising but unproven recruits in the last two recruiting classes.  One observer may see wide receiver as needing help while another might emphasize cornerback as a more salient priority.  Ultimately, strong recruiting so far under the Harbaugh regime will provide some leeway to recruit for overall quality rather than to simply check off boxes based on position.  The Stanford coaches must be cognizant of the needs of their team, but other than defensive tackle, the needs do not seem so severe as to significantly constrain recruiting strategy.  As long as Stanford can add multiple quality defensive tackles, it might make sense to view 2011 recruiting as a matter of simply getting the best players available regardless of position, especially considering the relatively small number of scholarships set to open up in 2011.

Along those lines, Stanford appears to be poised for a third straight extremely strong year of running back recruiting.  Despite having signed five running backs in the last two years who were elite national prospects in their respective years, two of whom already played credibly at the Pac-10 level as true freshmen in 2009, Stanford looks to recruit running backs aggressively once again this year.  The highest profile current commit for Stanford, Amir Carlisle, checks in on the initial Scout rankings as the #14 running back prospect in the nation.  A look at the initial Scout 150 players who report Stanford offers also reveals a disproportionate number of running backs.  For that observation as well as an early glimpse at elite players on Stanford's radar, here is a list of top 150 players who have reported Stanford offers:

3. RB Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, TX)

6. OT Christian Westerman (Chandler, AZ)

8. TE Jay Rome (Valdosta, GA)

12. DT Desmond Jackson (Houston, TX)

14. DE Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, LA)

15. OLB Trey DePriest (Springfield, OH)

18. WR Kasen Williams (Issaquah, WA)

26. WR George Farmer (Gardena, CA)

31. RB Savon Huggins (Jersey City, NJ)

32. RB Aaron Green (San Antonio, TX)

35. CB Doran Grant (Akron, OH)

38. WR Josh Turner (Oklahoma City, OK)

41. DE Jalen Grimble (Las Vegas, NV)

42. MLB James Vaughters (Tucker, GA)

50. CB Erique Florence (Valley, AL)

52. OT Conor Hanratty (New Canaan, CT)

54. DE Cedric Reed (Cleveland, TX)

58. OT Matt Hegarty (Aztec, NM)

59. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Gig Harbor, WA)

66. WR Charone Peake(Spartanburg, SC)

68. QB Darius Jennings (Baltimore, MD)

69. OT Tyler Moore (Clearwater, FL)

71. RB Harvey Langi (South Jordan, UT)

75. DT Kris Harley (Indianapolis, IN)

77. OLB Jason Gibson (Gardena, CA)

85. OT Landon Turner (Harrisonburg, VA)

90. DT Todd Peat (Tempe, AZ)

93. CB Quandre Diggs (Arlington, TX)

100. WR Lafonte Thourogood (Virginia Beach, VA)

106. DT Philip Dukes (Manning, SC)

107. CB Demetrious Nicholson (Virginia Beach, VA)

108. RB Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, CA)

109. DE Nathan Hughes (Spring, TX)

118. OT Spencer Drango (Leander, TX)

120. DE Brennan Scarlett (Portland, OR)

125. CB Nick Waisome (Groveland, FL)

134. S Wayne Lyons (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

135. OLB Jarrett Grace (Cincinnati, OH)

137. TE Chris Barnett (Dallas, TX)

139. WR Damiere Byrd (Erial, NJ)

146. CB Dominique Terrell (Manassas, VA)

147. TE Ray Hamilton (Strongsville, OH)

149. QB Evan Crower (San Diego, CA)

  

The vast majority of these prospects will ultimately not be on Stanford's final board, in most cases due to inability to meet Stanford's admissions standards or due to the prospects crossing Stanford off their lists as they focus on more local schools or perennial powerhouses.  Nonetheless, this list provides an early glimpse at the elite national players who Stanford "may" be able to recruit this year.  The fact that over a quarter of the players on the initial Scout 150 report Stanford offers reveals that Stanford will continue to aggressively blanket the country with offers in the hopes of expanding its talent pool and improving overall recruiting results.  Stay tuned as it becomes clearer which of these prospects will be viable recruiting targets for the Cardinal in 2011.


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