Stanford, first under Jim Harbaugh and now under David Shaw, has become a very physical football team. They run an NFL-style offense and they run the ball as well as any team in the nation. Their offense, this year, has three legitimate NFL prospects in running back Tyler Gaffney and offensive linemen Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser. Let’s break down their play.
Tyler Gaffney – Running Back
Gaffney originally enrolled at Stanford in 2009 and played as a backup and rotational player for three years. Being a draft choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates in MLB, he left after the 2009 season to play professional baseball. Though he had a very good baseball season, playing Class A minor league ball, he found he missed football and re-enrolled at Stanford in the spring of 2013. That was a good decision for the Cardinal. Gaffney has been a vital piece of the Stanford offense this season.
Gaffney has excellent running back size. He is listed at 6’1 – 225. He is a good athlete, and while he is no burner, he is strong, explosive, and is an excellent between-the-tackles-type runner. He doesn’t have great top end speed, I would estimate his speed at 4.63, but he is quick and has a burst. Stanford plays in a pro-style offense, and Gaffney is often lined up as a single back behind the QB. He has good initial quickness to go along with very good vision and instincts. He is a very good decision maker who can pick and slide to the opening and burst. He runs low, with power, and has outstanding balance to consistently get yards after contact. To date he has run for 1296 yards and a 5.2 per carry average. He has also run for 16 touchdowns. The best stat is that he only has been hit for a loss a total of 8 yards this season. He is best as an inside runner but is effective outside also. In the pass game, Gaffney shows good hands and gets production as a screen and check-down receiver. After the catch, he is quick to turn up field and get positive yards. He is not overly elusive, but he can make a quick cut to make the first man miss. As a pass blocker, he is alert and does a good job picking up blitzers. He can face up and anchor against pass rushers.
Gaffney will never be a home run hitter because he lacks the top speed, but in the NFL, he will be very similar to the way he is in college. He will be effective as an inside runner, short yardage receiver, and pass blocker. Guys with those traits have a way of playing a lot on Sunday. I don’t see him getting drafted in the premium rounds (first and second), but he could very easily be picked in the third or fourth. I have no doubt that he will be a productive rotational back in the NFL.
Kevin Danser – Guard
Danser is a fifth-year senior and a two-year starter at right guard for the Cardinal. He has adequate size at 6’6 – 295. He is not a top athlete, but he is strong and has very good balance. You seldom see him off his feet.
Danser is best as a run blocker. He comes off the ball quickly and shows some snap and power on contact. He keeps his feet running, and he works to get movement. He can stay low out of his stance and does a good job with leverage. He is good with combo blocks and can come off the initial block and get to the second block. He is often used on short pulls to both the right and left and, again, is effective in short space. He can adjust on the move and make a productive block. The longer the pull the less effective he becomes because he lacks good speed. I would estimate his speed at 5.3 – 5.35.
In pass protection, he is fairly consistent. He can set quickly and gets his hands on his opponent. He plays with adequate knee bend and shows he can slide and recover. I have seen a few times where he has lost his man to a counter move. Still he is tough and a battler who works hard on every play. He shows adequate anchor ability because of his strength and toughness.
If Danser gets with the right team, he will be an eventual starter at guard. While he has some athletic limitations, he is strong, tough, and competitive. He needs to add some bulk. He may be a guard only, and because of that, he may not dress as a rookie. Still, he has too much going for him to be kept off the field for long. A good “B” level player who should get drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
Khalil Wilkes – Center
Like most of the linemen who come out of Stanford, Wilkes is a fifth year senior. He red-shirted as a freshman, played as a reserve his next two years, and has been the starter the last two seasons. In 2012, he started at left guard and was moved to center this year. The fact that he has experience at both positions will help him at the next level.
Wilkes looks a little bigger than his listed 6’3 – 286. He has the frame to easily carry 300 – 305. He has long arms and wide hips. While not very fast, he has some short area quickness. He snaps with his right hand and shows he can snap and step with quickness. He gets to his block quickly and shows some power on contact. He consistently works his feet to get movement and has the upper body strength to turn and seal his opponent. He takes good angles to the second level and is effective blocking in a short space.
In pass protection, he sets quickly and has quick hands. He shows adequate knee bend and can move his feet to slide and recover. He has a good punch and keeps his hands inside. A few times, I have seen him give some ground initially in pass protection, but once he sinks his hips, he is able to hold ground. He is an alert player, will look to help when free, and it is obvious that he is the lineman who makes the calls.
Overall, I see Wilkes as an eventual starter in the league. He needs to add some bulk, because in today’s game, there are not a lot of centers who are under 300 pounds. Because he has starting experience at both guard and center, that will help him be one of the seven linemen who dress on Sunday early in his career. He will be a good fourth to sixth round type pick. A good combine and pro day could move him up the charts a little.
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