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Stanford’s personnel groupings look like they’re starting to take shape

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Osiris St. Brown has an important role to play—the only question is how big of a role it is

UC Davis v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

During today’s media meeting with the media, David Shaw was asked if Osiris St. Brown was now the team’s #3 receiver.

This question was asked because in the UC Davis game, St. Brown caught a huge 53-yard post route off of a play-action fake. Osiris is a redshirt freshman, a vaunted 4-star recruit, and his younger brother starting at WR for USC while his older brother plays WR for the Green Bay Packers. The pedigree is impressive, the expectations are sky-high, and it seemed like a breakout moment.

Why else would a freshman with one catch be mentioned as a starter besides two experienced seniors Arcega-Whiteside and Irwin? The implication in the question was that because Conor Wedington (the other vaunted WR in last year’s freshman class) has been sidelined with injury for most of this season, Osiris St. Brown would have a big role in the offense going forward.

But Shaw was a little coy. “I don’t have [our receivers] numbered—they each have their own role,” Shaw responded, specifically mentioning Conor Wedington, Osiris St. Brown, Michael Wilson and Donald Stewart by name.

I like David Shaw’s answer—because neither Conor Wedington or Osiris St. Brown resemble a #3 receiver.

Check out these stats from the season so far:

In this Stanford offense, the #1 is big JJ—the clear red zone target, who has the size to box out receivers on deep sideline routes and end zone fades alike. The #2 is actually Kaden Smith, who has the size to run block, and the speed to run routes up the seam and control the middle of the field. Trenton Irwin is the one filling the #3 receiver role—he has sure hands and runs clean routes, so he’s dependable enough to keep on the field all the time, but he is clearly the #3 pass catching option for Costello.

What none of these players are is a speed threat. When David Shaw says Osiris and Conor have a role, he means they can be the speed threat. This is a role that the Stanford offense has been lacking thus far, and will certainly have utility in forcing opponent’s defensive backs to align more conservatively, opening up routes underneath and decompressing the line of scrimmage for Love.

However with these 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 QB and 1 Bryce Love in on all plays, that leaves just one paltry spot on offense to go to the FB, the 2nd TE (Colby Parkinson, who is also fantastic), the Ogre OL, or a 3rd WR. It’s exciting to think about what a deep threat could do for Stanford, but I don’t see them regularly replacing Irwin in the depth chart or the TE2/FB in personnel groupings. On top of this, Stanford’s game plan is predicated on limiting the total number of plays in a game and maximizing the rushing offense.

For better or for worse, I think Shaw’s answer means Stanford will not be featuring either Conor or Osiris as part of their base offense anytime soon. As I have already mentioned there are a limited number of receiver route opportunities already, and this sets the stage for a potential issue for Shaw’s game plan. I fear that the speed threat role will have very few opportunities to shine in this offense, meaning that they will be on the field only during designated deep passing plays. When Osiris or Conor are on the field, it may be predictable what their roles will be and this could really limit the advantage of having a credible deep threat in the first place. I’m really excited to see these two guys play, but I’m tempering my expectations for big roles until next season.

Another personnel development I’d like to discuss is the ascent of Paulson Adebo. The young DB is the 2018 version of Quenton Meeks. He is the Brandon Browner to Alijah Holder’s Richard Sherman. He is second in the nation in passes broken up after he knocked down three in the UC Davis game, and his play looks even better than the stats.

With 3 minutes left in the first half against USC, Adebo was tasked with covering a deep route from USC’s St. Brown, Amon-Ra. The route started with a fake back to the quarterback about 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, which Adebo followed—but the receiver quickly turned upfield instead, sprinting along the sideline. Amon-Ra is really fast, and Adebo lost a couple of steps on him with the fake, but he recovered quickly and blazed ahead. His speed, along with some help from a short throw, allowed him to catch up to Amon-Ra. With perfect timing, he jumped between the ball and Amon-Ra, and deftly deflected the pass without bumping or interfering with the receiver.

Adebo can play on an island with a real speedy receiver, and I think having two trustworthy CBs will benefit the Cardinal defense as a whole. I really look forward to watching him play and I don’t expect him to lose the starting CB spot for the rest of his time at Stanford.