Top 25 NFL Draft Rankings: No. 19 Stanford pounds opponents with McCaffrey, defense

In the days leading to the start of the college football season, NFL Draft Scout will count down the top-25 college programs, according to draft-eligible NFL talent on the roster.

Stanford Cardinal : No. 19

Stanford Draft History

  • Draft picks since moving to seven-round format in 1994: 76 (t-21st in college football)
  • Draft picks the last 10 years: 34 (t-20th)
  • Draft picks the last five years: 24 (10th)

Looking back at the 2016 NFL Draft

  • Draft picks: 5
    • (1/28) OG Joshua Garnett
    • (3/81) TE Austin Hooper
    • (4/131) LB Blake Martinez
    • (5/162) QB Kevin Hogan
    • (6/200) OT Kyle Murphy
  • Undrafted free agents: WR Devon Cajuste , DE Brennan Scarlett , DT Aziz Shittu , SS Kodi Whitfield , RB Remound Wright , LB Kevin Anderson , WR Rollins Stallworth

Looking ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft

Coming off a 12-2 season that culminated with a Rose Bowl victory, Stanford will have several new pieces on both sides of the ball with veteran leaders like Kevin Hogan, Blake Martinez and Joshua Garnett now in the NFL. With only a few seniors expected to start this year, Stanford is a very young team, but the recipe for success should be the same: physical defense and an offense relying on the skills of Christian McCaffrey .

The Heisman Trophy runner up is a highly intriguing prospect, because although his physical traits (size, speed, etc.) might not be ideal in each category, he is such a dangerous and versatile player with the ball in his hands. Aside from Andrew Luck , the Cardinal program hasn't had an offensive skill player drafted in the first round since 1992 (running back Tommy Vardell), but McCaffrey has a chance to change that.

Below are the top draft-eligible prospects on the Cardinal roster for the next level.

Christian McCaffrey RB / Stanford Cardinal
Class: Junior Height: 6-0 Weight: 202 40-yard dash: 4.48

Arguably the most impactful playmaker in college football, McCaffrey is coming off one of the best seasons in the history of the sport, setting a new NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season (3,864). On the school's website, Stanford needs 38 bullet points under his bio to list all off his awards and records from a year ago, including Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. McCaffrey set a new Stanford record with 2,019 rushing yards on 337 carries (6.0 average), adding 45 catches for 645 receiving yards. He was responsible for 17 total touchdowns, eight rushing, five receiving, two passing and two on returns (one punt, one kickoff).

The only FBS player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving last season, McCaffrey is the poster prospect for versatility, making an impact rushing, receiving and in the return game. He feels openings with patient vision and decision-making, instinctively sorting through the trash due to innate anticipation. An elusive ball-carrier, McCaffery easily strings together moves with shifty feet to slip defenders and break tackles.

As a receiver, McCaffery is an exceptional catch-and-run athlete who manipulates coverage zones due to his dynamic route-running and soft hands. He is quicker than fast and lacks the run power or body type to make a living in the NFL between the tackles, but his spatial awareness and reflexes allow him to create on his own. Despite his undersized frame for the position, McCaffrey stayed healthy and fumbled only twice last season, which is outstanding considering he touched the ball almost 450 times.

Aside from the tape, NFL scouts love his bloodlines and overall make-up as a player and person. McCaffrey might not be the prototypical pro running back who will carry the ball 25-plus times a game, but with his receiving skills and overall versatility, he doesn't need to be a "traditional" back in order to make an impact in the NFL.

christian-mccaffrey-stanfor.jpg
Christian McCaffrey is a Swiss Army knife for Stanford. USATSI
Johnny Caspers G / Stanford Cardinal
Class: Senior (RS) Height: 6-3 Weight: 296 40-yard dash: 5.29

Not to take any credit away from McCaffrey for his remarkable 2015 season, but the Cardinal offensive line was regularly a dominant unit last year, paving the way for the Heisman runner-up. Stanford must replace left guard Joshua Garnett and left tackle Kyle Murphy, but right guard is secure with Johnny Caspers returning to his post in 2016. After redshirting in 2012 and serving as a backup in 2013, he earned the starting nod as a sophomore in 2014. Caspers garnered All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention honors last season as a junior, starting all 14 games at right guard.

It doesn't always look pretty, but Caspers routinely finds a way to get the job done. He is quick to engage off the snap and delivers a swift punch as if he wants to send a message as much as he wants to overpower defenders. While he competes with a sizeable chip on his shoulder, Caspers often plays with overaggressive tendencies, which leads to wild hands and unbalanced sets. But when he is able to harness that persistent violence, he can move bodies and establish angles to shield run lanes. Factor in his experience filling in at center and Caspers should keep that Stanford offensive line pipeline going strong in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Solomon Thomas DE / Stanford Cardinal
Class: Sophomore (RS) Height: 6-2 Weight: 275 40-yard dash: 4.84

With impact players like Henry Anderson and David Parry departing after the 2014 season, Stanford ran into depth issues on the defensive line last season, introducing several young starters. A redshirt freshman, Solomon Thomas was one of those youngsters who saw significant snaps in 2015, finishing second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. He also posted 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his debut season, seeing snaps inside and outside on Stanford's multiple defensive front. Despite being only a redshirt sophomore this season, he is the most veteran member of a Stanford defensive line that again looks like a thin unit.

Thomas has above-average movement skills for a man his size, boasting a big-boned frame with well-distributed bulk. He is the type of lineman who will test extremely well at the NFL combine, especially in the short-yardage and leaping drills, playing with outstanding body control and flexibility on film.

When he stays low off the snap, Thomas is able to control the point of attack and discard bodies in his way, working through the blocker's shoulder. He stands up at times with underdeveloped instincts at this point in his career, but his versatile skill-set allows the coaches to move him interchangeably from end to tackle and even over the center. If McCaffrey is the MVP of the offense, Thomas is that guy for the Cardinal defense and is due for a breakout season in 2016.

Peter Kalambayi LB / Stanford Cardinal
Class: Junior (RS) Height: 6-2 Weight: 245 40-yard dash: 4.78

Since Trent Murphy led all of college football with 15 sacks in 2013, Stanford has struggled to find a player to fill his shoes as a consistent edge threat. But Peter Kalambayi showed flashes last season that he might be that guy. A do-everything athlete with a 4.4 GPA in high school, Kalambayi redshirted in 2013 and was a valuable reserve in 2014, posting 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He became a starter last season as a hybrid rusher in Stanford's 3-4 scheme and finished with 52 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

Lining up in a two- and three-point stance, Kalambayi is a flexible edge rusher who launches himself off the line of scrimmage and flashes violence to jar blockers with his hands. A determined chaser, he never shuts it down, with the play speed to open his hips and drop into space. However, Kalambayi lacks efficient move-to-move transition skills as a pass rusher right now as his arsenal lacks variety. He frequently finds his eyes in the wrong place and needs to better recognize routes when he plays in reverse. Although he lacks polish at this point, Kalambayi is athletic, smart and strong with the body type and movement skills that translate well.

Zach Hoffpauir S / Stanford Cardinal
Class: Senior (RS) Height: 6-0 Weight: 197 40-yard dash: 4.59

An All-Pac 12 performer in 2014, Zach Hoffpauir was one of Stanford's top defenders two years ago and a prospect who attracted NFL attention. However, he also received attention from baseball scouts, and the Arizona Diamondbacks made him a 22nd-round draft pick in the 2015 MLB Draft.

Hoffpauir decided to sign and left the football program, batting .258 between rookie and short-season ball in the Arizona Wildcats farm system last summer. But after a few months in the minors, he chose to leave baseball and return to Stanford, rejoining the football team this spring.

A very opportunistic player, Hoffpauir plays with excellent timing and anticipation in everything he does on the football field, whether in coverage, stopping the run or playing on special teams. He is assignment sound and diagnoses the play quickly with the requisite instincts needed for the position. Although he has the necessary play speed, Hoffpauir has some tightness in his transition and isn't a twitchy athlete. He flows fast and attacks alleys vs. the run, competing with a contact-driven mentality, but will get himself in trouble with his aggressive nature.

Can he build off his success from 2014? Will his break from the game stunt his development? Is baseball truly in the rear-view for him? These are questions that scouts are eager to find the answers to this season.

Other draft-eligible prospects to watch:

  • Keller Chryst , QB, rSO. (6-4, 237, 4.89, #10)
  • Michael Rector , WR, rSR. (6-0, 185, 4.49, #3)
  • Francis Owusu , WR, SR. (6-2, 223, 4.52, #6)
  • Dalton Schultz , TE, rSO. (6-5, 240, 4.89, #9)
  • Casey Tucker , RT, JR. (6-5, 296, 5.12, #77)
  • Brandon Fanaika , LG, rSO. (6-2, 318, 5.37, #71)
  • Jordan Watkins , DL, rSR. (6-4, 277, #75)
  • Kevin Palma , ILB, rJR. (6-2, 250, 4.89, #44)
  • Alijah Holder , CB, rSO. (6-1, 185, 4.56, #13)
  • Dallas Lloyd , SS, rSR. (6-2, 213, 4.64, #29)
  • Conrad Ukropina , PK, rSR. (6-0, 192, 4.92, #34)
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