The Stanford football team made some significant moves on signing day and finished with the 15th ranked recruiting class (Rivals.com). However, amidst the success and jump in the overall class rankings, the Cardinal also lost some players that could have bumped them up to at least a top-ten class.
When defensive coordinator Derek Mason left Stanford to become the Head Coach at Vanderbilt, one of the Cardinal’s top recruits went with him. Nifae Lealao, a 6’5” and 270 pound defensive end had been a longtime Stanford commit, but changed to Vanderbilt largely because of the relationship that he had built with his recruiter at Stanford, Coach Mason. Lealao was ranked as the 56th best recruit and 8th best defensive end in the nation. His size, strength, speed, and athleticism are comparable to that of 5th year senior Henry Anderson, and he would thrive as an interior lineman on Stanford’s defense. The Cardinal also missed out on three-star defensive end Uriah Leiataua to BYU and three-star outside linebacker Louis Vecchio to Pennsylvania.
However the Cardinal rebounded from a lack-luster 2013 class with some marquee signings. Stanford signed 5th ranked quarterback Keller Chryst, who shows a strong arm, confident pocket presence, and the size, movement, and ability to escape defenders and extend plays similar to that of Ben Roethlisberger. The skill and knowledge of the quarterback position run in the Chryst family as his father is the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers (Scout.com). Stanford signed 4th ranked defensive end Solomon Thomas committed early on signing day, February 5th. Thomas’ film shows a fighter with an explosive burst and the strength and determination to make and finish plays. He has the ability to contribute immediately and the team can use the depth on the D-line after losing seniors Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro. Stanford won the recruiting battle with rival Notre Dame over Louisiana’s top cornerback, Terrence Alexander. He shows natural football instincts and is an aggressive player who has potential to start his sophomore season when current starters Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter graduate. Coach David Shaw and Stanford remained true to their power running game recruiting another solid offensive line class led by 2nd ranked offensive tackle Casey Tucker.
If Stanford wrapped up Lealao, Leiataua and Vecchio, they would have produced an outstanding recruiting class, hanging in with the nation’s powerhouse recruiters and teams. Stanford will enter the 2014 season with a few 5th year seniors and the recruiting class rankings of 22nd, 5th, 64th, and 14th from the last four seasons. These class rankings cannot be referred to with too much value because three players from the 2011 just declared as early entries for this year’s NFL draft in Cameron Fleming, Ed Reynolds, and David Yankey.
Stanford signed a great recruiting class. They ranked second in the PAC-12 behind USC with 11 four-star and 9 three-star recruits. However, it was not outstanding. Stanford intends to continue to succeed in their conference and nationally without recruiting classes that present them as a top 5 team. The weight of recruiting in college football determines much of what a team can do. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the current master of college football recruiting, landing the best recruiting class the last four seasons. Therefore, Alabama has the potential to be the best team in the country. Stanford has averaged the 26th best combined class over the last four seasons. Thus, there is a gap of predicted skill between Stanford and Alabama, which has to be made up with coaching, play style, player progression or other factors. In the long run, recruiting rankings do not determine the skill level of players several years into the future and cannot be used for much besides a prediction into the future of a team.
Stanford fans should be poised but not elated at the success of this year’s recruiting class.
By Taylor Spielman, February 10th, 2014
(Photo credit: Solomon Thomas, Twitter)