By Joseph Beyda
Six Cardinal football players were picked in the 2014 NFL Draft on Friday and Saturday to tie a program record and lead the Pac-12, while three more have already signed as unrestricted free agents.
But even with those impressive numbers, several Stanford players were selected later than expected, most notably inside linebacker Shayne Skov, who wasn’t drafted at all.
Though Skov signed with the San Francisco 49ers — rejoining former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — on Saturday evening, it was assumed entering the weekend that the four-year starter and heart of the Cardinal defense would be chosen in the draft. After so many years of dominance for the Stanford defense, it appears that Skov still has something left to prove.
“Gunna make my mark in this league before it’s all over,” he Tweeted on Saturday.
The draft festivities for the Cardinal began with the expected second-round selection of outside linebacker Trent Murphy by the Washington Redskins on Friday night. After that, it took until the last pick in the fourth round for the next Stanford player, offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, to leave the board and join the New England Patriots.
Fleming was followed by offensive guard David Yankey (Minnesota Vikings) and free safety Ed Reynolds (Philadelphia Eagles) in the fifth, running back Tyler Gaffney (Carolina Panthers) in the sixth and defensive end Ben Gardner (Dallas Cowboys) in the seventh.
Yankey’s sixth-round selection was relatively late for the highly touted guard. But his wasn’t the biggest slide for a Cardinal star over the weekend, as all 256 picks came and went without Skov’s name being called.
Of course, several undrafted free agents (UFAs) from the Farm have come into league and made their mark on the league in recent years, including defensive back Michael Thomas and wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Griff Whalen.
But Skov’s college resume is arguably the strongest of that bunch, potentially signaling lingering concerns over the linebacker’s recovery from his ACL/MCL tear as a junior. Skov’s team-leading 109-tackle performance in 2013 went a long way toward proving that he has pro-caliber speed. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for NFL GMs.
Stanford fans’ disappointment that Skov wasn’t drafted was at least partially offset by the Cowboys’ selection of Gardner, an under-the-radar prospect despite his three years as an anchor of the Cardinal’s defensive line.
Gardner’s draft stock plummeted after a late-season pectoral tear in 2013. The NFL Combine snub regained that footing with an impressive showing at Stanford’s pro day, and that likely earned him a spot with a Dallas team that is looking to shore up its depth after a disastrous defensive effort last season.
Murphy joins a Redskins team with a pair of All-Pro outside linebackers already. He’s being billed in Washington as a potential successor to Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan, who are currently under contract for one and two years, respectively.
The Cardinal’s second player selected, Fleming, is also unlikely to start in 2014-15, with Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer ahead of him on New England’s depth chart at right tackle. If that projection holds true, Fleming will essentially replace Stanford alum Will Svitek ’04, who was not resigned by the Patriots as a backup tackle.
But Gaffney might have the tallest ladder to climb. The Panthers have a host of other running backs under contract, including a former Cardinal nemesis, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner.
Covering Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz ’13, whose speed and size made him dominant at Stanford and led to a 36-catch, 4-touchdown rookie season, is a mismatch for any defensive back. Now that defensive back — at least at Eagles practices — will be his former Cardinal teammate, Reynolds.
As of Saturday night, the other confirmed UFA signings from Stanford were fullback Ryan Hewitt with the Bengals and defensive end Josh Mauro with the Steelers. Both Hewitt and Mauro were surprising draft misses.
Free safety Devon Carrington will also aim to become a Steeler at their rookie minicamp. In Pittsburgh, Mauro and Carrington will rejoin former Cardinal teammate David DeCastro, a starting offensive lineman for the Steelers.
After rumors on Saturday, running back Anthony Wilkerson confirmed on Sunday that he had earned a rookie minicamp tryout with the Colts. If he sticks, he’ll become him the fifth former Stanford player (along with Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Delano Howell and Whalen) currently in Indianapolis.
Inside linebacker Jarek Lancaster also announced on Sunday that he had received a rookie minicamp invitation from the Oakland Raiders.
Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes round out the list of outgoing Stanford players looking for a pro contract. Early in the week, Stanford football Tweeted that Danser had a rookie minicamp tryout with the Tennessee Titans, while Wilkes had earned a similar opportunity with the San Diego Chargers.
For a full recap of the Cardinal-related action at the draft, check out our liveblog.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Devon Carrington and Anthony Wilkerson had signed contracts. As of May 13, they have only earned rookie minicamp invitations.
All photos courtesy of StanfordPhoto.com.