Look, you didn’t think we were going to sit here and not talk about the sports we want to be watching while the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on our sports watching this spring, did you?
Well, if you did, you thought wrong.
Once we get football and the rest of our favorite sports back to a court, arena or stadium near you, all we’re left with is the written word and projection into the next season. Fortunately for football fans, next season isn’t in jeopardy (yet) and we’re still a ways away from anything truly meaningful being caned so we can proceed on mission.
That in mind, we take a look at the top 10 players returning to the Stanford football team this fall. It is important to note that with any cross-positional rankings, the value of the player’s impact at his position is also weighed heavily as is his documented plus-play, ability to avoid negative play and other factors.
1. Paulson Adebo, CB
It wasn’t long ago that Adebo was a lock for the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But after a relative ‘down year’ for Adebo in 2019, he decided to come back to Stanford in 2020 to cement his status as that first-round cornerback once again. Adebo saw a bevy of targets a season ago and though he didn’t see the same amount of completions on him, he did have more lapses than the year prior. Still, he’s every bit of a lockdown cornerback and proved that with multiple bounceback efforts and strong showings that still prove he’s one of the conference’s best in the business. That’s now back-to-back four-interception seasons and he now has well over 30 plays on the ball in just two seasons. That’s some serious ball-hawkery.
2. Davis Mills, QB
Okay, Mills wants to prove he’s the best guy from his class still? By all means would we be here for it. But, by all means have we not seen that so far in his career. Still, his talent is immense and the ship is now his to guide without looking over his shoulder or viewing the offense behind K.J. Costello. He’s an accurate thrower to the intermediate range of the field and routinely picked up first downs and touchdowns when targeting passes over the middle — both incredibly difficult areas to attack regularly with success. Lean on that in 2020 and improve the short-area passes to keep the offense on schedule, and success will follow.
3. Foster Sarell, OT
This isn’t a typo. The other tackle has proven to be better, more recently than Walker Little and in his first season as the full-time right tackle, Sarell was dominant across the field of play. Pass protection is his area of expertise and he can bend with the best pass-rushers in the Pac-12, allowing just a handful of sacks and hits all year in 2019. With another year of experience, Sarell will start to climb up draft boards and the Cardinal could very well have two offensive tackles drafted in the first round in next year’s draft.
4. Drew Dalman, C
Plugging up the interior of the offensive line for the Cardinal for one more year will be Dalman who was an absolute stalwart in pass protection last year. He can move off the ball as fast as he is strong and is a menace to opposing defensive tackles. He’s yet to allow a sack in his career and was routinely spotted pancaking tackles in the run game. His athletic form of play will pay dividends in 2020 and potentially at the next level for Dalman.
5. Walker Little, OT
Sure this is recency bias but Little’s injury in 2019 concerns me, a bit. Even then, I wasn’t as sold as all other draft pundits on Little’s 2018 season either but one thing is for sure, he can pass block with the best of ‘em. If he does return to form from a knee injury that shut him down for all but the Northwestern game last year, Little’s biggest impact will certainly come in pass protection on the blindside for Mills. He allowed just three sacks in 2018 and again, if he returns to form, should give the Cardinal perhaps the nation’s best tackle combo.
6. Malik Antoine, S
Antoine flies around the field with reckless abandon, routinely making plays on the ball in the passing game that aren’t even in his coverage. Perhaps his best attribute, however, is his tackling ability as he rarely missed any attempts last year and played the ‘safety’ position to its best ability. He wasn’t beat for many long plays and came down in run defense exceptionally well also, rounding out as one of the better all-around safeties in the Pac-12, when healthy.
7. Michael Wilson, WR
Wilson’s go-to ability should be heavily relied upon in 2020 as his big frame and deceptive after-the-catch skills consistently churned out first downs and touchdowns a year ago. He can post up on any defensive back and is definitely on the short list for breakout candidate at the receiver position in the conference as well as nationally. His safe hands also help his case as one of the more reliable receivers returning to the conference in 2020 as well.
8. Thomas Booker, DI
Booker’s six sacks are an impressive figure, coming from the interior of the defensive line as he was a bit of boom-or-bust in terms of pass-rushing. He either got to the quarterback or he didn’t but he still at least made his presence known in nearly every game with multiple plays up the middle. He has sure tackling and a strong first step both in the pass and rush game, anchoring the defensive line in the process.
9. Simi Fehoko, WR
If you talk about big-bodied, sure-handed receivers returning to action in 2020, the conversation must include Fehoko. His ability to make highlight-reel catches over smaller defensive backs should only improve after last season and his sure hands on even the routine balls will definitely help his case for targets in this crowded receiver room. Fehoko caught fire down the back half of 2019 and enters 2020 with five of his six total touchdowns coming in his six most recent games. Topping the 100-yard ‘plateau’ in a single game should be no trouble this fall.
10. Kyu Blu Kelly, CB
Every bit of a lockdown corner in potential, Kelly looked sharp in his first season at Stanford. With an interception and multiple pass-breakups to his credit, he also didn’t allow very many long plays in his coverage and routinely stuffed his receivers after the catch to limit the gains. He’s rangy and fast for his size and has every chance to rise up these rankings as he’ll surely be heavily tested once again as he plays opposite Adebo in 2020.
Honorable mention: Curtis Robinson, LB; Connor Wedington, WR; Kendall Williamson, S; Osiris St. Brown, WR; Gabe Reid, Edge