Wide Receiver: Talent Holding Steady
There's been considerable turnover in Stanford's offensive backfield, but the opposite is true on the perimeter. A wide receiver unit that's nearly identical to the one that took the field in Pasadena on January 1 will enter 2014 spring ball. And that's the brightest shining source of optimism not only for the Cardinal offense, but for the team as a whole entering next season.
There will be questions surrounding the Stanford defense following a handful of high-profile departures, and there will be worry regarding the drastic personnel changes along the trenches and in the backfield. This squad's great equalizer, though, potentially lies in the continued improvement of a passing attack that burst back onto the scene in 2014.
Ty Montgomery already owns the best season for a Stanford receiver since Troy Walters' 1999 campaign. He'll return to again anchor the unit. Michael Rector (30.4) and Devon Cajuste (22.1) posted the two highest single-season reception averages in Cardinal history last year, and they'll also be back. The team will very likely have a greater reliance on the passing game in 2014, which means that sophomore Francis Owusu should have a chance of his own to burst onto the scene after impressing in limited opportunities.
A Developing Logjam: Whitfield to Safety
Stanford announced that Kodi Whitfield will move to safety at least for spring ball, and that move underscores the talent logjam developing at the Cardinal's wide receiver position (also reminiscent of Richard Sherman's position switch in 2009, when the Farm Boys were similarly stocking up at receiver and tight end). When one also factors Jordan Pratt and Jeff Trojan into the receiver equation, it's also easy to understand why Stanford is not distressed about the fact that its 2014 recruiting class currently lacks a wide receiver. Speedy 5-foot-9 preferred walk-on prospect Addison Johnson may still commit (he'll hear back from admissions at the end of March), but playing time at the receiver position promises to be hard to come by for players who have not yet established themselves on gameday.
Waiting in the Wings
Still, though, there are talents knocking on the door, hoping to earn their way into the rotation. Six-foot-four fade specialist Rollins Stallworth, who will enter his senior year, was actually targeted in the end zone outside of garbage time last season. Exceptional quickness has earned 5-foot-11 Dontonio Jordan public praise from Shaw, and he'll certainly look for a spot to make an impact in his junior season. Jordan's classmate Conner Crane has 6-foot-4 height that makes for more solid depth at the receiver position.
When combined with the maturation of quarterback Kevin Hogan, this entire stockpile of talent achieved a vital Stanford goal last season: aerial explosiveness. After struggling to deliver a constant downfield threat in 2012, the Cardinal certainly did not have trouble in that regard in 2014. As the table below illustrates, Stanford enjoyed perhaps its most explosive passing attack of the Harbaugh-Shaw era.
Stanford Passing Explosiveness: Through the Years
||% Pass Attempts Gain > 15 Yards
||% Pass Attempts Gain > 25 Yards
Redisovering Intermediate Balance
The staggering per-catch averages of Rector and Cajuste attest to the abundance of successful bombs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, there was a distressing dearth in Stanford pass-catching production: running backs and tight ends combined for only 47 catches and one touchdown reception in 2013. Because of their ability to sell the run either via hand-off or block before releasing for a pass pattern, those two positions are critical vehicles of any play-action offense, and their relative absence likely helps explain some of the Cardinal's 2013 red zone woes.
A Drastic Shift: Stanford Passing Attack Moves from RB/TE to WR
||RB/TE % of Total
||WR % of Total
||RB/TE TD Rec.
Reopening the Tight End Pipeline
Stanford must rediscover the short-range aerial stability that made its offense great under Andrew Luck and kept it afloat during Zach Ertz's senior season. There's an infusion of tight end talent coming, and that should certainly help this cause. Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper, and Greg Taboada all enter their second year on The Farm. Shaw recently indicated the trio would be ready for action next year after a freshman redshirt season of physical development.
Then comes Dalton Schultz, the country's top-ranked tight end prospect and potentially the most exciting 2014 addition to the Cardinal class. The Stanford staff believes that it has inked a future star in this Utah prospect, and it will be interesting to see if he's fit to contribute immediately next season.
Some depth will not return at the tight end position. Davis Dudchock's Stanford career is done, while the coming release of the 2014 spring roster will indicate whether or not Eddie Plantaric is returning for a fith year. Charlie Hopkins will be a senior next year, while Stanford may have additional veteran options in rising juniors Alex Frkovic (who will be a full year removed from knee rehab) and Chris Harrell. Listed at 6-foot-5, 244 pounds and known around the program as "the Big Canadian," Frkovic has the size to become a valuable piece in Stanford's blocking efforts.
Given all this, it's clear that Shaw's arsenal in the passing game only figures to grow moving forward, and that may be the ticket to adding stability on top of blossoming explosiveness.
Stanford Moving Forward: Quarterback (Pt. 1)
Stanford Moving Forward: Running Back (Pt. 2)
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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