By Shan Reddy
In honor of the Big Game on Saturday, we decided to put together a list of the best players in the NFL from Stanford and Cal by position. Here’s one full starting lineup made up exclusively of former Cardinal and Golden Bear players who are currently playing in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers has been back to his hyperproductive self this season after the worst two-year stretch of his career; he’s boasting an impressive 17-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio to go along with 2.718 passing yards, good for eighth in the NFL. The Packers made a change at head coach this offseason for the first time in Rodgers’s career — Matt LaFleur has balanced out the offense, which now has a Pro-Bowl-caliber back in Aaron Jones leading Green Bay’s rushing attack. Nonetheless, there’s no question that Cal alumnus Rodgers takes the cake here; the question is even easier since Andrew Luck’s retirement in August.
This one’s easy. Christian McCaffrey made NFL.com’s Midseason All-Pro Team; he leads the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and rushing efficiency (yards per carry among starting backs). He’s had a historic season and a historic start to his career; he’s been the best running back in football over the first 10 weeks of the 2019 NFL season.
Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper both rank in the top five in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards among tight ends this season; Hooper leads the league and Ertz sits at fourth. Hooper also leads the league in touchdown receptions by a tight end and has been Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s top redzone target this season. Though Ertz is having a down year, he’s still having a Pro-Bowl-caliber season; it’s just that last year was one of the best single seasons by a tight end in NFL history.
Since the retirement of former Seahawks Pro Bowler Doug Baldwin, Stanford no longer has a starting wideout in the NFL. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is the closest thing, and he’s fourth on the Philadelphia Eagles’ depth chart. Meanwhile, Cal’s receivers in the NFL have been dominant; Marvin Jones Jr. leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with eight, and Keenan Allen is having another Pro-Bowl-caliber year as the Los Angeles Chargers’ top pass-catching weapon.
Though neither Stanford nor Cal have much depth in terms of talented offensive line representation in the NFL, they have a few dominant starters. Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro and Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack are all considered the top players at their positions in the NFL, and have had continued success this season.
The defensive line talent is thin here, but the group is led by a star in New Orleans Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan, who ranks sixth in the NFL this season with 9.5 sacks. He’s consistently been the best player on the Saints defense for over half a decade, and will likely make the Pro Bowl for the third-straight year at the end of this season.
Arguably the deepest position on this team, this group of four — consisting of Texans outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett, Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez, Seahawks inside linebacker Mychael Kendricks and Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander — would constitute one of the best 3-4 linebacker corps in the NFL if they were to take the field together. Scarlett has been fantastic over the past few weeks in the wake of the trade of star pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks; Scarlett has racked up three sacks in his past two games. The 6-foot-4 Portland native would fit in perfectly on this All-Cal/Stanford team; he played for four years as an undergraduate for Cal from 2011 to 2015 before playing out his final year of eligibility at Stanford as Stanford’s first-ever graduate transfer in 2016.
Another top-heavy squad, the defensive backs group is dominated by former Stanford players, including Texans safety Justin Reid, Giants safety Michael Thomas, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman and Chargers cornerback Quenton Meerk. Cal has not produced a starting NFL-caliber defensive back in years. That is likely to change this coming year, though, as the Cal secondary has two young stars in safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins; the duo combined for a whopping ten interceptions last season.
Giorgio Tavecchio was cut earlier this season, so no kicker made the list, but there was a competition for punter between the New England Patriots’ Jake Bailey and the Houston Texans’ Bryan Anger. Having started for nearly five seasons now, Anger won out, but did so narrowly, as Bailey has been extraordinarily productive as far as punters go and ranks third in the league in net punting yards as a rookie.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.