Jim Harbaugh has deservedly been credited with turning around the Stanford football program.
David Shaw has since taken Stanford to greater heights -- including consecutive Pac-12 championships and four straight BCS bowl games.
The NFL has certainly noticed. Six Stanford players were drafted a year ago, matching the highest number from the school since 1944. The majority of them came from the offensive line and in the front seven of a defense that finished third in the nation in run defense.
Those losses put the pressure on Shaw, new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and a Trio of Trees on offense to keep the Cardinal perched on top in the Pac-12.
Stanford's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014
During the Harbaugh-Shaw era, size and strength have been prioritized over athleticism at virtually every position. In Peat, however, the Cardinal boast a massive blocker with rare athleticism.
Peat signed with Stanford as a highly regarded prep and he's proven worthy of his praise, earning playing time as a true freshman on an offensive line filled with NFL talent. He's started the past two seasons at left tackle and has the rare traits to handle remaining here in the NFL.
Peat is impressive on the hoof. He has long arms, broad shoulders and good weight distribution with tree trunks for thighs. Given Peat's monstrous frame, it is almost unfair that he gains an immediate advantage on his opponent with surprising quickness off the snap. He is balanced and light on his feet to slip out to the second level and can adjust to moving targets. In pass protection, Peat has the agility to slip wide to his left, sealing off speed rushers trying to turn the corner, as well the strength to latch and control defenders. Peat is patient, allowing the defender to come to him, showing good lateral agility and balance to mirror.
While a remarkable talent, Peat does have some areas in which he can improve. He comes off the ball too high and doesn't explode through his hips to drive opponents backward, settling to turn and seal. In pass pro, he will occasionally get lazy and bend at the waist, leaning into pass rushers and inviting counter-moves back to the inside. This flaw could be exposed more in 2014 now that former Morris Trophy Award winner David Yankey is playing for the Minnesota Vikings rather than starring at left guard.
Occasional lapses in technique is the kind of nit-picking that could happen with Peat, who, otherwise looks the part of a future high first round pick. Peat, in fact, checks in at No. 6 on my personal Top 32 for 2015 -- just ahead of his quarterback.
In guiding Stanford to a Rose Bowl win as a redshirt freshman the year after Andrew Luck left town, Hogan set the bar pretty high for himself.
All he did last season -- his first full year as the starter -- was help Stanford return to Pasadena, boost his numbers in every category and compile a 10-1 record against Top 25 teams. He certainly struggled in some games -- including in the loss to Michigan State to end the year -- but the NFL-caliber talent is undeniable.
Hogan passes the eye test with a broad-shouldered, well-built frame for the position. He has an elongated wind-up that will earn plenty of criticism in the pre-draft process but like San Diego Chargers star Philip Rivers, Hogan's instincts, accuracy and velocity are enough to overcome the quirky delivery. Hogan has good accuracy to all levels with especially impressive touch on deep passes when he has the room to step into his throw. Hogan has been well protected by the elite talent blocking in front of him but when pressure does force him off his spot, he is willing to step up in the pocket, exhibiting poise, toughness and quick decision-making to either throw or run. Like Luck before him, Hogan is faster (and stronger) than he looks, making him a formidable threat on the run. Stanford's scheme calls for lots of play-action, boots and throwing on the move and deep shots -- staples of a pro-style offense that suit Hogan's athleticism and strong arm well.
One of the biggest knocks on Hogan is largely one he can't do much about. Like Jim Harbaugh before him, Shaw believes in a power-running game and physical defense, often putting his quarterback in the position to play game-manager rather than gunslinger. This strategy doesn't lend itself to gaudy statistics and Hogan certainly doesn't have them, posting "just" 3,726 yards and 29 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 20 starts.
Hogan flashes enticing talent but he struggled in surprising road losses at Utah and Southern Cal a year ago. Considering the losses along the offensive line and that the meat of Stanford's tough 2014 schedule is also on the road, Hogan's poise will be tested in 2014.
Wide receivers aren't as valued as quarterbacks and left tackles by NFL scouts but there is no denying the impact Montgomery had for the Cardinal during last season, a breakout campaign in which the Dallas native racked up 2,208 all-purpose yards -- third most in school history.
Montgomery earned consensus All-American honors as a kick returner, averaging 30.3 yards per opportunity with touchdowns. He also led Stanford with 61 catches for 958 yards and 10 scores, many of them of the dramatic variety.
Montgomery is a different caliber of athlete than we've seen at Stanford in recent seasons. He is well-built and fluid, changing directions well and boasting sudden acceleration to leave defenders in his wake. He is very aggressive, bursting upfield and fighting through arm- tackles to generate positive yardage rather than dancing to avoid contact. He's asked to run a variety of routes in this pro-style scheme but does most of his damage on quick screens and verticals and could stand to improve the consistency of his breaks.
Montgomery flashed early on at Stanford, emerging as a starter in the final four games of his freshman season (2012) and catching seven passes for 120 yards in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Torn knee ligaments derailed most of his sophomore season and he finished with just 26 catches for 213 yards.
While Stanford lost two tough, versatile defensive linemen in Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner to the NFL, Anderson returns after missing much of last season due to a left knee injury. Despite being limited to just seven games, Anderson still earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 acknowledgement, his second consecutive year with post-season honors.
New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson (no relation) hopes his star pupil returns to the form that helped him earned second-team honors in 2012 while racking up 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Despite his imposing build, Anderson is just as likely to be beat opponents with his quickness off the snap as he is power. Anderson varies his pass rush speeds and chops with hands to create space and slip into the backfield. He's more flexible than he looks and uses his long arms to lasso ball-carriers.
Anderson shows good functional strength to lock-out and create a pile but struggles a bit with leverage as he tires. He projects better as a five technique defensive end rather than a nose guard, though he's played both roles in Stanford's predominately 3-4 package under former defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who left Palo Alto to take the head coaching position at Vanderbilt.
Other Stanford prospects worth watching
FS Kodi Whitfield, Junior (6-2 | 196 | 4.58 | #9)
Despite arguably the most spectacular touchdown grab of the 2013 season on his resume, Whitfield spent the off-season making the transition from wide receiver to free safety. Whitfield, the son of legendary Stanford tackle Bob Whitfield, is a rangy athlete with good speed and flexibility.
OLB James Vaughters, Senior (6-2 | 254 | 4.73 | #9)
Vaughters is among a group of linebackers tasked with replacing All-Americans Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. He has worked his way up the depth chart, recording a career-high 36 tackles a year ago and flashing big-play ability with six tackles for loss and four sacks. Vaughters has good lateral agility for a player of his size and generates good pop as a hitter. He is a breakout candidate to keep an eye on this fall.
CB Wayne Lyons, Senior (6-0 | 196 | 4.56 | #2)
Lyons signed with Stanford with much fanfare as a celebrated prep athlete and academic but had only flashed as a reserve before emerging as a starter in 2013. He's a coordinated athlete with a good burst to close downhill and helps set the edge against the run.
ILB A.J Tarpley, RS Senior (6-1 | 238 | 4.84 | #17)
With Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov now in the NFL, Tarpley is Stanford's leader at linebacker. His 216 career tackles are a testament to Tarpley's toughness and instincts but he doesn't possess explosive speed or power.
SS Jordan Richards, Senior (5-11 | 208 | 4.57 | #8)
Richards has enjoyed a productive career for the Cardinal, racking up post-season all-conferences honors after each of the past two seasons. He has good agility and gets his hands on a lot of passes (22 PBUs over his career) but must do a better job of fighting through blocks and making reliable tackles in the open field to overcome his lack of ideal size.