By George Chen
Stanford’s unexpected 2012-13 Rose Bowl run can, in large part, be pinned on a handful of breakout players: quarterback Kevin Hogan, safeties Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and wide receiver Kelsey Young. With all four of those performers now established at their positions, we asked Daily football beat writers Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Sam Fisher: Who will be Stanford’s biggest unexpected contributor in 2013?
George Chen: With the Cardinal desperately needing some playmakers at the wide receiver position, I believe that both junior Devon Cajuste and sophomore Michael Rector will rise to the occasion. But if I had to pick one, Cajuste is my breakout player of the year for 2013.
Last season Cajuste only had one reception for 7 yards, but before fall camp even began, head coach David Shaw announced that the junior would be starting at the “X” receiver position alongside junior Ty Montgomery as the top two wideouts on the roster. While it might take some time for Cajuste to prove that he’s a reliable receiver, his 6-foot-4 frame — most of the key Cardinal receivers in recent memory have been six feet or shorter — should make a difference right off the bat. In fact, quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Mike Sanford compared Cajuste’s long, powerful body to that of former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener. I expect quarterback Kevin Hogan to look for Cajuste on third-and-short situations, especially in the second half of the season. Cajuste won’t be able to do what Zach Ertz did for the Cardinal last year, but he should be able to pick his way through coverage and get open in the middle of the field.
Keep in mind, having Montgomery at the other receiver slot should boost Cajuste’s production this season. Shaw stated that Montgomery is now faster than he was freshman year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Montgomery ends up getting doubled by opposing defenses. And while Cajuste may not be as fast as his counterpart, he should be effective with the shorter routes and especially dangerous in racking up yards after the catch. That being said, some of Cajuste’s important contributions to the Cardinal may not be directly reflected in statistics. For one, I think he and Montgomery will be solid downfield blockers in the running game with their big, physical bodies.
Cajuste has found a good balance between speed and size, and with opponents worrying about Montgomery as a deep threat and fullback Ryan Hewitt sneaking out of the backfield on passing plays, I think Cajuste is primed for a breakout season.
Sam Fisher: My breakout player for Stanford football in 2013 is sophomore cornerback Alex Carter. Carter may have already broken out on a local level with his play down the stretch in 2012, but I picked him because I believe that Carter’s performance this season will gain him recognition on a national stage as one of the best cornerbacks in college football.
What makes Carter special is his physicality at the cornerback position. In my time watching college football, I’ve never seen a corner play as physically as Carter does. Carter consistently fought through blocks to break up outside runs and short screens, two plays that you rarely see a college cornerback make. Combined with his athleticism, Carter’s relentlessness in attacking situations could make him a great NFL cornerback in a few years’ time.
The reason I see Carter breaking out on a national stage is that he made tremendous strides throughout his true freshman campaign. When he was thrown into the fire against Arizona, Carter did not impress. However, every single week Carter seemed to get better, peaking with a spectacular performance against Oregon. Now that Carter has put in a full offseason as a starter, the mental side of his game should begin to approach its physical side, and that could mean domination of Pac-12 opponents.
My only caveat in picking Carter is that he hasn’t had the type of physical transformation most Stanford players experience between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Carter was already a physical freak as a freshman, so it’s hard to imagine we will see much improvement there. Still, if he continues on the upward path he demonstrated throughout his freshman year, Alex Carter could be one of the best cornerbacks in college football this fall. And with Stanford on the national stage, Carter’s play will turn heads, making him my breakout player.
Joseph Beyda: Phew. After last week, it’s nice to see that the three of us disagree on this one.
There’s one position group that stands out as the most likely to produce a breakout player this season: running back. With Stepfan Taylor gone, a whole lot of carries are there for the taking for another tailback, and with Stanford’s offensive line looking much better now than it did this time last season, the group that steps in for Taylor could put up big numbers. (As a sidenote, George and I bickered recently about how this year’s offensive line will stack up against the Cardinal’s dominant 2011 group. I think that the 2013 version will be better, now that Cameron Fleming has two more years of experience and the team is much deeper at guard; George favors the 2011 Tunnel Workers Union, given Jonathan Martin’s veteran presence at left tackle and David Yankey’s strong play late in that season.)
But for my breakout player, I’m not going to choose Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney or even the national media’s trendy pick, Barry J. Sanders. I’m talking about Ricky Seale.
Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that barring any long-term injuries, Wilkerson and Gaffney will get the bulk of the carries this season. When I say “breakout player,” though, I mean the performer that will exceed our expectations the most. And since we already know what Wilkerson and Gaffney can do, I’m picking Seale, who only carried the ball 13 times last year but has been waiting for three seasons deep in the Cardinal’s stable of backs.
I’ll admit, my reasoning is partly process-of-elimination; I see Remound Wright as mainly a short-yardage back and Sanders as a rawer talent than his counterparts. But running backs coach Tavita Pritchard called Seale an excellent zone runner, and quarterback Kevin Hogan is pretty darn good at running the zone read. So even though Seale has to work on Stanford’s other schemes — which, presumably, includes its trademark “power” play — he’ll still see a lot of the pigskin in 2013. And as a change of pace from Wilkerson and Gaffney, I have a feeling that he will Seale the deal for the Cardinal offense.
George Chen and Sam Fisher are putting Joseph Beyda on pun probation after that one. If you think the pun-ishment is too harsh, email them at gchen15 “at” stanford.edu and safisher “at” stanford.edu. Oh, yeah, you can get in touch with Joseph at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu as well.
Last week’s Wednesday roundtable: Who will set an NCAA record in 2013?