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Next Man Up: Replacing Stanford’s NFL Departures

A look at the likely replacements for Stanford’s seven NFL departures

Colorado v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

While the Stanford Cardinal find themselves firmly in the Top 25 of many college football pundits’ early poll projections, the absence of playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas will be noticeable this year on the Farm. Of the seven Stanford players who entered the NFL Draft this year, four have found there way onto an NFL roster, with Conrad Ukropina potentially following suit. If Stanford plans to string together its seventh 10+ win season in the last eight years, the team’s younger players must step up and fill the holes left by those who departed for the NFL.

Dallas Lloyd

Dallas Lloyd’s college football journey was certainly not conventional in any sense of the word. Originally recruited by Stanford as a quarterback in 2010, Dallas Lloyd arrived at Stanford following his mission to play safety for the Cardinal. After seeing limited minutes his freshman and sophomore year, Lloyd had a breakout year during his junior campaign. Building off of this momentum, Lloyd finished second on the team in tackles last year, behind only Solomon Thomas.

Likely Replacement: Ben Edwards

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen developments, it seems as if Brandon Simmons and Ben Edwards will be the replacements for Lloyd and Hoffpauir next season. With that being said, it is unclear whether Simmons or Edwards will be starting in the secondary alongside Justin Reid. Besides mentioning the “great competition” between Simmons and Edwards, Shaw has not indicated who he expects to fill Lloyd’s position. Edwards’ performance last year may earn him the starting nod at the beginning of the season, but don't expect Edwards to get significantly more minutes than Simmons if that is the case.

Zach Hoffpauir

Following a brief stint in minor league baseball, Hoffpauir returned to the football field for the Cardinal in 2016 and saw playing time at safety behind Dallas Lloyd. While Hoffpauir’s numbers were down slightly from 2014, he still managed to finish seventh on the team in solo tackles.

Likely Replacement: Brandon Simmons

If Edwards does indeed becoming the starting safety, Simmons would be the clear choice to replace Hoffpauir as the Cardinal’s third option at safety. Simmons saw limited minutes at safety last year, but expect him to be used more extensively in the stout Stanford secondary in 2017.

Christian McCaffrey

It goes without saying that Christian McCaffrey was an incredibly valuable weapon for the Cardinal both on offense and on special teams throughout his career, but now that McCaffrey is a Panther, Stanford will have to find a way to replace his offensive output.

Likely Replacement: Bryce Love

Colorado v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Of all the new faces that will be starting for the Cardinal next year, Bryce Love has perhaps the highest expectations surrounding him. In the two games McCaffrey did not play in last year, Love rushed for 129 and 115 yards respectively. Love is expected to not only fill the position of running back left by McCaffrey, but the position of kick returner as well. While Cameron Scarlett, Trevor Speights and Dorian Maddox all may receive some touches over the course of the season, Love will most likely remain the primary workhorse out of the backfield. The fate of Stanford’s 2017 season will likely be decided by Love’s ability or inability to extend Stanford’s golden era of running backs.

Michael Rector

Stanford’s top receiver in 2015 decided to take advantage of his final year of eligibility to return for one final season in Palo Alto. While Rector couldn’t match his productivity levels from 2015, he still represented a real threat in both the passing and rushing game. Rector was the consensus number one wide receiver for the Cardinal at the beginning of last season, and his departure for Detroit leaves the top receiver spot open to be filled.

Likely Replacement: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Stanford v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After redshirting his freshman year, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside quickly became an unexpected threat for the Cardinal. Perhaps defined by his game-winning touchdown against UCLA, Arcega-Whiteside’s first season saw him haul in a team best five touchdowns. At 6’3”, Arcega-Whiteside’s lofty stature is not dissimilar from the likes of Devon Cajuste, Austin Hooper, and Zach Ertz. Arcega-Whiteside turned some heads last year, but it is worth noting that Trenton Irwin had an arguably equally impressive 2016 campaign. While one of these two may be the nominal “primary receiver,” it seems likely that the two will not considerably separate themselves in terms of balls thrown their way. Nothing is certain at the wide receiver position for Stanford heading into 2017, but J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin will likely remain the primary threats in the passing game.

Francis Owusu

While some may argue that Francis Owusu never lived up to his full potential while on the Farm, he was able to put forth fairly consistent production from his limited role over his four years. Owusu entered the draft following his senior year and ended up signing with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent. Owusu never put up gaudy numbers, but his departure will leave the Cardinal searching for a viable receiving threat behind Irwin and Arcega-Whiteside.

Likely Replacement: Donald Stewart

Jay Tyler’s speed makes him an enticing offensive option for the Cardinal next year, but his small frame (5’8”, 167 lbs.) will likely prevent him from being a consistent third receiving option. With this in mind, Donald Stewart will likely see the majority of the receiving opportunities behind Irwin and Arcega-Whiteside. Stewart only had two receptions last year, but Stanford’s current lack of WR depth will likely allow Stewart to step into a more prominent role this year. In addition to Stewart and Tyler, look for Osiris St. Brown to see some minutes next year if he is not redshirted.

Solomon Thomas

Following a dominating Sun Bowl performance, Solomon Thomas became the third player selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. The looming absence of this year’s team leader in tackles, sacks, and fumble recoveries has left a lot of questions swirling about Stanford’s normally formidable defensive line.

Likely Replacement: Eric Cotton

Solomon Thomas’s strong showing last year helped to mask the somewhat weak performance by the weak-side defensive ends for the Cardinal. Dylan Jackson and Luke Kaumatule only combined for 20 tackles last year opposite Thomas, which pales in comparison to the 61 tackles posted by Thomas. As of right now, it looks as if the converted tight end Eric Cotton will attempt to fill Thomas’s role. Cotton did record one sack in limited action last year, but will need to significantly increase his production if he hopes to minimize the damage caused by Thomas’s departure.

Conrad Ukropina

After the somewhat tumultuous era of Jordan Williamson, Ukropina took much of the tension out of field goal attempts for Cardinal fans. Ukropina’s 121 point performance in 2015, including the three that won the game against Notre Dame, is just one of his multiple Stanford kicking records. While Ukropina is not currently signed with an NFL team, several teams have showed interest.

Likely Replacement: Charlie Beall

Collin Riccitelli will be in the hunt for the starting kicking job, but the position will likely boil down to a competition between Charlie Beall and Jet Toner. Stanford’s special teams coach Pete Alamar said last year that Beall had “really made strides” as a kicker. In fact, when Ukropina originally became the starting kicker, he did so by “holding off competition” from Beall (a true freshman at the time.) While Toner is an incredibly talented kicker, some feel that his talent is “skill set seems to be slanted more towards the punting game.” Regardless of whether Beall or Toner wins the job, they will have some big shoes to fill next year.