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Wednesday roundtable: Prognosticating NFL Draft surprises

With the NFL Draft set to kick off tomorrow, many of Stanford’s key contributors from this past season are waiting to hear their names called as they prepare to move on to greener pastures in the professional game. While analysts and fans alike have been preparing mock drafts for the past few months, nothing is set in stone until the picks come in on Draft Day. That being said, we asked football writers Michael Peterson, Vihan Lakshman and David Cohn to predict one surprise (good or bad) awaiting any Stanford player in this year’s NFL Draft.

Despite having missed the second half of the season, fifth-year senior captain Ben Gardner (above) sports eyeblack on game day. (AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

Despite missing the second half of the 2013 season with a torn pectoral, fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner (above) recovered in time for Stanford’s pro day and arguably had the team’s best individual performance. (AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

Michael: Despite an undrafted projection by CBS Sports, Ben Gardner will hear his name called, even before the final round, during the NFL Draft. Gardner’s pro-day performance may have been the best overall performance by any Stanford player and I think that at least one team will be intrigued enough to select him in the fifth or sixth round of the draft. After all, you only need to impress one team enough in order to get drafted.

It shouldn’t even be a surprise, really, but after Gardner tore his pectoral against Oregon State, his draft stock plummeted. His speedy recovery surprised many; at his pro day, his vertical jump (39.5 inches) led all Stanford participants and his broad jump (10-foot-2) finished second, even ahead of running back Anthony Wilkerson. He has also been cutting weight so that he can play as a linebacker if necessary.

The one trait teams know they’re getting if they draft Gardner is his unquestionable work ethic: whether he’s a 3-4 defensive end, a 4-3 defensive end or a linebacker, Gardner will work tirelessly to do what he’s told. His training to return in time for pro day shows his potential to be an ideal late-round prospect — a hard-worker with athletic upside. Even though he’s sometimes viewed as a “tweener” with too little speed to be an edge rusher, Gardner will find a home in the fifth or sixth round due to his tireless effort and strong pro day performance.

Vihan: I really like the boldness of Michael’s pick, so in that spirit, I am going to predict that Cameron Fleming will be the first Stanford player taken in the draft — even ahead of fellow offensive lineman David Yankey, who garnered many more accolades during his collegiate career. Yankey’s draft stock has plummeted in recent weeks as more teams fear that he lacks the athleticism of an NFL lineman. Moreover, Fleming’s tackle position is more valued than Yankey’s guard position because of the premium NFL teams place on the passing game over the run game.

Fleming’s 6-foot-6, 318-pound frame makes him an attractive option for many teams and he has three years of experience starting on one of the most dominant offensive lines in college football. Although Fleming has faced many of the same criticisms as Yankey — namely slow foot-speed — there could be a team in need of an offensive tackle that pulls the trigger on him as early as the second round.

Also, as Joey Beyda reminded us in last week’s roundtable, Fleming is literally a rocket scientist and will undoubtedly be one of the most intelligent players in any locker room. I could be wrong, but a Stanford degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics probably goes a long way in any job application process.

David: I feel terrible for casting this prediction, but I am concerned that Shayne Skov will fall to the third day of the draft — rounds four through seven. While I personally feel that Skov should be far higher on NFL Draft boards, the reality is that many evaluations of him have been surprisingly lukewarm.

In particular, these evaluations have shockingly glossed over Skov’s tremendous production on the Farm. In his five years at Stanford, he totaled 354 tackles, good for sixth in program history, while recording a team-leading 109 tackles, 13.0 tackles for a loss, and three forced fumbles in a consensus All-American season last year.

However, instead of focusing on what Skov has accomplished in his football career, these evaluations from NFL.com and other outlets have pointed to his injury history, particularly his lack of participation in the NFL Combine due to a left calf injury and his 2011 ACL and MCL tears, as well as his DUI arrest in 2012, to question Skov’s durability and character.

Regarding his durability, I would point out that Skov was able to produce at an All-American level last season, and he has played in 27 out of 28 games since returning from his knee injury in 2011. In turn, I believe that Skov has a tremendous heart and is a thoughtful individual who will provide an immediate and noticeable boost to any locker room that he joins.

However, when NFL.com describes Shayne as “not having returned to pre-injury form,” I cannot feel too confident about Shayne’s chances of being selected in the early rounds of the NFL Draft this week.

Michael Peterson, Vihan Lakshman and David Cohn all held back from writing that Stanford’s biggest draft surprise will actually be 17-year-old Managing Editor Do-Hyoung Park’s first-round selection to the Minnesota Vikings’ press corps. Send your analyses of the writers’ selections to mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu, vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu and dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About The Daily Sports Staff

The Daily Sports Staff is the collective moniker of an overworked, beleaguered, underpaid collection of sportswriters that feel comfortable enough with their own self-identities to give up any sense of individualism for the good of the sports section. To contact The Daily Sports Staff, send an email to dpark027 'at' stanford.edu to reach Do-Hyoung Park, keeper of the souls of those sportswriters.