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Duck Dive: Stanford Football 2023 Preview

Going deep with the Cardinal’s scheme, returning personnel, and unknowns

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Cal at Stanford Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special thanks to Jibriel Taha of the Stanford Daily and KZSU Sports Radio for joining me on the Quack 12 Podcast to discuss Stanford’s roster. LISTEN HERE

New head coach Taylor has taken over the Stanford program after David Shaw’s resignation at the end of his 12th season, a 3-9 campaign which concluded a four-year slide at 14-28. The entire coaching staff has been replaced, a welcome change as most observers recently (and certain film reviewers for half a decade) have thought Shaw’s staff had lost the plot. Several of the new assistants look very promising, however there have been a couple of setbacks with the hiring of the offensive line and safeties coaches.

There have also been significant roster departures, but unlike the two other new Pac-12 head coaches who are taking full advantage of the NCAA’s temporary waiver of the annual 25 initial counter cap by adding more than 50 new players, Taylor’s ability to turn over his roster is significantly constrained by Stanford’s admissions policies and therefore its transfer portal and Juco restrictions.

The Cardinal occupy a peculiar place on the Pac-12 talent ladder. This year they had five players drafted and two more signed UDFA contracts, and they now have 31 former players on active NFL rosters which is the third most of any Pac-12 school. Up through last season their average talent rating of scholarship players put them fourth in the league. For any other team with such a talent trendline but obviously underperforming longtime coaches, a staff shakeup might be all that’s necessary for a quick rebound.

But Stanford’s unique roster management problems make that doubtful – they’ve suffered a net loss of ten players rated .8800 or higher in the 24/7 composite (16 out, six in, and all those incomers are true freshmen who are unlikely to play in 2023), resulting in a fall of their average talent ranking in the Pac-12 to sixth place. Furthermore, the roster is simply undermanned, and by my count they only have 76 players on scholarship, with several of those being holdovers of positions unlikely to be used in Taylor’s new offense like fullbacks and blocking tight ends.

I think the new staff on the Farm is positioned to eventually make significant strides compared to the moribund program they took over, but it will probably take them years to rebuild this roster given their severely limited access to modern roster management tools.


Taylor comes to Stanford after spending the last four years as Sacramento State’s head coach, though they didn’t play in 2020 due to California’s covid policy. Prior to that he was the OC of Eastern Washington’s high flying offense with Beau Baldwin (now the OC at Arizona State) in 2016, then was hired for two years as OC at Utah before escaping Kyle Whittingham’s well observed itch for driving out offensive coaches. Sac St was a fun offense to watch last year, an 11-0 regular season with an FCS playoffs run ending in a thrilling 63-66 quarterfinals loss to Incarnate Word.

Almost the entirety of Stanford’s offense is going to run through Taylor in 2023. According to Jibriel, something weird happened with the hiring of the offensive line coach who might have taken some of this off of Taylor’s plate, but as it now stands he’s going to be the playcalling OC and QB coach as well, with the RB and WR position coaches being fairly young tag-alongs from Sac St. (This then means that Taylor will simultaneously hold the titles of Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, Andrew Luck Director of Offense, and Kevin M. Hogan Quarterbacks Coach, though at press time it is unconfirmed if these all fit on his business cards.)

On the podcast, Jibriel and I discussed what kind of offense Taylor would run if he could have any players he wanted, and he framed it as almost 180 degrees the opposite of Shaw’s approach. If Taylor had his druthers Stanford’s offense would be more uptempo, with designed QB runs, spacing concepts built into spread-out receivers, fewer tight ends and no fullbacks, and a run-pass balance tilted towards throwing the ball.

Unfortunately for the Cardinal, it appears that the strengths and weaknesses of the offensive roster that Taylor has inherited are almost a complete mismatch for that plan, with the best returning players being a tight end and a running back, and some real issues with talent and depth at quarterback and receivers. (On top of this the offensive line might be a disaster, though that tends to be a problem for any offense.) Some of these issues might have been resolvable had Taylor been able to access the portal for transfers that better match what he’d like to do, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. It remains to be seen whether he’ll try to fit a square peg in a round hole or adapt his principles to his inherited roster (perhaps a spread version of a running offense).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Stanford at Oregon State Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The starting quarterback will almost certainly be #11 QB Patu, a borderline 4-star from the 2021 class who attempted 25 passes in backup duty over the last two years with a fairly poor 125.6 NCAA passer rating. Subjectively, I think he has far less arm talent compared to the guy he’ll be replacing, Tanner McKee, who was drafted by the Eagles after starting the last two years (a steal in the 6th round, in my opinion), after charting both of their film. However, it should be said that McKee’s passer rating last year was almost identical to Patu’s, so perhaps the crummy offense they were operating in had a lot to do with it and there’s a chance Patu could shine in Taylor’s system.

There are two other options here. One is #14 QB Daniels, a mid 3-star true sophomore who was essentially Stanford’s wildcat rusher last season on 25 obvious run attempts, though he did try six passes (nothing too confidence-inspiring). Jibriel and I both think that Patu’s athleticism is good enough that, even with a greater emphasis on QB runs in Taylor’s offense, Daniels doesn’t pose a threat to Patu’s job given what’s likely a big difference in their passing abilities. The other option is another borderline 4-star, true freshman Myles Jackson, but he doesn’t arrive until the Fall and nothing I saw on his Hudl tape makes me think that he’s any better of a passer than Patu. It’s difficult to arrive at any other conclusions than that this position will be a big step back compared to the long run of top-notch QB play Stanford has enjoyed for years and Taylor’s offense is banking on, and that any unavailability for Patu would be an even more severe problem.

EDIT: A couple days after publication, Stanford added Justin Lamsen from Syracuse as a transfer. Lamsen was a mid 3-star QB in the 2021 class who redshirted his first year, then according to their website earned the backup job in the Spring of 2022 but immediately got hurt and missed the season, so he’s never seen the field. I would still put Patu ahead of him due to a better talent rating and some in-game experience, but I suppose this could be a Fall camp battle after all. What I’m more interested in is that Taylor has now gotten as many non-Service Academy FBS transfers over five months as Shaw brought in over 12 years ... which is to say, two. But any greater ability to work the portal can only be a good thing for rebuilding this roster.

By contrast, the Cardinal should have some real firepower in the running back room. They return #22 RB Smith (son of the legendary Emmitt, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher), a bluechip who looked great in limited action the last two years with a 6.1 YPC average on 56 carries, though he was behind two longtime backs in Shaw’s seniority system as a redshirt freshman in 2021 and then hurt two weeks into the season last year. Smith was in a no-contact jersey in the Spring showcase but Jibriel says he should be good to go in the Fall. They also return #2 RB Filkins, who became the primary back in Smith’s absence last year – his stats don’t show it but I really liked his film making more with less given the poor offensive line performance – and #8 RB Barrow who’ll likely be the third back and got about 25 touches last year.

Last year there was apparently an issue with the only 2022 RB recruit, Arlen Harris, who only got two carries and has since transferred out. The running back situation had gotten bad enough that they were using a converted safety, #32 DB Leigber, as Filkins’ backup for most of the year, and a walk-on, Caleb Robinson, as the third back behind him. In 2023, Robinson is no longer on the roster and Leigber has returned to the secondary, which I think are signs that playable depth is back up to where it should be with Smith’s health and confidence in Filkins and Barrow, plus some more additions. I think the most significant depth option beyond Barrow will be Ryan Butler, a transfer from a putatively peer institution in New Jersey who had pretty good stats for an FCS freshman. They’ll also get a couple true freshmen in the Fall, though as 3-stars with experienced guys ahead of them I doubt they’ll play right away unless forced to.

The top returning receiving target on the team is #84 TE Yurosek. I don’t think he’s quite the same dominant, undefendable pass-catching tight end that Stanford has had in some years, but he’s a well established senior and knows how to throw his size around at 6’4” and 245 lbs. I think how Yurosek is used will be an interesting challenge for Taylor, given that a conflict about tight end usage was reportedly the rift that led to his departure from Utah (and explains the comparatively long tenure of his replacement OC Andy Ludwig, who doesn’t know how to use any other kind of personnel). The leading receiver on Taylor’s Sac St offense last year was titularly a TE, Marshel Martin, but at 6’2” and 210 lbs Martin was indistinguishable from a Y-receiver and I don’t think his skillset maps onto Yurosek’s cleanly.

There have been two departures from this unit, Bradley Archer and Jay Symonds, though they got no receptions last year, and there have been no additions. There are four other tight ends still on scholarship, which with my understanding of Taylor’s offensive preferences is probably four too many, but he probably can’t afford to let any playable bodies go right now. Those are #86 TE Roush, #88 TE Hawkins, #85 TE S. Taylor (no relation), and #89 TE Ungar. If anyone plays as a backup pass-catcher to Yurosek I would guess it’s Roush, he’s the highest rated of the bunch as a low 4-star and got a couple of catches last year, though all of these guys are really just blockers in my opinion and I doubt this offense has a lot of jumbo packages in it.

Arizona State v Stanford Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The wide receiver unit lost its top three producers to the NFL: Elijah Higgins in the 6th round to the Dolphins, Brycen Tremayne as a UDFA to the Commanders (he probably would have been drafted if not for his injury history), and Michael Wilson in the 3rd to the Cardinals. Their fifth leading wideout has transferred, Colby Bowman, though I thought he was underutilized.

The leading returner is #5 WR Humphreys; he was the other huge outside receiver opposite Tremayne who would haul in nearly undefendable deep sideline catches (assuming the line ever gave McKee enough time to throw them, which was rare). Like Yurosek, I’m curious to see how Humphreys figures into Taylor’s system given that he doesn’t have a clear analogue in the previous offenses I’ve watched Taylor field, though I’ve never seen a coach turn down a 6’5” high 4-star with 53 career receptions either.

There are only three other receivers, all 3-stars, who’ve caught passes for the Trees before, and not many passes at that. #0 WR Reuben got five as a true freshman last year, though all in garbage time. #3 WR Farrell and #19 WR Starr were both part of the 2020 class who were forced into action as redshirt freshman in 2021 during a window when all of Stanford’s leading receivers were hurt, but essentially went back to the bench in 2022; those two have 23 catches between them. Those three figure to be used prominently in 2023, though the fact that the previous staff didn’t show a lot of confidence in them isn’t a great sign. One interesting possibility, however, is that unlike just about everyone else in the very tall room that Shaw had been recruiting for years, Farrell is 5’10” and could be deployed as the type of slot receiver Taylor has more experience fielding.

There are seven other scholarship receivers in the room, all pretty young. #82 WR Raines was a low 3-star in the 2021 class who hasn’t played the last two years, #30 WR Ayomanor and #26 WR Ja. Thompson are mid 3-star redshirt freshmen. Jibriel thinks it’s unlikely that any of those three play in 2023, though he thinks there may be a little experimentation early on to give them a chance. They took four receivers in the 2023 cycle, mid-to-high 3-stars (an improvement since this position’s ratings had been slipping in the last couple classes), but only one of them enrolled early, #24 WR Bachmeier. He looked pretty decent in the Spring showcase and was one of the higher rated recruits, so Jibriel said not to be surprised if he works his way into some playing time.

I suspect that Jibriel’s assertion on the podcast is going to be correct – this will be a pretty small rotation for the WR room, and by the end of the first month or so they’ll have it boiled down to just the top three guys who play regularly in a four-wide configuration with Yurosek as a split-out TE. Between him, Humphreys, decent odds that one of the new starters breaks out, and the expectation that Taylor knows what he’s doing as a passing-game coach, this should be a pretty dangerous pattern, but it doesn’t look like they could afford a single injury. Again, this is a unit that ideally would be reinforced with some proven depth from the portal, but that hasn’t happened.

The offensive line has a very odd coaching situation. Stanford had initially hired Klayton Adams to be the OL coach and run game coordinator, but he then left to take an NFL job (Jibriel pointed out that Adams had done the exact same thing to Arizona State in 2021). For some reason this has resulted in Taylor wearing three different coaching hats, as well as hiring co-OL coaches Netter and Talamaivao, something I’ve never seen before and I’m not sure how it’s going to work. Both come from the FCS ranks but not Sac St, and I don’t believe they’ve worked together before.

They’ll have their work cut out for them since the total collapse of Stanford’s offensive line competence starting in 2018 has continued unabated through the present moment, and this year they’ve lost six of the seven linemen I would describe as starters for the last two seasons. Those are Walter Rouse, Jake Hornibrook, Drake Nugent, Barrett Miller, Drake Metcalf, Myles Hinton, and Branson Bragg (who retired a couple weeks into the season). They also lost a high 3-star freshman, Kenji Swanson, for unexplained reasons, and (for the sake of completeness) four walk-ons have disappeared from the roster: Jason Amsler, Will Gibson, Max Kalny, and Matthew Moore.

There are currently only nine offensive linemen listed on Stanford’s official roster (one of whom is a walk-on), which is almost too few to field a competitive football team. During the Spring showcase I noticed a d-lineman, #92 DL Uke, doing some o-line drills, but Jibriel reminded me he did that last year and then flipped back to the d-line, so who knows what that means. In the Fall they’ll add a low 3-star FCS transfer, Alec Bank, as well as four true freshman who range from a low to a high 3-star. Both Jibriel and I doubt the freshmen will compete for jobs but Bank might be in a battle for the left tackle spot in Fall camp.

On the podcast Jibriel and I spent quite some time wailing about the appalling state of this room, but after recovering from the shock of how depleted (and frankly dangerous) it is, we worked out the likely starting lineup fairly easily since there really aren’t any other viable configurations. The one returning starter, #57 RG Rogers, will keep his spot. #69 C Maikkula is the only scholarship player who knows how to snap the ball so that job is his, and walk-on #77 C Berzins played a game last year as a backup center so he could fill in behind him. #76 RT Leyrer got by far the most backup snaps of the several guys they tried out at that position due to injuries last year so that spot is his. The other FCS portal addition, #61 LG Mayberry, was brought in specifically to play left guard and was in that position in the Spring showcase. Left tackle is the trickiest to figure out, Bank might figure into it but for right now I think low 4-star #67 OL Anderson, the highest rated linemen who’s built like a tackle, has the job, though he’s a 2022 recruit with only a few reps at RT last year.

What’s deeply problematic here, other than the terrifying inexperience of the new starters we’ve projected, is that there are only three scholarship backups currently on campus and there’s significant trouble with each of them as playable depth. #52 OL Heyer is a redshirt freshman and despite being a low 4-star was the only 2022 recruit not to play last year, with a couple walk-ons getting play ahead of him. Worse, #71 OL McLaughlin and #74 OL Pogorelc are both seniors, 2020 recruits, and borderline 4-stars who should have seriously played by now given how bad the line has been, but they haven’t … the fact that Leyrer, who’s a year younger and lower rated, has been well ahead of them is a poor sign for their playability.

This offensive line situation is extremely concerning. They need to hit on five playable linemen (four new starters and a sixth man) and will only have a pool of eight scholarship non-freshmen from which to draw, and I have serious doubts about three of those eight. Pulling off a winning line will require close to a 100% hit rate, something that I would describe as nearly impossible.

BYU v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images


Stanford ranked 99th in defensive F+ advanced statistics in 2022, the fourth straight year of coming in at 85th or worse for former DC Lance Anderson. In my opinion that slide, after his first five years with the Cardinal producing top-50 defenses including a couple of top-10 performances early in his tenure, was mostly related to failures in the defensive front. By contrast, I thought former DB coach Duane Akina was one of the few decent position coaches on staff who consistently developed NFL players (including three this year), although as Jibriel and I have discussed on the podcast the fire had seemed to go out in terms of recruiting in the backfield.

On my tally sheet, the difference in per-play success rates for Stanford’s defense against the run and against the pass was pretty stark last year, I think reflecting that front-backfield effectiveness split. The Cardinal only defended about 35.5% of opponents’ designed runs (95 successes vs 171 failures, given the down & distance, excluding garbage time), which is an abysmal number, but they succeeded against 54% of designed passing plays (171 vs 146), which is above average.

Several trends that I observed over the years contributed to such a spectacular failure to stop the run: poor coaching from staff not named Akina, failure to stock the defensive line with adequate bodies for their 3-4 front, and sticking with a quartet of underperforming inside linebackers for years. But all three of those factors look to be coming to an end in 2023, and I’m somewhat optimistic for the front to reverse its slide and make significant gains (though Jibriel called me out on the podcast, saying “that’s a low bar for improvement,” which is fair).

Anderson’s defense was initially designed as a 3-4, but a string of recruiting whiffs and departures left them unable to actually field it as such, and at times they were down to only three scholarship defensive linemen. Last offseason they claimed to switch the structure to a 4-3, but of course this was a transparent falsehood as it was obvious they only had the personnel for the same 2-4 they’d been forced into using for years. Then during the 2022 season they compounded this foolishness by deploying what I could only describe as a 1-5-5, with one down lineman and three outside backers on the field, and predictably terrible results in stopping the run.

Coach Taylor has hired a trio of assistants from DC Jim Leonhard’s staff at Wisconsin to run Stanford’s front: DC and OLB coach April, ILB coach D’Onofrio, and DL coach Kolodziej. I’m familiar with Wisconsin’s system in general and April in particular from studying the Badgers during Oregon’s Rose Bowl preparations; I think this is a pretty competent group of assistants, and Leonhard’s linebacker and nickel structure fits the roster they’re inheriting pretty well so this should be a smooth transition. For a program that had consistently gotten the defensive front wrong for so long, and a head coach with such an offensive orientation, I’m genuinely surprised by what a great set of hires this appears to be.

The chief problem in stopping the run had been an astonishing failure to get an appropriate number of bodies in the d-line room, with only one DT recruit in the three classes between 2017 and 2019. By last year’s recruiting cycle they had pulled out of that nosedive, though the lag between getting linemen on campus and being able to play them meant it was too late to save this defense. Now however, those 2020 through 2022 d-line recruits are coming online, and while they’re not too experienced, the size and number of bodies is appropriate to the front and they have a staff that hopefully knows what it’s doing and won’t repeat the galling mistakes of the past.

There have been no scholarship departures from last year. They have three experienced returners with between 15 and 33 tackles apiece, and each is at least 6’2” and 280 lbs: #40 DL Phillips, #51 DL Moi, and #94 DL Franklin. I think the first two will be the starters in their 2-4-5 structure in 2023 as they’re a little bigger and were borderline 4-stars, while Franklin had about half as many reps last year and was a low 3-star. Interestingly, Moi was a true freshman last year but graded out the best on my tally sheet on a per-play basis.

They also return two high 3-star linemen north of 280 lbs, Uke and #97 DL Rowell, and two low-to-mid 3-stars at about 260, #98 DL Buckey and #91 DL Caughey. None of those four played at all last year, and I think Buckey and Caughey would ideally sit out another year and bulk up some more (plus Uke may be needed to switch over to the o-line for real this time). But at the very least they should have enough for a four-man rotation of playable guys in Phillips, Moi, Franklin, and Rowell, with more depth if they really need it from Uke, the smaller backups if they hit the training table hard this Summer, three more upperclassmen walk-ons in the room, and a true freshman arriving in the Fall. This situation is leaps and bounds more viable than what Stanford has been able to field at this position for years. (Jibriel told me I’m more optimistic about this group than Stanford fans are, the first time such a thing has ever been said about any position on our podcasts together.)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Stanford at UCLA Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last offseason Jibriel and I immediately and correctly identified then-true freshman #23 OLB Bailey as Stanford’s best defensive player coming out of Spring practices and likely to jump to the top of the depth chart as one of their two starting edges. He produced more TFLs than anyone on the team and graded out the highest on my tally sheet, and to the extent that I had criticisms at all it was freshman stuff like needing a little more bulk and a couple of leverage missteps, so I’m expecting an even better performance from Bailey as a sophomore.

The Cardinal is losing last year’s other starter, Stephen Herron, as well as the primary guy who’d come in for all those three-OLB looks, Aeneas DiCosmo. There are two additions in mid 3-star true freshmen joining in the Fall but I doubt they’ll contribute this year. This unit returns the player I’d describe as the primary backup, #92 OLB Keneley, a mid 3-star senior who’s had something of a journeyman’s career on the Farm and I think represents the conservative, “low ceiling / high floor” option for the other starter opposite Bailey.

The interesting question is whether any of the four younger and ostensibly more talented edge players can get past Keneley. The two who got some backup experience last year were #9 OLB Armitage and #44 OLB Cooper, the two who basically didn’t see the field at all were #5 OLB Aybar and #90 OLB Tafiti. Armitage and Aybar were 2021 recruits, Cooper and Tafiti were 2022s, all four were rated low-to-mid 4-stars in the 24/7 composite. It was understandable that they didn’t knock out Herron or DiCosmo since those two were seniors last year, and nobody’s star burned as bright as Bailey’s, but none of these four young players supplanting Keneley for his mediocre performance in 2022 is either an indictment of their potential or the previous staff’s conservatism, and it remains to be seen which.

At any rate, there should be plenty of playable depth here and at least one star edge rusher in Bailey, perhaps more if one of the young players finally steps up. So again I’m optimistic for some improvement compared to last year, and regression seems highly unlikely. If I’m right that improved run defense is virtually guaranteed, then I think the fulcrum of the overall defensive success lies here in the OLB unit – that’s because as will be discussed below, I don’t believe the secondary will be able to hold up if the pass rush isn’t consistently getting home, and they’ll need the OLBs to have a breakout performance to keep QBs in this league from shredding the pass defense.

The inside linebackers have been rotating four players for years, and three of those four have now transferred out: Levani Damuni, Ricky Miezan, and Jacob Mangum-Farrar. It’s a harsh and unfortunate thing to say, but I believe this constitutes addition by subtraction, as Shaw’s staff was counterproductively loyal to this group, in my opinion. Stanford has also graduated a backup at the position, Jason Kaul.

One of those four in the rotation returns, #8 ILB Sinclair, and I suppose there’s some reason to hold out hope he’ll have a different 2023 – he’s the highest rated talent of them as a low 4-star and he played the least under the old staff. Jibriel thinks he’s a lock to be one of the two starters and I don’t see any other options. The only other returner with any experience is former walk-on #10 ILB Jorgensen, who didn’t grade out great as a backup, and it’s notable that he was playing ahead of three scholarship backers — #30 ILB Dubre, #48 ILB Hudson, and #35 ILB Rose – though he was a senior and they were all freshmen last year. Jibriel thinks it’s unlikely the young players contribute and I understand why for Hudson and Rose as low 3-star 2022 recruits, but Dubre was higher rated and a year older so he might make the rotation as a backup.

There’s a mid 3-star true freshman arriving in the Fall, but the interesting addition here is transfer #0 ILB Bernadel, FIU’s leading tackler last year. We (mostly me) had quite a bit of fun discussing the implications of that transfer on the podcast, but the immediate upshot for 2023 is that Bernadel is almost certainly going to start next to Sinclair, with Jorgensen remaining at backup. I haven’t watched any tape on Bernadel but I have no difficulty believing he’s an upgrade compared to previous starters.

All of this optimism for a rebuilt and better coached defensive front may be moot, however, since the secondary has been completely gutted, has no high profile players or coaches, and presents the obvious vulnerability for the lethal passing offenses in this conference to attack and simply bypass the front.

Stanford Cardinal defeated the USC Trojans 42-28 during a NCAA football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Stanford is losing all five starters here plus the two most used backups at cornerback. Three of them are now in the NFL: one starting corner, Kyu Blu Kelly, was drafted in the 5th round by the Ravens and the other, Ethan Bonner, signed a UDFA contract with the Dolpins, while starting safety Kendall Williamson was drafted in the 7th round by the Bears. The other major departures are starting safety Patrick Fields and starting nickel Jonathan McGill, and backup corners Nicolas Toomer and Salim Turner-Muhammad.

The options to replace all those corners are pretty dire. Jibriel told me that the best bet is #31 CB Manley, a mid 3-star senior who left the team in 2022 but has now rejoined. He played in 13 games with 23 tackles in three years between 2019 and 2021, so sparingly as a backup that I don’t have enough film to have formed an opinion on him. Still that’s far more experience than everybody else currently listed as a cornerback on Stanford’s official roster, — #19 CB Ellis, #28 CB Jo. Thompson, #29 CB Williams, and #36 CB Wright — all of whom are freshmen and low-to-mid 3-stars. Only Wright got any play last year, and that was just a couple snaps. Jibriel thinks that #18 DB Wyrick, a 2021 mid 3-star who played a little backup nickel last year and is currently listed as a safety, will be converted to an outside corner and get the other starting spot. This looks like an impending disaster to me; putting almost totally inexperienced and modestly talented cornerbacks against Pac-12 passing offenses would be any DC’s nightmare.

There are three incoming DBs in the 2023 class who’ll enroll in the Fall, normally I’d say they’re unlikely to contribute but given the youth, inexperience, and lack of talent with the returners, it’s possible that low 4-star Jshawn Frausto-Ramos jumps in right away.

There’s a little more experience at the safety spots, but barely. #33 DB Gilman returns and had 38 tackles on almost 300 snaps played, but both Jibriel and I were baffled by those numbers because we don’t remember ever seeing him on the field that much. I scoured my charts for him and I believe he was primarily in on special teams and during garbage time (Stanford wasn’t on the happy side of garbage time much, so that probably means not a lot of pass defense reps). They also get back Leigber from the running back unit, who has plenty of snaps under his belt, just on the other side of the ball. If Wyrick is switching to corner then there’s three remaining returners who each got a handful of snaps last year: #37 DB Edwards, #27 DB Porter, and #20 DB Slocum, the last two of whom are upperclassmen and high 3-stars so I’d guess they’d figure into the rotation ahead of low 3-star sophomore Edwards. Compounding the problems in this room is that somehow Taylor decided to hire DB coach Gregory from UW, so I think Stanford fans should prepare themselves for catastrophic results.

Accountability Corner

In last year’s preview, I noted that the 2021 wideout injury situation had artificially depressed their offensive ranking and I predicted McKee and that group of healthy WRs to rebound a bit and then make it to the NFL, but that they’d still be a one-dimensional offense without a good running game due to OL troubles. That’s just what happened with a jump of 11 ranks in offensive F+ in 2022 and every one of the relevant passing game players going pro. I also predicted that if Smith was unavailable at RB they’d have a real falloff in the run game, which was unfortunately accurate. I commented that I thought Shaw was having a hard time figuring out what to do with his offensive scheme and that it wasn’t as simple as just trying to operate the same power run scheme but rather a mish-mash of a bunch of college offenses, so I think I get partial credit for him swiping Wake Forest’s slow-mesh system, but I certainly didn’t see that exact move coming. I predicted the o-line personnel correctly, which was a no-brainer since they had no departures from the starters or primary backups, and also that their performance wouldn’t improve, which is the conventional wisdom now but I think I deserve some credit for calling this back in 2018, when they had multiple 5-stars and people thought I was nuts.

On defense I called out that the “scheme switch” to a 4-3 was semantics at best and a poor coverup for their d-line personnel issues, which of course showed up exactly as it must have. But I still didn’t see the 1-5-5 stuff coming, that was really wild, and part of me appreciates the creativity (the other, wiser part sees it as pointless desperation). The only black eye here is that I specifically predicted that none of the true freshmen would play and one did, Moi, and he turned out to do fairly well, though the overall prediction of Stanford’s defense being unable to pick itself off the mat due to its failures in the d-line unit was of course perfectly accurate. The OLBs and ILBs went exactly as predicted. In the secondary I won my bet with Jibriel that Bonner, not Turner-Muhammad, would get the cornerback start opposite Kelly, and that Wyrick would wind up at nickel in 2022, though I figured Manley would contribute and instead he left the team for reasons I don’t think we ever got an explanation for, but he’s back now. Safety went down just as predicted.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game - Stanford v Iowa Photo by Katie Meyers/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images