By Shan Reddy
The first day of the 2019 NFL Draft is in the books, and a player from Stanford has yet to be picked by NFL teams. With the second and third rounds on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday, the Cardinal is poised to send a deep group to NFL rosters this year.
Here’s a breakdown of Stanford football’s top 2019 NFL draft prospects.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside: Wide receiver (63 receptions, 1059 yards, 15 touchdowns as a senior) Projected to go as high as the end of the first round, JJAW was college football’s premier red zone threat this past season for the Cardinal. Posting up in the end zone like a center in underneath the basket, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound wideout torched Pac-12 defenses all season. An injury to his right ankle prevented him from working out at the NFL Combine, but his exceptional 4.49 40-yard dash at Stanford’s Pro Timing Day put to rest any concerns scouts had about his speed and athleticism.
Look for Stanford’s top pass-catcher to go in the mid-second round on Friday.
Bobby Okereke: Inside linebacker (94 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks)
Though the buzz around Okereke at the end of the season was quiet, the senior tore up the pre-draft process, showing off exceptional athleticism. He ran an impressive 4.58 40-yard dash at the combine — the seventh-best time among linebackers at the event — as well as a 122.0 inch broad jump — a time good for fifth-best. Perhaps most notable was his 37 on the Wonderlic test— the NFL’s pre-draft evaluative IQ test, effectively — which led all linebackers in the class, and was second among all defensive players in the draft.
Look for for the former captain of Stanford’s defense to be picked in the third round on Friday.
Bryce Love: Running back (739 yards on 166 attempts and 6 touchdowns as a senior)
Bryce Love was a national sensation in 2017, tearing up college football. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound back absolutely shredded Pac-12 defenses, averaging an unprecedented 8.1 yards per carry on 263 attempts for 2118 yards and 19 touchdowns, racking up Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-American honors as well as the Lombardi Award for the best college football player regardless of position and the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best running back. He ranked second in votes for the Heisman Award given to the nation’s best college football player, falling just short of future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield.
Though Love’s time at Stanford has indisputably been historic, its ending has been anticlimactic. After being projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Love made the risky choice to return to Stanford for his final year of eligibility, betting that he could have another impressive season and improve on his draft stock.
He bet wrong, and the decision will end up costing him millions. After tearing his ACL in his final game with the Cardinal, Love has plummeted down draft boards. Look for him to go in the fourth or fifth rounds of the draft on Saturday.
Kaden Smith: Tight end (47 receptions, 635 yards, 2 touchdowns as a junior)
A former four-star recruit coming out of high school, Smith burst onto the scene as a junior, leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards for the first nine games of the season. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior added consistency to the Cardinal’s passing attack and was quarterback KJ Costello’s primary target down the middle of the field throughout the season.
At one point considered a potential top-50 pick, Smith had a horrendous outing at the NFL Combine, finishing in the bottom three among tight ends in four events (40-yard dash, bench press, 20-yard shuttle and broad jump). Look for him to fall as far as the sixth round in the draft on Saturday.
Nate Herbig: Offensive guard
Despite being named to the All-Pac-12 First Team in 2018 and the All-Pac-12 Second Team in 2019, the junior from Kalaheo, Hawaii is the biggest boom or bust prospect of Stanford’s class. Weighing in at 335 pounds, Herbig is a mountain of a man, and opened up huge holes in opposing defensive lines during Bryce Love’s record-breaking 2017 campaign. NFL analyst Lance Zierlein compared him to “a refrigerator with thick arms on it.”
Herbig’s athleticism was called into question he ran the worst 40-yard dash time of the entire draft class at the combine, a performance that may be the cause of his fall all the way to the sixth or seventh round on Saturday.
Joey Alfieri: Outside linebacker (34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks as a senior)
Alfieri was a late arrival to the party, not listed in NFL.com’s top 300 players in the class. However, the senior has prototypical size for the position at 6-foot-3, 239 pounds, and ran a stellar 4.49 40-yard dash at Stanford’s pro day, a mark that would’ve put him in the top-five among linebackers at the combine (right behind the 4.43 time of Michigan’s Devin Bush Jr., who was drafted 10th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday) had he been invited.
At the end of the season, Alfieri was fighting for consideration as a legitimate draft prospect. Though his chances of being picked remain slim, look for a team to take a chance on him in the sixth or seventh round on Saturday.
Jake Bailey: Punter
A standout on special teams, Jake Bailey was named to the Pac-12’s second team this season after leading the conference with 45.4 yards per punt. At Cal back in December, Bailey recorded the longest punt in school history with an 84-yard bomb.
Though few punters are picked in the NFL draft every year, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior showed off enough leg strength throughout the year and athleticism at the combine to warrant a late-round pick on Saturday.
Though the Cardinal’s lineup of NFL draft prospects this year is thin in top-tier talent, it has depth. Although no players were picked in the first round, it’s likely that at least one Stanford player will be picked in each of the six rounds to come.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.