The last time the Stanford Cardinal had a dominant receiver was back in the days of Zach Ertz. Let that sink in.
Sure, Christian McCaffrey was a solid pass-catching threat for the Cardinal. Yes, Michael Rector had one good season before he fell off and moved on. All this point to the latest reliable receiver to reel in passes for the Cardinal more than one season was a tight end.
In 2017, Stanford ranked 87th in receiving yards, the wideouts contributing a troubling 11 of the 23 touchdowns accumulated through the air. Getting the picture of why this group has been less than satisfactory?
But this season will be different. This season will have Osiris St. Brown.
Brown can change the way this offense attacks because of his deep threat talent. With him in the rotation, Stanford has a deep receiver similar to Ty Montgomery his junior year (when he averaged 15.7 yards per catch)- a player that can stretch the field consistently.
The way Stanford runs the offense, particularly out of the pistol with quarterback K.J. Costello, the deep passes are already built into the system. Brown gives the deep routes in Stanford’s playbook more layers and added depth. Because of Stanford’s perennial ability to move the ball on the ground, opposing defenders will already have to play at least one safety in the box. A receiver of Brown’s caliber can add even more layers to what will already be a diverse scheme.
In high school, Brown showed not only a knack for taking the top off a defense on go routes but also an exceptional double move along with a vicious attitude towards 50/50 balls. Brown proved early on that he has fantastic field awareness, aptly displayed by his use of the sidelines on underthrown fades. The chief problem Brown had on his high school film was out running passes from his quarterback, forcing him to come back for the ball. In the end zone, Brown’s hands become his biggest asset, reeling in tough, back shoulder catches versus tight coverage.
Looking through the lens of the Stanford offense, Brown’s outside presence gives the Cardinal even more room to operate. From the pistol, slants and in cuts off play action draws already damage opponents because of the mix of the receivers’ size and Stanford’s running threat luring the safeties down into the box.
But picture this: the tight end heads down the seam after a chip block. A big receiver makes steers inside ten yards deep on the same side. On the other side, a corner is just picking up his jock strap after getting shaken by Brown on the double move. All this off the play action draw would be too much for the back end help of any defense. It is a scenario that offers up at least one wide open receiver.
Such versatility in the passing attack should profit more receivers than just Brown. As mentioned when discussing Costello, the receiving core of the Cardinal are a tall group (all receivers to record a reception last season measure at least 6’2”), which now added a speed element. Deep passes to Brown can force a flip of coverage on Arcega-Whiteside or Trenton Irwin in the slot, giving Stanford a tower lined up on a nickel corner. Easy moves early in games will give Stanford fantastic matchups and great looks for Costello throughout the season.
The vertical threat also gives Stanford help when thrusting the ball in Bryce Love’s hands. A true deep threat X receiver will always keep the safeties on their heels and backpedaling. And a box devoid of extra clutter for Love to take advantage of is a terrifying prospect.
The difference for Stanford on the outside is the array of talent at the position in comparison to last season. The group is too stacked to fail. In 2018, the dominant receiver will actually play receiver.