NFL Prospect Focus: Stanford Defense

Ever since Jim Harbaugh became Stanford’s head coach in 2007, the type of player the NFL has gotten from the school has changed. While I’m not going to say that Stanford players used to be soft, I will say that there were not nearly as strong, tough minded, and physically imposing as we are seeing now.

This year, Stanford has four players on defense who are likely to be drafted (some very high) in next May’s NFL Draft. They are linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy as well as defensive linemen Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.

Shayne Skov – Linebacker

Skov is the most talented of the senior defensive players at Stanford. Skov has been a starter at linebacker since midway through his freshman year in 2009. He injured a knee in the third game of the 2009 season and was given an injury redshirt year. The former five-star recruit has lived up to his lofty high school recruiting status.

Skov has excellent size for a Mike linebacker. He is listed as being 6’3 – 245 and looks all of that. He is a very good athlete with speed, balance, and body control. I would say he can easily run in the low 4.6 area. He has explosive quickness, strength, and power. He is a quick-reacting, instinctive player who finds the ball. He shows strength and power at the point of attack and gets rid of blocks very quickly. He always seems to take good angles to the ball, and when he reaches the play he is an excellent tackler.

He is used to blitz often and is a very good pass rusher. With his quickness and burst, he does an excellent job timing his blitzes and is extremely effective. He can shed on the move and has a quick burst off of blocks to close. In pass coverage, he has the suddenness and hip flex to turn and run in man cover and has excellent awareness in zone. His transition is very good.

Skov is a complete linebacker and can play in any type of defensive system. He can play Mike or Will in a 4-3 or either inside position in a 3-4. His skill set is such that he should play and start right from the get go. He will be a very high pick and a solid contributor as a rookie.

Trent Murphy – Linebacker

Murphy is a fifth-year senior from Mesa, Arizona. He is a three-year starter at outside linebacker, and in the Stanford scheme, he really plays a combination OLB/DE. He lines up from both a two-point and three-point stance.

Listed as being 6’6 – 261, Murphy is bigger than your prototypical OLB. On tape, he looks to be a good athlete. While he has smooth movement, I don’t see explosive quickness and power. He plays with good, not great, strength. He has average speed for the position, and I would estimate he runs in the 4.8 area.

Murphy has put up some outstanding numbers to date this year with 45 tackles, including 18 for loss and 12 sacks. In the three games I viewed (USC, Oregon, UCLA), I did not see that type of production in his play. While he is very consistent and plays hard, I didn’t that all that many "big" plays.

Murphy has good initial quickness and stays low. He can get his hands on his opponent quickly and shows the hand use to shed blocks. He has good instincts and finds the ball. I wouldn’t call him a disrupter versus the run, but he does make plays. He is a very steady player who, while not flashy, at the end of the day, you see makes a lot of plays. As a pass rusher, he gets off the ball with good quickness. He is not an explosive pass rusher, but he knows how to put moves together and goes snap-to-whistle. He is smart, and you seldom see him break contain. He is used some in pass coverage and is best in zone. He has a good drop and shows a feel in coverage, but he lacks the explosive quickness that you would prefer an OLB to have.

Murphy is a bit of a tweener, big for an OLB and small for a DE. His workouts will have a lot to say about where he gets drafted. In watching three games, I still don’t have a really good feel for this player, so I need to watch more tape. Right now, I see him as a “B” level player (third – fourth round), but he could be better. His best fit is a 3-4 OLB, but there are some 4-3 schemes in the league he could play in. I will update this report as I see more tape.

Josh Mauro – Defensive Line

Mauro was not on a lot of pre-season scouting lists, but when you watch tape, he jumps out at you with his effort and consistency. Because of injuries to many of Stanford’s defensive lineman, Mauro has lined up at all three defensive line positions this year.

Mauro is a fifth-year senior and a two-year starter. He is listed at being 6’6 – 282, and he has the frame to easily carry 300 pounds. He has good arm length, plays with strength, and is a fairly good athlete. While he is not extremely fast, he has quickness, stays on his feet, and is a top competitor.

Mauro gets off the ball quickly, and with his quick first step and power, he can get penetration and disrupt the run game. With his strength, he usually wins the battle at the line of scrimmage, and can gain ground. He takes good angles in pursuit and will make some pursuit plays because of his aggressive attitude on the field.
He doesn’t show many moves as a pass rusher, but he is able to push the pocket and never stops coming. While he may not get a lot of sacks, he will get pressures.

Mauro is not a top talent, but he is the type of player that most teams want. While he may never be a starter, he is the type of player that can be effective as a sole player in a rotation. I see him as a “C” level player (fifth – seventh) rounds who still needs some development but should still play early in his career.

Ben Gardner – Defensive line

Gardner played in only one of the games I viewed (UCLA). He injured a pec muscle in late October, had surgery, and is out for the season. In the one game I saw, he looked to be an undersized player with a high motor. He usually plays as a five-technique. He is a fifth-year senior, and a three-year starter.

He lacks ideal size at 6’4 – 275, but he is strong and explosive. He gets off the ball very quickly and can disrupt run plays with his quickness. He has good hand use and can shed. Though he lacks top size, he shows he can hold the point and not give ground. As a pass rusher, he can be effective with his moves and flashes a bull rush.

Gardner is a good player but undersized. He does not look like he can get much bigger than 285. With just one tape viewed, I need to see more before I can come up with a more definite opinion on this player.

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