clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A.J. Tarpley was robbed

It's criminal that the Cardinal's jack-of-all-trades linebacker wasn't honored by the Pac-12.

Tony Medina

No real need to mince words with an elaborate headline: A.J. Tarpley played at a stellar level for the entire season and didn’t collect even an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. That means he did not garner a single nomination to an all-conference team, something that over 160 players, including 20 linebackers, received.

A.J. Tarpley was robbed.

It may seem like small potatoes. Stanford was appropriately honored by the conference. The Cardinal had five players on the first team, five players on the second team and 14 honorable mentions. David Shaw won Coach of the Year. But this is still important.

On arguably the nation’s most tenacious defense, Tarpley was a jack-of-all-trades in the middle of the linebacking corps whose versatility was a key to the success of the Cardinal front. While Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas—both first team selections—are known for their violent pass rush and tendency to #partyinthebackfield and Shayne Skov is heralded for his stout run defense, Tarpley combines his teammate’s smashmouth tendencies with an agility that allows him to both roam sideline to sideline and excel in pass coverage. The latter quality is of particular importance. Thomas will play the pass, but both he and Murphy are more downhill players; Skov, by his own admission, is still not fully recovered from his ACL tear, which has limited his own admirable coverage abilities. Tarpley’s capacity to take on a back or tight end allows his teammates to focus on their strengths; the result is a beautiful and ferocious synergy between Stanford’s linebackers. And then he’ll crash the line and join in on the fun.

Plus, in case you’ve forgotten his fumble recovery to seal last year’s USC win, let’s all remember: Tarpley is a playmaker. In the Cardinal’s biggest game this year, he intercepted Marcus Mariota late in the second quarter in the Oregon game, preventing the Ducks from getting into field goal position to potentially take the lead going into the half.

His statistics aren’t gaudy, but Stanford’s approach does not lend itself to inflated individual numbers; it is a true team effort. Skov leads the team with 63 tackles—Tarpley has 49—but that doesn’t place him even remotely close to the top 100 tacklers in the country. The Cardinal leads the nation in sacks—by five, a large margin—but doesn’t have a single player with double digit totals in the category. Stanford is not designed for personal glory, but watch the Cardinal on defense, look for the ball, and chances are: you’ll see A.J. Tarpley.

This is not to say that he should have won the conference’s defensive player of the year award, or been a first team selection or even a second team selection. There are only so many spots. But to not get an honorable mention? He was—say it with me—robbed.

His teammates know it:

It’s not just his compatriots who know his value. Go ahead and ask Kirk Herbstreit how he feels about A.J. Tarpley. He extolls Tarpley’s virtues whenever he broadcasts a Stanford game, going so far as to say that Tarpley impressed him the most out of all of Cardinal’s linebackers, even more so than the widely heralded members of the group.

Perhaps that’s why Tarpley was omitted. Coaches wouldn’t want to put every Cardinal linebacker on their ballot so, leave out the least obvious guy. Or something. He is not a big name. Not next to Chase Thomas, who nearly won (and should have won) Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, or Shayne Skov, who was a five-star recruit destined for the NFL before he stepped on campus, or Trent Murphy, a cartoon character who gained nationwide notoriety because he wrestled (wrestles?) a steer. And Tarpley was not a highly sought after recruit. He won Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota, but didn’t even get an offer from the University of Minnesota. There was brief talk of converting him to fullback when he got to the Farm. And a betting man would have wagered that James Vaughters, the gem of Stanford’s 2011 recruiting class, would have won the ILB starting job next to Skov.

That’s all well and good. But A.J. Tarpley should not have flown under the radar this season. His play demanded attention and with it, recognition.

A.J. Tarpley was robbed.