In its first year A.H. (After Harbaugh), the Stanford Cardinal won 11 games under first year Head Coach David Shaw. The season ended on a disappointing note, with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State. To top things off, the Cardinal lost all-time quarterback prospect, Andrew Luck, and talented tight end Coby Fleener to the NFL Draft. Despite the talent that defected to the pro game, Stanford brings back a skilled lineup of players. Here is a look at their top draft-eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Levine Toilolo* TE 6’8 263 – Toilolo is a huge target, so he’ll automatically be envisioned as a great red zone threat. Last season, with Luck as his quarterback, he did indeed haul in six touchdown passes. Toilolo can stretch the field. He’s averaged 14.2 yards per catch in his career. He matched up favorably against much smaller safeties and benefited greatly from Luck’s ability to draw in defenders with strong play action fakes. Toilolo’s value as a blocker isn’t as clear. He isn’t exactly tenacious and his height doesn’t seem to allow him to get good leverage. As a result he can get pushed around on run blocks. The Cardinal will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but with Fleener having departed, Toilolo should still get a fair amount of action. He’s listed as a redshirt junior, but if he can also progress as a blocker, this may be his final college season. For a detailed scouting report on Toilolo, click here.
Josh Nunes* QB 6’4 225 – No pressure on Nunes this season. All the redshirt junior has to do is replace last year’s number one overall pick – and a person some people have called the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning – Luck. In his three years at Stanford, Nunes has appeared in four games, thrown two passes, and completed one of them for a seven yard gain. Nunes is no slouch. He was a four star recruit out of high school who is known for having a strong arm. Legend has it that Nunes threw a fastball clocked in the 90 mile per hour range as a high school baseball player. Nunes is a mystery man, and he has some enormous shoes to fill. But considering the talent on his team, it shouldn’t be too surprising if he comes in and plays at a high level in his first year as the starter.
Stepfan Taylor RB 5’11 215 – Taylor came to Stanford in 2009 and played immediately as a freshman. He saw action in all 13 games that season and averaged 5.4 yards per attempt on 56 carries. He’s led the team in rushing in each of the past two seasons, compiling over 2500 yards and 25 touchdowns. Taylor is a good receiver out of the backfield as well. He’s caught 56 passes in his career and has averaged almost nine yards per catch. Perhaps his best performance came last January in the Cardinal’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Taylor toted the ball 35 times for a career-best 177 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a patient runner, and once his blocks at set up he accelerates through the hole with power. For that reason, he’s an excellent short-yardage runner. Taylor shows good speed but he isn’t a true home run threat. His value is in his experience in a West Coast style offense. With his receiving ability and adequate pass protection, Taylor has potential as a three down running back, and could come off the board late on Day Two of the draft.
Shayne Skov ILB 6’3 242 – Skov was the third best inside linebacker recruit in the country according to Rivals and played in all 13 of Stanford’s games during his freshman season. After missing the first two games of the 2010 season with an injury, Skov went on to amass 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss on the season. He was absolutely dominant in the Cardinal’s Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, with three sacks and four tackles for loss in that game alone. Skov was off to a hot start last season with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss through four games, before a knee injury ended his season. The going got tougher in February when Skov was arrested for driving under the influence. Now recovered from his injury, Skov will begin the season with a one game suspension. When he returns he is expected to resume a leadership role on defense. Skov has all the tools scouts look for in a starting inside linebacker. He has power, speed and excellent instincts. He does a great job anticipating action, flowing to the ball and finishing tackles with authority. Like many young inside ‘backers, Skov’s weakness is in pass coverage, but he figures to improve as he gains more experience. It shouldn’t be a huge concern because the physical tools and desire are there – he just needs to be coached up on some of the finer points of route recognition. If Skov can show that his knee is healed and that his off-the-field issue was a one-time lapse in judgment, he has the potential to be a Day One draft choice.
Chase Thomas OLB 6’4 248 – Thomas tied Skov for the team lead with 7.5 sacks in 2010, then led the team with 8.5 last season. Along with the high sack total, Thomas racked up 17.5 tackles for loss and a staggering five forced fumbles during the 2011 campaign. Thomas is a fifth year senior who’s started every game since midway through the 2009 season. He will be coveted by 3-4 teams who like his ability to apply pressure off the edge and create turnovers. Thomas is quick off the snap and has a solid pass rush repertoire. NFL teams would probably like to see him add some bulk, and there is no reason to think he cannot do so under a team supervised training regimen. Thomas is the type of prospect who rises throughout the draft process as teams hunger for pass rushers. With another strong season, he’ll be a viable late-first/early-second round draft prospect.
Zach Ertz* TE 6’6 252 – Ertz redshirted in 2009, then became part of Stanford’s three-headed tight end monster (along with Toilolo and Fleener) over the past two seasons. Ertz played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman and scored five touchdowns on his 16 receptions. Last season he caught 27 passes despite missing three games with a knee injury. Ertz is an enormous target who runs well for his size and has soft, reliable hands. For a detailed scouting report on Ertz, click here.
Also keep an eye on: Ben Gardner* DE 6’4 275, Drew Terrell WR 5’11 180, Terrence Stephens DT 6’2 305