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Makowsky: NFL should be seeing a lot of Cardinal soon

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Stanford’s resurgence in the college football world is no secret.

But, aside from a Pac-12 Championship, one of the few things missing from its rise is a reasserted presence in the NFL. The Cardinal has 16 players in the pros–a figure that places it in the bottom half of the conference. Both the 2008 and 2009 drafts passed without a Stanford athlete being selected, and not since 2003 has a Cardinal football player been selected in the first round.

But this is about to change. Looking at the talent Stanford currently has on its roster, it is nearly a certainty that the Cardinal will double, or come close to doubling, its alumni in the NFL within the next two years, even if you look only at players who are considered near-locks to be drafted.

Doubt it? Let’s examine.

First, the 2011 draft. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be about five Cardinal athletes who will be selected. The prime candidates are Owen Marecic, Richard Sherman, Sione Fua and Thomas Keiser. Marecic is seen as one of the two best fullbacks available, with a skill set that could last him a decade (or more) in the NFL. Fullback is not a premium position, but a few are chosen each year.

Sherman’s value fluctuates from the second round to undrafted, depending on which draft analyst you prefer–he was most recently rated as a third rounder–but this much is certain: his size, speed and background as a wide receiver make him an intriguing, if not developmental cornerback at the next level.

Fua’s experience and success as both a 4-3 one-tech defensive tackle and 3-4 noseguard has placed him solidly in the mid-rounds. Keiser, who left school a year early, is seen as a late-round outside linebacker prospect, but he’s expected to be selected.

After those four, there’s Derek Hall, Ryan Whalen, Andrew Phillips (a late riser on a few draft boards) and Chase Beeler. Even if just one of those next four is selected (and it could be as many as three), it keeps the above prediction–close to doubling Stanford’s NFL presence in the next two years–intact.

Why? Because the 2012 draft could set itself up as an expo of the Cardinal’s recent influx of talent. Take your time to knock ferociously on wood, then journey on.

Start at the top. Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 pick in the draft, barring significant injury. It’ll be Stanford’s first No. 1 overall selection since John Elway in 1983. And while he’d be the Cardinal’s first top-round pick in nearly a decade, he isn’t likely to be the only Stanford athlete taken within the draft’s first 32 picks.

Many rate Moose Martin as the Class of 2013’s top offensive tackle, if not the top underclassman OT overall. Behind quarterback, tackle is the game’s most sought-after position. With that in mind, some analysts have him, predictably, as a top-10 selection.

That’s not all: guard David DeCastro, like his classmate, is viewed as the top guy at his spot. Offensive guard is not as highly valued as tackle, but a couple are generally taken in the first round each year–DeCastro has that potential. Obviously this positioning can change, and for our purposes it’s frankly unimportant (other than to show that, yes, there’s a pretty good chance Martin and DeCastro would come off the board in 2012 or 2013).Who else is there? Chris Owusu is seen as a first-round talent, but his chronic injuries prompt concerns–he needs to stay healthy, but if he does, he’s a near-shoo-in to be selected. Mel Kiper rates him fifth among the 2012 wide receiver prospects.

Coby Fleener, after his monster Orange Bowl, has made his way onto analysts’ radars–the athletic tight end is currently ranked fourth on Kiper’s list. Kiper also has Delano Howell as his No. 3 safety.

But we’re still not done. For both the 2012 and 2013 drafts, Chase Thomas is seen as an early-mid round pick at outside linebacker and Shayne Skov is viewed as an elite talent at inside linebacker.

That’s 13 players between the 2011, 2012 and 2013 drafts that are expected to be selected. We’re not going out on a limb. And we’re excluding a whole host of talent from 2013 whose draft status is too early to predict, but who will have every opportunity to put themselves in the conversation–guys like Stepfan Taylor, Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Terrence Stephens, among others.

Then there are the undrafted free agents. Of the 16 Stanford players currently in the NFL, five were not chosen in the draft in their respective years. It stands to reason that of the potential 2011 UDFAs (Whalen, Phillips, Hall, Beeler and Nate Whitaker) and some from 2012 (Matt Masifilo, for instance), at least one has a good chance of getting a roster spot with an NFL club.

Having upward of 30 players in the NFL is not an unattainable goal. Even money says it happens. If it doesn’t, blame me for tempting fate; ‘til then, I’ll be right here, bloodying my knuckles on a two-by-four.

 

Wyndam Makowsky is furiously breaking down tape of NFL prospects as we speak. Recommend him a sleeper pick at makowsky “at” stanford.edu.

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