The 2013 class was never expected to be big, as only about 14 scholarships are opening up after June's graduation. But David Shaw's staff has managed to build a sturdy addition to last year's motherlode in the limited space. Whereas what some deemed the greatest offensive line haul in recruiting history headlined 2012, 2013's load may end up being remembered for its tight ends. Last year, seven of the 22 incomers were big boys up front; three were ranked amongst the nation's top five. This signing day, four years after stockpiling Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, Ryan Hewitt, and Jordan Najvar (since transferred to Baylor) in the 2009 class, the well has begun to run dry at a critical spot in the context of Stanford's offense.
The Headlining Position: Bringing Back 2009
Enter Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada, and Kevin Palma, four bruisers who all bring various skills that can complement a potentially monstrous offensive line a year or two down the road. At 6-foot-2, Palma is the shortest of the bunch, so he he has been recruited as a linebacker, but he did spend most of his time on offense in high school. The remaining trio, all at least 6-foot-4, brings differing specialties to the table.
Cotton may have the best chance to become freakishly good. He played quarterback in eighth grade before moving to tackle in high school, where he obviously learned how to block. Cotton made a drastic jump from offensive line to wide receiver his junior year before shifting to his current tight end spot for his senior campaign. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Idahoan is built in the typical Stanford mold: Cotton and his father pinned the Farm's location on a map near his room's door early in his high school career so that he would be reminded of his college goal on a daily basis. Cotton committed to the Cardinal on the spot when Shaw offered him a scholarship during a water break of a Stanford football camp last summer. ("You've got the nod," Shaw said to offer Cotton.)
Hooper also built a Stanford connection long before the school recruited him. His uncle, Greg Hooper, was a Stanford fullback from 1980-1982, playing with John Elway and blocking for Mike Dotterer. Meanwhile, Austin Hooper is an East Bay, De La Salle product, a member of now-retired Bob LaDooceur's last senior class. The legendary coach amassed an unprecedented 399-25-3 record at the small Concord school behind tough development of hard-nosed players like Hooper, who spent most of his time terrorizing opposing quarterbacks from the defensive end position. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Hooper could flip back over to that side of the ball at Stanford, but for now the Cardinal like him as a tight end.
Taboada, meanwhile, is a prized addition in large part because of the team Stanford beat to get him. The 6-foot-4 Georgian picked the Cardinal over Nick Saban's Alabama powerhouse. After playing in a triple option attack at Atlanta's Marist School, Taboada's run blocking skills are polished. He also keeps the powerful Georgia pipeline to Palo Alto open, as Shaw's program has poached plentiful players from that SEC state for several years now.
A year after setting school records and leading the nation with 57 sacks and 124 tackles for loss, it's clear that Stanford dedicated a sizable chunk of its 2013 recruiting efforts to maintaining hellish pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In addition to Palma, the tough Central Valley product who is being recruited as a linebacker but discussed amongst the tight ends above, the Cardinal hope they've nabbed the descendants of Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy on the outside in prospects Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler.
Kalambayi is Stanford's top-ranked 2013 commit, graded as the No. 6 middle linebacker in the country. He told The Bootleg that he salivates at every opportunity to pursue the quarterback, and it shows in a highlight video that stars passers and punters as helpless rag dolls. Pass coverage polish is certainly something Kalambayi and Palma will have to develop, but both have shown excellent burst and toughness already, two cornerstones of linebackers in a successful 3-4 defensive scheme.
The Ohio native Tyler, meanwhile, may be an even more intriguing case. First, he's massive: at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the frame is in place for an absolute physical specimen to emerge from Shannon Turley's strength and conditioning program. Second, his highlights feature an array of raw pass rush techniques, including spin moves followed by tantalizing, long-strided bursts after the quarterback. Tyler, who played defensive end in high school, has the frame and speed to find himself at that position or the Cardinal's productive outside linebacker spot once he bulks up.
Sean Barton, Stanford's fastest 2013 linebacker recruit (laser-timed sub-4.5 40-yard dash), will report to The Farm in two years. He's heading Benin's capital of Cotonou (on Africa's Ivory Coast) for his LDS Mission. When he returns to the States, Barton's athleticism may spark a fight between Stanford's position coaches. His top-end speed and playmaking abilities are on full display in his highlight tape, so he's a potential asset offensively. But instinctual, tough hitting on the defensive end makes him a favorite at linebacker as well. Potential positional versatility is certainly a hallmark of this 2013 Stanford class.
Need for Speed
Between 2012's hog haul and 2013's fortification of the meaty tight end/linebacker positions, Shaw has had little problem fortifying his program's brawn. An area of concern, though, is the Cardinal's playmaking ability on the outside. The 2012 class attempted to address the issue with receivers Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield, Conner Crane, and Dontonio Jordan, all of whom are shooting to make an impact at a position of need next season.
With Devon Allen and Jordan Cunningham both likely headed elsewhere, this year's smaller load features only a pair of burners, but both show the potential to see the field as freshmen. Francis Owusu, who at 6-foot-4 is two inches taller than his brother Chris but fast in his own right, can be elite. Meanwhile, Louisiana native Taijuan Thomas flew under the SEC's radar only because of his size (listed at 5-10), and not because of his 4.4-range speed. Both players are explosive, while Thomas is versatile: He can address needs on offense, but has also talked to defensive coordinator Derek Mason about playing in the Stanford secondary.
He is built like Andrew Luck. He sounds a lot like Andrew Luck. Some have said that his highlight tape reminds them of Luck's high school reel. Beyond that, comparing Ryan Burns to the greatest quarterback in Stanford history is unfair because the Virginian's passing repertoire was limited to running the triple option in high school. But Shaw and his staff loved Burns early in the process, picking him as their guy for the essential position in the 2013 class over fine players like USC-bound Max Browne, the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
In the case of Burns, time will tell the tale of his development. A staff that boasts an excellent track record of talent identification certainly believes in him, and he definitely has the physical presence to be great. Perhaps the best news: unlike the case of Luck, there is no rush to prepare Burns for the field. The staff can reasonably expect Kevin Hogan to man the quarterback position for up to three more seasons.
Fortifying the Rest
For good measure, Stanford packed on to its 2012 offensive line grab by maintaining the Southern California private school pipeline. Harvard-Westlake's Thomas Oser hails from the same high school as current professional and Cardinal alum Jonathan Martin, while Mater Dei's Dave Bright is another signing from Orange County, historically USC territory. Oser is said to have the football smarts to be an effective center down the road, while Bright has been known to punish defenders on top of blocking them, making him a good candidate for an interior line position.
Those two incomers add more beef to a recruiting class that The Bootleg projects to be 12 players large. Barring a surprise announcement during Wednesday's signing day, that means the Cardinal will leave about three scholarships on the table entering 2013. In turn, those scholarships can be used to reward walk-ons next season.
Signing Day: One More to Look Out For
While 2013's signing day will certainly lack the Stanford drama of its 2012 counterpart, Cardinal fans should keep an eye on four-star Georgia quarterback Josh Dobbs throughout the day. Although Dobbs hasn't been offered by the football program, Stanford baseball has pursued him. If the Arizona State soft verbal commit doesn't sign with a football program Wednesday, there remains a possibility that he'll sign with Stanford baseball once the signing period for that sport opens in April. Beyond that, walking on to the football roster would obviously be possible.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!