While Andrew Luck and David DeCastro might have stolen the headlines as the first two Stanford players selected in the NFL draft, ten other Cardinal players officially made the leap from the Farm to the NFL over the weekend as well.
In second round of the draft on Friday afternoon, the Indianapolis Colts selected tight end Coby Fleener with the 34th pick, reuniting Andrew Luck with his most prolific target from 2011. Eight picks later, the Miami Dolphins chose offensive tackle Jonathan Martin with the 42nd selection in the draft.
Fleener, who had 34 catches for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final campaign as a Cardinal, said he knew he had a chance to join Luck in blue and white when the first round ended with his name on the board and the Colts just two picks away.
“I knew it was a possibility [to come to Indianapolis], but you never really know,” Fleener told the Colts’ official website. “I sat there yesterday thinking there were some teams that could have picked me and I wasn’t sure. Today when the Colts came up, I still wasn’t sure until I got the call on my phone that had an Indiana area code. I had a big smile on my face at that point.”
Fleener, like Luck, will be expected to replace a former All-Pro at his position, as the Colts released tight end Dallas Clark in Indy following an injury-riddled 2011 season where Clark only played in 11 games and scored just two touchdowns during the Colts’ miserable 2-14 campaign.
Martin, who will be returning to the site of the Cardinal’s 2011 Orange Bowl victory for the next few years, also expressed his excitement at joining a franchise that has long been associated with excellence.
“It’s amazing. I’m just so excited to be a member of the Miami Dolphins. It’s a dream come true,” Martin told the Dolphins’ official website. “It’s an amazing city, an amazing fan base and there’s an amazing history behind the team and I just can’t wait to get down there and work.”
Martin, like Luck and Fleener with the Colts, will join a major rebuilding effort in Miami. Coming off a 6-10 season where head coach Tony Sparano was fired after an 0-7 start, the Dolphins spent their first pick on Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and their second on Martin, who will be tasked with protecting the Dolphins’ new signal-caller.
And while Luck and Fleener will be playing the positions they’re so familiar with in tandem with one another for a few more years, that likely won’t be the case for Martin.
Instead, Martin will likely be forced to switch to the right tackle after playing left tackle in college, as the Dolphins already have four-time Pro Bowler (and former No. 1 overall pick) Jake Long holding down the left side of the line.
“I’m so excited to play behind a player like [Long]. He’s going to be a Hall of Fame left tackle,” Martin said. “He’s a guy I’ve modeled my game after for years and I’ve been a fan. I’m excited to play and I’ll play left, I’ll play right, wherever the team needs me.”
After Fleener and Martin went off the board in the second round, giving the Cardinal four players selected in the top 42, no other Stanford players were selected in the next five rounds of the draft. However, eight Stanford players signed contracts with NFL teams over the weekend as undrafted free agents.
Wide receiver Griff Whalen made it a party for three in Indy, joining the Colts and giving Luck more continuity from his career on the Farm. Whalen led the Cardinal with 56 receptions last season, tallying 749 yards and four touchdowns, giving Luck the opportunity to throw to his two favorite targets for a few more years.
Several other players tried to make it a Cardinal family affair by electing to sign with the San Francisco 49ers, including defensive end Matt Masifilo, wide receiver Chris Owusu and safety Michael Thomas. All three will now rejoin former coach Jim Harbaugh, the man who recruited Thomas and Owusu to the Farm.
Cornerback Corey Gatewood also elected to stay in the Bay Area, signing with the Oakland Raiders. Gatewood, who switched to cornerback from wide receiver midway through last season, will reunite with former Cardinal co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who took over as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator in February.
Gatewood’s fellow compatriots in the secondary elected to take their skills away from California, though, as cornerback Johnson Bademosi signed with the Cleveland Browns, joining former Stanford teammate Owen Marecic, who was the Browns’ fourth round pick last season. Safety Delano Howell signed with the Buffalo Bills, where he’ll join a talented group of defensive backs and play twice a year against Martin and the Dolphins.
On the other side of the ball, running back Jeremy Stewart elected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he’ll likely compete for a spot at fullback with former USC running back Stanley Havili.
Altogether, the Cardinal has one of its largest groups of NFL-bound players in years, as 12 players from the 2011 team now take the leap to the next level. These players will report to their respective teams after graduation. While Luck, Fleener, DeCastro and Martin are expected to step in and start for their respective teams right away, the road is not as clear for those undrafted players, who will be fighting for roster spots on the NFL’s 53-man teams as soon as the academic season ends, with mini-camps continuing throughout the summer before teams open preseason training camps in mid-August.
But for now, the former Stanford players can bask in the fact that they’ve finally realized their NFL dreams — and that the NFL has gotten several shades more Cardinal in just one weekend.