Wednesday roundtable: Which 2014 recruit will make biggest impact?

Stanford football has continued to develop the long-term future of its program by translating its on-the-field success to victories on the recruiting trail as well, netting what ESPN ranked as the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation for 2014. Although they have not yet started practicing with the team and will arrive on campus in about eight weeks, we thought that it was never too early to start thinking about these newcomers. We asked football writers Michael Peterson, Vihan Lakshman and David Cohn: Which of the freshmen of the incoming class is primed to make the biggest immediate impact?

(AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

Freshman wide receiver Francis Owusu (above) was the only member of his class to see game action in the 2013 season. He played in 12 games, yet his two catches and 56 total yards on the season all came in the Big Game against Cal on Nov. 23. (AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

Michael: I’m going to go with a little bit of a lesser-known pick here. More than likely, it will be difficult for any of Stanford’s 2014 recruits to see significant time on the field. Highly-touted recruits Keller Chryst, Dalton Schultz and Solomon Thomas would each have to overcome talent and depth at their respective positions to crack the rotation. Even though the race for the starting tight end job is technically wide open, Schultz’s current size (233 pounds) and blocking skills will probably limit him from being becoming the go-to guy this early on in his career. But if a freshman does emerge as a key contributor, I think it will be defensive back Brandon Simmons, the first recruit to sign in Stanford’s 2014 class.

Simmons will certainly need to add more weight this offseason, as he currently weighs only 171 pounds. Historically though, head coach David Shaw has used freshmen in the secondary if they show potential. Current sophomore Alex Carter started in the final seven games of his true freshman campaign and led the team with three forced fumbles. Junior Wayne Lyons played the first two games of his Stanford career as a freshman before a broken foot ended his season prematurely.

As a Rivals.com four-star recruit, Simmons possesses the talent necessary to earn time in the Card’s secondary. A safety by trade, Simmons could even compete with senior Kyle Olugbode and junior Kodi Whitfield for time occupying Ed Reynolds’ vacated free safety position. If Simmons does play his freshman year, though, it might be more likely to come at cornerback due to his current size.

I wouldn’t claim that Simmons will become a regular this season for the Card, but depth in the secondary is always vital and Shaw has shown that he is willing to allow freshmen to play there.

David: In all honesty, I do not believe we will see very many members of the 2014 recruiting class on the field this coming season, as the overwhelming majority of players will end up redshirting to help them acclimate to life as a Stanford football player and a Stanford student-athlete. However, if I had to pick one player who could play as a true freshman, I would go with running back Christian McCaffrey.

While McCaffrey has a very similar skillset to running back Kelsey Young, McCaffrey also has the ability to line up as a slot receiver. When I watched McCaffrey compete in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, I saw a player who can be an extremely physical receiver or running back, as McCaffrey consistently pushed piles backward when lined up at halfback.

McCaffrey is also a legacy student, as his father Ed McCaffrey was a standout wide receiver and All-American for the Cardinal in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Consequently, Christian’s deeper familiarity with the program may give him a slight advantage over his fellow incoming freshmen. While it can be very difficult for freshmen to initially adapt to the rigorous demands of elite football and academics, McCaffrey’s familiarity with the Cardinal program may give him a leg up on these challenges, and in turn, allow him to see the field in a shorter amount of time.

Finally, wide receiver has been one position in the past where Coach Shaw has been willing to play freshmen; legacy student Francis Owusu shined last season in limited time in his first year on the Farm. Thus, if McCaffrey can show some promise when lining up as a wide receiver, then I believe he will have a shot to enter the rotation of talented receivers in 2014.

Vihan: I hate to go all lawyer on Michael and David, but the prompt asked, “Which of the freshmen is primed to make the biggest impact,” not necessarily who is most likely to start right away. Looking at the long-term landscape of the Stanford football program, I think (though it’s way, way too early to say) that incoming quarterback Keller Chryst will be in position to make the biggest impact out of the 2014 recruiting class.

Playing at the most important position in football, Chryst will ultimately look to have an opportunity to make an impact with the ball in his hands on every single play — something that no other member of the 2014 recruiting class can really do. With Kevin Hogan entering his penultimate year of eligibility, Chryst, one of the top-rated quarterback prospects in the country, will have the chance to take the reins of the Stanford offense early in his career. Once he arrives on campus after crossing the street from Palo Alto High School, Chryst could also challenge Stanford’s other quarterbacks in practice and run a strong scout team, which would provide an immediate impact for the program. As the top-rated quarterback prospect to come to the Farm since Andrew Luck with arm strength that has already been described as legendary, Chryst could very well become Stanford’s quarterback of the future and make a serious impact on the program.

Michael Peterson, David Cohn and Vihan Lakshman were all part of The Daily’s legendary 2013 recruiting class and all made immediate impacts with the organization from the starts of their careers. Tell them where you think they’ll be drafted at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu, dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu and vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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  • Candid One

    This triumvirate shows very little respect for the Cardinal playbook. Alex Carter played part-time as a frosh because of his speed, athleticism–and his size. No incoming frosh in the secondary has that combination. Maybe Christian McCaffrey has a shot in the backfield–if he can block…which is also a basis for playing time as a receiver. McCaffrey’s size is an advantage as well as his speed but the playbook and pass protection constitute daunting standards. Chryst is a redshirt unless two QBs go down for the season. Even Andrew Luck was a redshirt and it took Hogan a season and a half to begin grasping their playbook. High school might as well be Pop Warner when making the transition to PAC-12 football behind the Stanford playbook. Only fantasy can accommodate that transition as most of your prognostications would have it.