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Stanford in the NFL: Tight ends dominate

In an ongoing series, The Daily’s Shan Reddy discusses Stanford football’s presence in the NFL, covering the top performances of the past week from the program’s alumni.

The NFL season is once again in full swing. The first four weeks of the year have seen several former Cardinal players prove to be among the league’s elite at their respective positions. The group became considerably thinner when Andrew Luck added on NFL alumnus to his illustrious resume this past summer, but Stanford is still being represented proudly in the NFL. Here are a few players who shone this past week.

Stanford’s status as “Tight End U” continues to be solidified as two former Cardinal at the position put up strong performances this past week. Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper ’17 tore up the middle of the Tennessee Titans defense on Saturday, leading his team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 130, marks which both led all tight ends in Week 4. The former Stanford third-round pick continues to solidify himself as the number-two option in the Falcons offense after Julio Jones, and ranks second in the NFL in receptions among tight ends with 28. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Eagles Zach Ertz ’13 (who made this column nearly every week last year en route to an NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end in 2018) ranks fourth in the category with 24. In a win over the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night, the former Stanford second-rounder reeled in seven catches for 65 yards, both of which were team-leading marks. He was also dominant as a blocker, helping Eagles running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders rack up 159 yards on the ground with an impressive combined 6.2 yards-per-carry average; the performance earned Ertz an elite 91.1 grade from Pro Football Focus.

Matching up on defense against Ertz for much of the game was Packers’ middle linebacker Blake Martinez ’16, who struggled mightily in coverage throughout the game. However, he kept pace as the NFL’s leading solo tackler with another double-digit performance, racking up a team-leading 15 tackles. Before he would go on to lead the NFL with 144 tackles in 2017 for the Packers, Martinez led the Stanford football team in the 2014 and 2015 seasons before being picked in the fourth round by the Packers. 

Perhaps most impressive of the Stanford alumni in the NFL this year has been former Heisman runner-up and Stanford record-destroyer Christian McCaffrey ’18, who has moved on from leading the Pac-12 in rushing yards to leading the NFL in rushing yards. Building on a record-breaking 2018 campaign for the Carolina Panthers that saw him lead the NFL with 1,965 all-purpose yards, McCaffrey has been the NFL’s premier dual-threat back this year, leading the NFL with 629 all-purpose yards, 411 of which have come on the ground and 218 through the air. 

Though they and their defense were unable to stop McCaffrey, who racked up 179 total yards and a touchdown, former Stanford defenders and current Houston Texans teammates linebacker Brennan Scarlett M.S. ’16 and safety Justin Reid had strong performances in a win over the Panthers. Reid led the team with nine tackles while Scarlett forced a key turnover with a strip-sack of Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen. 

Now here’s a former Stanford player who you certainly won’t see highlighted by NFL media this week: Jake Bailey ’19, the Patriots’ 2018 sixth-round draft pick at punter. Bailey booted the ball a whopping nine times this week, which is admittedly more indicative of his team’s offensive stagnation against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday than it is of Bailey’s skill. Nonetheless, his 433 total punting yards led the NFL by a wide margin this week, following up on a performance in Week 3 that earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

This week proved that even without Andrew Luck, the small but mighty contingent of Stanford alumni starting on NFL teams can continue to make its mark. 

Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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