By Shan Reddy
After graduating from Stanford, some students go on to medical school. Some intern at startups. Some go back home to live with their parents and vent over dinner about the futility of truly meaningful social impact in the modern world, citing Sartre chapters assigned in PHIL 102 and strenuous and impassioned participation in Rise Against Hunger during freshman NSO.
A select, talented few are drafted to play in the National Football League. Here are a few former Cardinal players who balled out this week five in the NFL.
Current Philadelphia Eagle and former Cardinal Zach Ertz has indisputably been the NFL’s best tight end through the first five weeks of the 2018-2019 regular season. He leads all tight ends with 41 receptions and 437 yards. Oakland’s Jared Cook is second in receptions with 30, and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is second in yards with 407. Ertz improved on last week’s dominating performance (10 receptions for 112 yards against the Tennessee Titans) with a touchdown on a team-high 10 receptions for 110 yards this week against one of the league’s top defenses in the Minnesota Vikings.
With just over a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Eagles down 23-14, Ertz caught a high-point touchdown from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz over rookie Mike Hughes, the Vikings’ first round pick this past April.
Ertz has become Wentz’s most dependable offensive playmaker and is on pace to break nearly every record for tight end production in a single season. His 362 career receptions are only 36 behind the Eagles’ record for career receptions by a tight end, currently held by Brent Celek with 398.
Former Cardinal and fourth-round draft pick Blake Martinez plays perhaps the toughest position on the defense — middle linebacker — in one of the most historic and frigid cities for football — Green Bay. But his spot on the Packers’ roster did not come easy.
After earning First Team All Pac-12 honors in 2016, Martinez was the 15th linebacker picked in the NFL draft, falling all the way to the fourth round. Then, after leading the NFL in tackles last season with 144, Martinez was noticeably absent in the 2018 Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game. Regardless, with prototypical size and strength at 6’2” and 237 pounds, Martinez has been incredibly productive for the Packers since entering the league in 2016. He was everywhere on defense Sunday against the Lions, leading the team in tackles with five, sacks with two, tackles for loss with two, and quarterback hits with two.
Martinez is currently leading the NFC North in tackles and is leading the league in sacks with three amongst inside linebackers.
Ertz was not the only former Cardinal tight end with a strong performance this week in the NFL. Austin Hooper beat out first-rounder Calvin Ridley and All-Pro Julio Jones to lead the Atlanta Falcons in receiving this week against the Steelers with nine receptions for 77 yards. At 6’4” and 254 pounds, Hooper has been a matchup nightmare for NFC South defenses since he entered the league, doubling as a consistent blocker and pass-catcher.
Cornerback Richard Sherman has had a quiet stat line this season with a meager seven tackles and no interceptions. This is because quarterbacks playing the San Francisco 49ers this season simply do not pass to receivers covered by cornerback Richard Sherman. Per Pro Football Focus, Sherman leads the league in coverage snaps per receptions allowed with 146.0, meaning that he only allows a completed pass to the receiver he’s covering once every 146 plays.
To give you some perspective on that ridiculous stat, the two corners ranked second and third in that category are sitting at 20.8 and 20.6 snaps per reception; those two players are former first-round picks and First Team All-Pros Aqib Talib and Patrick Peterson, corners who’ve been ranked in the top 10 at their position without fail for at least the past half decade.
To the quarterbacks of the NFC West (except former UCLA Bruin Josh Rosen, who was throing the ball to Cardinal players long before he got to Arizona): Don’t throw to Sherman’s side.
Quenton Meeks was highly productive as an outside corner during his time at Stanford, leading the Pac-12 in coverage snaps per reception allowed in 2016 with 15.5. The former Cardinal cornerback went undrafted this past April after being projected as a late fourth-round pick by NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein. Scouts wrote that Meeks was decent at both cornerback and safety but excellent at neither, labelling Meeks a ‘tweener.’
Meeks was promoted to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 53-man active roster from the practice squad Saturday, just in time for game time Sunday evening. Meeks recorded his first career tackle as an NFL player early midway through the first quarter, shutting down a slant to the Chiefs’ speedy receiver Tyreek Hill. Minor injuries to Jaguars’ corners Tre Herndon and D. J. Hayden should give Meeks more opportunities to play next week against the Dallas Cowboys.
Former Cardinal and second-team Associated Press All-American safety Justin Reid was projected to be selected in the first or second rounds of the 2018 NFL draft. Instead, Reid fell to the third round, picked 68th overall by the Houston Texans. Some analysts attributed his fall to his older brother Eric Reid’s kneeling during the national anthem alongside Colin Kaepernick back in 2016 when the two were both starters for the San Francisco 49ers. When Houston’s starter at free safety Andre Hal was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the June, Reid saw increased reps in practice behind veteran Kareem Jackson.
This past Sunday, Reid had his first career interception along with a career-high six tackles against the Cowboys. The Texans’ employ a creative defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel in which Reid is used as a versatile chess piece, taking snaps both at strong safety and slot cornerback.
Last year, Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles claimed a super bowl victory. Will a Cardinal player rise to that stage and perform once again? Only time (and week six in the NFL) will tell!
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu