Stanford fans have been blessed to witness outrageous talent at the running back position of late, and the two most recent No. 1 ball-carriers for the Cardinal have NFL star power.
Christian McCaffrey started slow in 2018 for the Panthers but was dynamic down the stretch as a multi-faceted option in Carolina's offense. His former backup, Bryce Love, is the premier home-run hitter in college football and could hear his named called on the first night of the 2019 NFL Draft.
But, as has been the case on a yearly basis during the David Shaw era in Palo Alto, Stanford has a handful of solid NFL prospects.
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Bryce Love, RB
In May,, which should give you an idea of the type of juice he brings to the field each week. Johnson measured in right around 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds at the 2008 combine, and while Love may look small on the field, he's listed at 5-10 and 202 pounds, so even if Stanford is fudging the numbers slightly, he should be in Johnson's range in Indianapolis in early March.
With Love, it's not simply about his speed or vision. He's a upper echelon quick-twitch athlete who can click and explode through crevices in the line then flip it into top gear en route to the end zone. Also, he runs so unbelievably hard, especially given some nagging injuries he's suffered while in college. The big workload for the Cardinal might make some teams reluctant to draft him early, but talent and production wise, Love is a first-round runner.
By now, you know I love pro comparisons for prospects. It's an obsessive hobby of mine. Arcega-Whiteside reminds me of ... Mike Evans. No hyperbole there either. At A&M, Evans was one of the most dominant high-point/contested-catch receivers I've ever scouted, and that was thanks to an unfair combination of mammoth size, long arms, gigantic, strong hands, outstanding concentration, good leaping ability and the attitude that every jump ball was his to catch.
Arcega-Whiteside has a similar blend to his game, and it was on full display last season when he had 48 receptions, 781 yards and nine touchdowns over the course of 11 outings that seemingly all featured at least one ridiculous grab in traffic above one or more opposing defensive backs. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside has Evans-esque size and is a long-strider who's deceptively fast down the field. In the final five games of the season -- which were started by 2018 lead man K.J. Costello -- Arcega-Whiteside had 23 catches for 395 yards with four scores. He's in for a monster season.
Kaden Smith, TE
Smith is the prototypical Stanford tight end. He has more blocking responsibility than your average collegiate tight end. He's large at 6-5 and 252 pounds, and he's a reliable, seam-stretching pass-catcher. As a sophomore in 2018, Smith caught 23 passes for five touchdowns and became a go-to target during Stanford's final three contests before the bowl game, with 10 receptions for 188 yards and four scores.
He showcased plus athleticism and reliability in close quarters in the red zone for the Cardinal last season. With Love the focal point of the offense and Arcega-Whiteside on the perimeter, the speedy Smith is a prime candidate to explode in 2018, which could lead to him being tempted by the NFL. I don't think him going on Day Two is out of the question. I like him much more than his tight end mate Dalton Schultz who went to the Cowboys in the fourth round.
Nate Herbig, OL
At 6-4 and 334 pounds, Herbig screams "Stanford Hog Mollie." And he plays exactly how you'd expect from a Cardinal road-grader. He punishes in Shaw's traditional gap scheme, and for how large he is, he's reasonably quick to the second level on combos. Also true to form for Stanford offensive linemen, Herbig's considerably further behind as a pass-protector. He's able to generate an overwhelming amount of power when his momentum is moving forward in the run game, much of which has to do with his sheer mass and leg churn. When retreating on pass plays, Herbig doesn't play nearly as strong. He must develop a stronger grip to stop counter moves before they beat him, and his lateral agility leaves much to be desired. If those issues are fixed, or at least, tweaked to a certain degree, he should be a mid-round pick for a team that wants to physically dominate up front in a mostly man-blocking scheme.
Bobby Okereke, LB
Okereke is a difficult evaluation based on his 2017 film. At times, he was the most active player on the field, demonstrated excellent twitchiness, play-recognition skills, and speed to the football. In other instances, he lollygagged and wasn't impactful against the run or the pass. Despite his inconsistencies, there are two things I feel very confident about regarding the veteran linebacker ... he's a fine athlete for the position, and he really struggles defeating blocks.
At 6-3 and 234 pounds, he has a Kiko Alonso-ish frame, and his hit-or-miss style is reminiscent of Alonso's. In 2018, I'd like to see Okereke get more physical shedding offensive linemen's blocks against the run. Beyond that, his impressive movement abilities need to translate to more impact plays in coverage than what he's shown thus far at Stanford.