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Football preview: Wide receivers, tight ends
Junior J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19) scored his first touchdown last year and will have his role expanded this season after the departures of Michael Rector and Francis Owusu.(DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

Football preview: Wide receivers, tight ends

In a nutshell

Stanford’s passing attack suffered a relatively unproductive season as quarterback inconsistency and injuries hindered the Cardinal’s versatility.

As a result, last year’s receiving corps never became productive enough to earn the trust of head coach David Shaw and the offensive playcalling. While junior Trenton Irwin emerged as a viable top candidate and led the offense in yards per game, Stanford’s passing attack ranked dead last in yards per game in the Pac-12 and often stalled when called upon come game time.

Throughout the summer leading up to the beginning of this season, Stanford has consequently focused on elevating its passing attack, cementing senior Keller Chryst as starter and relying on returners to progress from last season’s experience.

However, despite last year’s underperformance, head coach David Shaw remains optimistic about his returning core in Irwin and fellow junior JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who led the team with five touchdown catches including the game winner against UCLA during week three last season shown below.

Head coach David Shaw summarized his sentiments about the receiving core to reporters at Pac-12 media day, “I think JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin coming along as receivers at the end of the year, Dalton Schultz making an impact, and hopefully his impact in the passing game will continue to be felt.”

The two juniors are the headliners in a young receiving core that has a lot to prove. Fellow junior Jay Tyler and sophomore Donald Stewart will also most likely be regular additions to the play calling and hopefully can provide more passing options for Chryst as he settles into the starting role.

The youngsters in the receiving corps hope to make up for the loss of speedster Michael Rector who graduated last year. The senior offered speed off the line for the Cardinal and will leave an absence to be filled on deep ball threats, most likely by Arcega-Whiteside, but Rector’s ability to spread out a defense will be missed.

Tight end Dalton Schultz hopes to progress as a threat through the air for the Cardinal as the senior showed growing chemistry with Chryst in the later games of the season, his best being a 38-yard, four-reception performance at Oregon.

In addition to Schultz, Stanford also has another top-level talent in sophomore Kaden Smith. Smith will not only provide versatility with play calling–Shaw can incorporate more pro-style formations with two tight ends–but also can be another target through the air.

Ultimately, the passing attack has remained the focus for growth throughout Stanford’s preseason, and whether the offense takes a step in the positive direction relies heavily on whether Chryst can successfully find his targets in the passing game as the Cardinal look to replace a huge absence in the run game left by Christian McCaffrey.

Who’s Returning?

Trenton Irwin (WR) – The rising junior found his groove last season with crisp route running and consistent hands, leading the Cardinal passing attack in yards per game. Irwin’s dependability has turned him into WR1 on the depth chart, and many around the Cardinal camp are expecting big things from the young receiver this year..

“I think Trent’s going to have a breakout year. I think he’s ready,” Shaw told reporters at Pac-12 media day during the summer. “The combination of him, the receiver production is a function of the quarterback and the offensive line. If we stabilize those two positions. Trenton is one of the best route runners in the nation. I’ll put my stamp on that right now. I’m excited to see him have more opportunities to effect games this year.”

With one year of experience on the collegiate level and more chemistry with starter Chryst, Trenton Irwin should be the main target in the Cardinal’s passing attack, especially when trying to make Chryst comfortable early in games with relatively shorter routes.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (WR) – The 6-foot-3 junior made his name known during the third week of last year’s season with an eight-yard, game-winning touchdown catch on a endzone corner fade for his first touchdown of the season. Arcega-Whiteside then went on to be the Cardinal’s primary end zone target due to his height, leading the team with five despite not getting his first reception until the third game.

As a result, many have expectations for another year of growth from the returning receiver who has firmly claimed the WR2 spot and should continue to be an end zone and third-down target for Chryst this season.

Jay Tyler (WR) – Tyler didn’t get any looks from the coaches or quarterbacks last season. His small size (5-foot-8 and 167 pounds) does not fit the ideal Stanford wide receiver. However, his potential on the run makes him a better fit as a punt returner where he will take over the hole left by Christian McCaffrey.

Dalton Schultz (TE) – The rising senior came to the Farm as the No. 1 tight end prospect out of high school and now has full control of the position while attempting to continue the NFL legacy from Cardinal Y’s. Schultz’s multi-faceted capabilities led Shaw to describe the senior as a “complete NFL tight end” ready to be a consistent threat on the field.

“As we stabilize the offensive line and quarterback position,” Shaw told Pac-12 reporters during media day. “[Schultz’s] one of those guys I think is going to benefit and really have a breakout year this year. And won’t just be statistically.”

Schultz will hopefully provide versatility beyond just his presence in the passing game as his blocking abilities should also give Shaw and his offensive schemers a diversity of options and threats for the 6-foot-6 tight end.

Kaden Smith (TE) – The sophomore will be an interesting addition to the Stanford offense in the upcoming season as he joins Schultz in the tight end position as another No. 1 prospect out of high school. Smith adds another passing threat for Chryst and could be a surprise for many if the sophomore could find his rhythm and chemistry in the offense.

Newcomers to watch for

Scooter Harrington (TE) – The 10th ranked tight end by ESPN out of high school, sophomore Harrington redshirted last season and was one of the names dropped by coach Shaw as a player that he will try to find a role for.

“I like where all of our tight ends are right now.” Shaw said during the first week of training camp. “We’ll find roles for those guys: Scooter Harrington, Kaden Smith and Dalton Schultz. I like our complement of receivers.”

Especially with the lack of experience among the wide receivers, Harrington can find a role that will let him shine on the offense.

Who’s Leaving?

Michael Rector (WR) – The graduate receiver offered a deep ball threat whenever on the field with his pace and quickness of the line, and his ability to spread out defenses will definitely be missed. Rector signed with the Detroit Lions after going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Francis Owusu (WR) – While Owusu’s stats were never eye-popping during his career at Stanford, the Cardinal will miss the physical presence he provided blocking on the outside for McCaffrey and the other backs. Also, who could forget that catch?

Owusu is still looking for a home in the NFL after being waived by the Miami Dolphins.

 

Projected Depth Chart

Wide Receiver:

  1. Trenton Irwin
  2. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
  3. Jay Tyler
  4. Donald Stewart

Tight End:

  1. Dalton Schultz
  2. Kaden Smith
  3. Scooter Harrington
  4. Ben Snyder

Others: Isaiah Brandt-Sims, Harry Schwartz, Ryan Atkins, Sidhart Krishnamurthi, Osiris St. Brown, Tucker Fisk, Colby Parkinson, Kyle McCombs

 

Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.