Ben Gardner, Defensive End
Alter ego: “The Mullet.” Gardner’s teammates jokingly blamed Stanford’s 2012 Fiesta Bowl loss on Gardner because he had chopped off his mop before the game, and they insisted he keep the distinctive hairdo for the 2013 Rose Bowl. He did — and proceeded to make a critical fourth-down stop against his hometown Wisconsin Badgers.
CBSSports.com projection: Undrafted
Cardinal career: One of the defining Stanford players of his generation, Gardner came to the Cardinal as an unheralded two-star recruit — it took the help of Jack Harbaugh, the father of then-Cardinal coach Jim, for Gardner to receive his first major offer — but quickly blossomed into much more. After playing on special teams his sophomore year, Gardner became a starting defensive end his junior season and finished with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, earning him All-Pac-12 second team honors.
Gardner followed up his breakout junior campaign with an even more successful senior year, tying for second on the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and again being named to the All-Pac-12 second team. Although his fifth-year senior season was cut short by a torn pectoral injury suffered in the closing moments in a win at Oregon State, the captain was still named to the All-Pac-12 first team with 7.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season. Even with just eight games of true playing action in 2013, he was named Stanford’s most outstanding senior, signaling the importance of his leadership role as a team captain, as the Cardinal’s American flag bearer out of the tunnel and as an inspirational force on the sidelines.
Pro stock: Gardner projected as a mid-round selection before a torn pectoral forced him to miss the final six games of his fifth-year senior season. After he was not invited to the NFL Combine, Gardner exploded at Stanford’s pro day with a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-2 broad jump, numbers that would have placed him second and fifth, respectively, among defensive ends at the combine. His strength and athleticism alone should be enough to land him a job, but he is likely a later round pick because scouts are down on his ability to speed rush from the edge, especially if he’s placed in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Gardner is seen as a “tweener” who may need to transition to linebacker in the NFL, and accordingly, he has dropped 15 pounds from his playing weight. He’ll almost certainly have the chance to silence his doubters once again, and if it goes anything like last time, Gardner may quickly turn heads at the next level.
Highlights: Gardner’s always ready for anything, and after bursting through Arizona State’s offensive line, he instinctively notices the pooch punt attempt in time to stick his hands up for the block.
Additionally, Gardner’s goal line stop of James White back in the 2013 Rose Bowl was an emotional moment — both for Cardinal fans and the one-time Badgers snub.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.