The bad news for Stanford fans is that 5 of the top 6 pass catchers from 2012 have graduated and that group accounted for 73% of the receiving yardage as well. However, a deeper dive reveals two sets of good news: 1) The WR position accounted for very little of that production so there is plenty of room to improve at the position, and 2) Stanford has never had a group of WRs that looks physically more impressive. David Shaw has recruited big, strong, fast players at the position and they look poised to return to the days when Stanford wideouts were as feared as any in the conference (Washington, Lofton, Vataha, Margerum, McCaffrey, Walters, Pitts).
- Ty Montgomery steadily improved as a true freshman in 2011 and broke out down in the Fiesta Bowl with a 7-catch, 120-yard performance that raised expectations for his sophomore year. However, injuries and some devastating drops in the Washington game in 2012 dampened what many expected to be a showcase season for the talented WR. A healthy offseason, a new jersey number (he joins a long list of impressive #7s at Stanford), and a renewed focus all mean that fans are expecting 2013 to be his time to explode onto the national scene.
Montgomery has all of the physical tools to be great, including straight line speed, huge hands, leaping ability, and the quickness to make tacklers miss. In fact, his most productive plays in 2012 were the quick hitches where he was able to get the ball into his hands quickly and get 8-10 yards. However, for him to reach his potential as a weapon, Montgomery needs to work on playing the ball in the air at its high point and make plays on the 50/50 balls up the sideline. I haven't seen a Cardinal wideout with his skill set since Dave Davis, who had the potential to be a top NFL player before he left Stanford to go back to the east coast and be closer to home. He appears ready to reach his potential, and 2013 will be his opportunity because the team will need explosive plays from his position.
- Kodi Whitfield looked like he was going to follow the exact freshman game plan as Montgomery. Gain more of an understanding of the offense each week, gain the coach's trust, and earn more responsibility and playing time as the season wore on. Unfortunately for Whitfield, Drew Terrell And Jamal-Rashad Patterson improved their production and Ty Montgomery came back from injury - and therefore the chance for repetitions was scarce. He finished the season with just two catches, but coaches and fans are still looking to Whitfield as a major contributor in 2013.
Like Montgomery, Whitfield is big, strong and fast, but he has shown more ability to be the slot receiver that the team needs. Ertz was a 3rd-down savior in 2012 and the Whalens (Ryan and Griff...incredibly there is no relation) were the targets in years prior. Whitfield ran some plays out of the slot in the spring game and had some success working against the nickel coverage, so I would expect to see him take on that role more this season. He also runs great in-cutting routes like slants and 15 yard dig routes, and having a big frame makes him an easier target for the QB. He needs to improve on his go routes and understanding how to create separation horizontally when he is unable to run by the corner, something he was unable to do in the spring game. More reps with Hogan should help with that aspect of the offense and allow Whitfield to become another major weapon for the offense.
- Michael Rector delivered the play of the spring game with his juggling TD catch over two defenders on a post route. It was a sight Stanford fans haven't seen much of the last few seasons as the deep passing plays have mostly gone to the TEs out of play action calls. Another big, strong, fast WR, Rector might become that deep play threat that the team looks for when it needs to stretch the defense, especially if Montgomery establishes himself as a possession receiver and Whitfield improves at the slot.
As for the tight ends Stanford has to replace another "most productive player at his position" as Zach Ertz leaves for the NFL. Levine Toilolo also fled for greener paychecks and that leaves what has been one of the biggest positions of strength for Stanford, Tight End, virtually bare. There is very little experience on the roster and literally zero career catches for the TEs just a year after Ertz and Toilolo accounted for nearly 40% of the team's receptions and 46% of the receiving yardage. Staggering numbers to place, but the good news is the position is still filled with talent.
- Luke Kaumatule will remind Stanford fans of Toilolo because of his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame, his athleticism, and his difficult-to-pronounce last name. However, Kaumatule still has work to do to become the same type of devastating blocker that Toilolo was later in his career. Toilolo also benefited as much as anyone from the success of Ertz because it led to so many one-on-one matchups down the field. Kaumatule doesn't have that luxury, but when defenses allow it, he needs to be able to make the plays down the field. Luke had a difficult spring game with a couple of drops, but the good news is he is showing signs of becoming that force on the end of the line of scrimmage that will allow for the run game to stay incredible productive. The play-action game will be a big portion of his opportunities so reading the coverage, settling into open zones, and taking the right angles will all be things he needs to work on this summer. He will also need to work on his chemistry with Hogan as they did misfire on a few underneath routes, and the timing just seemed off.
- Meanwhile, Davis Dudchock seems to be the receiving TE that the offense needs. The Alabama native showed good awareness of zone coverages and how to get open while not running into defenders sitting out in front of him. He also has some quickness to create separation against inside LBs and strong safeties who will likely be charged with coverage in man-to-man situations. What he hasn't yet shown is the ability to break tackles and get big yards after the catch. As the case with many of the younger RBs, a big part of the problem is the lack of game experience and Davis suffers from the same issue. The good news for him is that the departures of Ertz and Toilolo created the opportunity to showcase his skill set.
- Technically Devon Cajuste is listed at WR, but the coaching staff might work to use him as the wing back or 2nd TE to take advantage of his speed and stretch the middle of the field. As productive as Ertz was with catching the ball down the field, his speed also created voids in the underneath zone that allowed the WRs and RBs to get yards after the catch.