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Stanford in the NFL Draft preview: Part one


The 2018 NFL Draft is finally upon us, and all eyes are on the hundreds of college prospects waiting patiently as the most important few days of their professional football careers approach. Questions of when and where a player will be drafted abound as mock drafts and big boards fly up all over the internet. Speculations of trades and schemes to get specific players are more common and trusted than actual comments made by front offices themselves. The draft is truly the most unique part of the NFL offseason.

And in the flurry of phone calls and draft day hats, viewers watching the action go down in Dallas may hear the names of several Stanford football players called, as the Cardinal once again turn out an impressive crop of prospects. Stanford has six total players officially participating in the draft: defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, tight end Dalton Schultz, outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi, safety Justin Reid, cornerback Quenton Meeks and offensive lineman David Bright.

Stanford’s prospects are graded at different levels, and are expected to be drafted (or not drafted) at different times during the weekend. Hopefully, at least one of these players will hear their name called on Thursday during the first round. Stanford is one of only six schools to have a player drafted in the first round of the last three NFL drafts. In 2015 Andrus Peat was selected by the New Orleans Saints, in 2016 the San Francisco 49’ers selected Joshua Garnett and in 2017 the 49’ers took Solomon Thomas and the Carolina Panthers drafted Christian McCaffrey. Additionally, Stanford’s six first round selections since 2012 are the most out of any school in the Pac-12. Only time will tell if one (or more!) of the Stanford prospects can keep these streaks going.

I’m going to break down each of the prospects in more detail, with three today and three in tomorrow’s paper. Today, we’ll be discussing Phillips and Schultz, with Kalambayi, Reid, Meeks and Bright to follow tomorrow.

Harrison Phillips:

Harrison Phillips is an absolute menace on the football field. Perhaps that’s where his nickname, Horrible Harry, comes from. If you’ve been to a Stanford football game in the last two years, you’ve undoubtedly seen this guy sack an opposing quarterback, as he melted offensive lines with sheer force during his tenure as a Stanford defensive tackle. He menaced the Pac-12 the entirety of his career, forcing opponents to gameplan around him and applying massive amounts of pressure for the rest of his team to capitalize on.

Phillips has been at Stanford for four years, playing for three of them after suffering a season-ending injury in the season opener vs. Northwestern as a sophomore. He actually saw playing time as a true freshman and registered 2.0 sacks in just six games of limited action. As a junior, he registered 6.5 sacks as his playing time increased upon his return from injury. He was an All Pac-12 team honorable mention and made the Pac-12 All Academic first team.

As a senior, Phillips stepped his game up to another level. He registered a team high 7.5 sacks and an absurd team-high 17.0 tackles for loss, taking the Cardinal’s slogan of “party in the backfield” to an entirely different level. He had 103 total tackles, making him the only defensive lineman in the FBS to register more than 100 tackles. He was nominated to the All Pac-12 first team, the AP All-America third team and the FWAA All-America second team, and scouts lauded him as an immense NFL prospect.

Speaking of immense, Harrison Phillips is an enormous human being. At the NFL combine, he clocked in at 6’3” and 307 pounds, placing him in the top half of all defensive tackles. And, despite running a 5.21 on the 40-yard dash, Phillips proved surprisingly agile, running a 7.28 3-cone drill, putting him in the 91st percentile for the event. But Phillips truly dropped jaws in the bench press, where he ripped off an astounding 42 reps, placing him in the 97th percentile. Harrison Phillips has a motor that will not stop and that skill alone makes him invaluable.

It is currently unclear whether Phillips’ name will be called in the first round. While originally slated to be a surefire first rounder like Washington’s Vita Vea, Phillips has fallen behind tackles like Da’Ron Payne from Alabama and Taven Bryan from Florida in the eyes of some scouts. There are concerns that his size, build and technique don’t suit the role of a traditional NFL nose tackle or 3-technique, leaving him positionless and that he is more of a playmaker than an efficient, consistent, well-groomed presence on the line.

Despite that, there are plenty of teams that need desperate help on the defensive line, help that Horrible Harry can provide. He might play well as a guard in a 3-4 scheme rather than as a true nose, in a location like Kansas City to anchor their line or Washington to play alongside Jonathan Allen, but he could just as easily wind up randomly being drafted in the late first by the Patriots or in the middle of the second or third as a steal by a needy 4-3 defensive team like the Browns or the Lions. Regardless, any team that picks him will immediately improve.

Dalton Schultz:

Stanford has five tight ends selected in the NFL draft since 2010, which is tied for the most in the country. There’s a reason that they call us Tight End U, and Stanford tight ends have gone on to succeed on a variety of teams. Other than the current Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Ertz, players like Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener have gone on from the Farm to have successful NFL beginnings.

Schultz hopes to continue this trend of excellence as he enters the NFL draft after forgoing his final year of eligibility with the Cardinal. Schultz, who will probably have to give up his trademark #9 in the pros, was a producer for the Cardinal in his senior season, making enough waves to land on the All Pac-12 first team, primarily because of his improvement in run blocking. In 2017, he caught 22 total passes for 212 total yards and three touchdowns, proving a valuable weapon for signal-callers K.J Costello, Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns. Schultz is also an excellent blocking TE, which will be his most appealing feature as a prospect, helping to pave the way for the Cardinal’s superstar running back Bryce Love, who had the FBS’ second most rushing yards last season. (Speaking of, Love’s decision to return to Stanford for his senior season keeps him off of this draft preview, though he most likely would have been a first round pick if he had declared.)

At the combine, Schultz weighed in at 6’5” and 244 pounds, his height placing him in the top 78th percentile for tight ends, while his weight placed him in the bottom 13th. His build and weight are almost identical to those of Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry. There will be plenty of chances for him to bulk up after being drafted, however, if teams decide to utilize him more heavily as a blocker. Schultz’s 40 time was 4.75 seconds, and his 3-cone was 7 seconds, slightly above the average, but nothing to shy away from if you’re a scout.

Stanford’s head coach David Shaw said that Schultz was the most “complete” tight end that the team has produced in recent years, with pass-catching and run-blocking ability. Yet it is his run-blocking that is heralded the most, as his technique and consistency in form are features that might boost his draft stock. Schultz trends now as a day-three-type player. His best weapon for potentially going earlier might be former teammate Zach Ertz, as teams might be interested in how Schultz could grow into a similar player.

Teams with tight end needs could take a flyer on Schultz, particularly if they have existing depth at the position. The Tennessee Titans come to mind, as Schultz could play and develop behind Jonnu Smith and Delanie Walker, in addition to the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars, who could use tight ends in the wake of the departures of Eric Ebron and Marcedes Lewis respectively.

The NFL draft is almost upon us, and the first round begins on Thursday. Thursday’s paper will include profiles on Quenton Meeks, Justin Reid, David Bright and Peter Kalambayi.

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at”