The 2017 recruiting class is filled with talented players, but for the most part, these new Cardinal will make little impact on the field as freshmen. David Shaw will need to look for current team members in order to address the departures of a couple household names. Specifically, what areas might be troublesome for Stanford next year?
The Defensive Line
Solomon Thomas is gone, and it’s still settling in. He was a beast and carried the front seven, and now, someone will need to fill his shoes; that’s a tall order. As the starting defensive end returning, Dylan Jackson will need to take a big leap in 2017, but it seems impossible that he’ll be able to match Thomas’ performance. Furthermore, Stanford loses their backup defensive ends, which makes the situation even more worrisome. Defensive coordinator, Lance Anderson, will most likely fill the gap by turning to unproven underclassmen. Meanwhile, the defensive tackle position has a lot more security with Harrison Phillips returning after manning the job over the past few years.
Keller Chryst? Hurt. Ryan Burns? Eh. K.J. Costello? Unproven. Stanford’s quarterback dilemma is both a question and a hole. Chryst was undefeated and the probable starter for 2017 before tearing his ACL, but now, it’s anyone’s job. When spring ball starts, Burns and Costello will battle for the starting job. Burns struggled most times he played, and unless he becomes the guy who played in the first half versus Kansas State, he should not get the starting nod. Former four-star KJ Costello should be the new man behind center in Stanford’s opener with Rice, and he will get the chance to take the quarterback job in 2017. Oh yeah, Stanford also has the best incoming high school quarterback. Maybe, he’ll shock us all and earn the starting job, but that seems unlikely as even Andrew Luck redshirted his freshman year. Either way, whoever starts behind center next year will have a lot of proving to do.
The Offensive Line
The 2016 offensive line was worse than past years. Losing only one starter next year, the big men up front need to improve if Stanford hopes to win more games. Last year, the quarterback was constantly pressured, and running backs did not have an All-American opening up lanes like years past. Still, there’s plenty of hope heading into 2017. Nate Herbig was inserted into the lineup late last season and made a huge impact. Former four star recruit and current freshmen Devery Hamilton, Clark Yarbrough, and Henry Hattis could all claim the newly opened starting spot, but don’t be surprised if incoming freshmen Walker Little and Foster Sarell take the job for themselves and even take jobs from current starters. The offensive line was a problem in 2016 but can only get better in the future.
Christian McCaffrey will no longer be returning punts and kicks for Stanford, and that could be a big problem next year since no longer can a game be turned around at the blink of an eye. Bryce Love seems like the best option to replace McCaffrey, but David Shaw was hesitant to put him in against North Carolina, so another Cardinal might get the opportunity on returns. However, whoever returns kicks for Stanford next year will likely not be able to match McCaffrey’s production level and impact. Furthermore, Conrad Ukropina has used up his eligibility, which means Stanford needs to find a new kicker. Jet Toner and Jake Bailey are both candidates for replacement, but who knows how good they’ll be at drilling fifty yard field goals.
Yes, I didn’t mention the running backs position. Bryce Love is really, really good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads the nation in all-purpose yards. It may be a stretch, but he’s my Heisman sleeper. He’s fast, and Love gained respect as a lead back versus Notre Dame and North Carolina. The running back position will not be a problem in 2017.
Stanford has plenty of questions heading into 2017, but they also have plenty of answers. The secondary will be outstanding. All starting linebackers are returning. And the receiving group has plenty of depth. If Stanford can find solutions for the problems they face in 2017, they could get even better despite losing their two best players.