Football roundtable: Evaluating #CardClass18, the state of the Stanford defense

Feb. 9, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

With National Signing Day over, the Cardinal now know who will be the newest additions to Stanford football in the Fall. Fourteen players have signed and four others have declared the commitment to the Class of 2022. 247Sports has Stanford’s 2018 recruiting class ranked at 39th in the nation and seventh in the Pac-12. Is the ranking justified?

King Jemison (KJ): The recruiting world is a funny place. How these popular websites evaluate players is often very different than how schools do, particularly at a place like Stanford where there is such a large academic component. Coach Shaw said as much yesterday with his quote that, “Sometimes the recruiting services agree with us, sometimes they don’t.” He likes to say that Stanford identifies the select guys they want, and they usually get those guys. He also made clear that he and his staff think a lot of the guys they signed were overlooked and undervalued by the recruiting websites. It’s hard to argue with the coaches that have been watching these players for years.

That being said, if you look at the small size of the class (for comparison, UCLA signed 28 players) and the relative lack of elite talent (five four-star recruits vs. 17 at USC), the ranking seems justified. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a successful class, it just means that it looks mediocre on paper.

Jose Saldana (JS): The ranking is pretty fair. There aren’t any five-star recruits and a low number of four-star recruits. It’s the worst ranking in the David Shaw era since the 2013 recruiting class. That class was ranked 52nd but it featured players in the NFL (Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper) and quality starters (offensive lineman David Bright and linebacker Peter Kalambayi). At this point, it is up to the coaching staff to develop these players. Top-10 recruiting classes mean nothing if the players aren’t developed by proper coaching. If you need an example, just look at Texas. There are promising players in this recruiting class but it would have been a bit nice if there were more recruits to develop.


Which player(s), if any, do you think will impact contributors for next season? Which player(s) do you think will have the best collegiate career?

KJ: I think both star defensive ends, Thomas Booker and Andres Fox, will have a great chance to earn significant playing time along a defensive front that will be very young. Booker, in particular, may already have the size and athleticism to compete for a starting spot. I also think Michael Wilson and/or Simi Fehoko could get a chance at wide receiver because they are both extremely talented and fit the Stanford model of a big, physical wide receiver.

In the future, the guy I’m most excited about is quarterback Tanner McKee. Of course, he won’t be joining the team for another two years as he embarks on his LDS mission. But by all accounts he’s a special player with tremendous height and athleticism to go along with a really strong arm. At some point, he’ll be ready to step in and be the guy under center.

JS: Both the defensive ends should be on the mind of every Cardinal fan. With low depth on the defensive line, Booker and Fox could have an impact next season. I think wide receiver Michael Wilson can do some things in 2018. He has great size at 6-foot-2 and solid speed (4.6 in the 40-yard dash).

“[Wilson] plays the game like you love to see our guys play,” Shaw said. “He’s quick, he’s physical. Those tough, physical catches that you see JJ Arcega-Whiteside make, he makes them just the same way.”

Being compared to Arcega-Whiteside is a huge compliment giving the development of the junior to a fantastic receiver.

I’m a sucker for fullbacks, and I know they are a dying breed due to the popularity of the spread offense, but I can’t help myself enjoying a good pancaking by a fullback in I-formation. The reason I am saying this is because Stanford signed the No. 1 Fullback in the nation in Jay Symonds Jr. At 6-foot-4 and 257 pounds, Symonds will be the biggest fullback on the roster as a freshman. I’m not sure how much Symonds will play in 2018, but by the end of his collegiate career, I bet colleges will know what a fullback is.


Stanford football has lost a lot of defensive talent to draft or graduation, including defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks. What do you think of the state of the defense for 2018?

KJ: Can we talk about the offense instead?

In all seriousness, the outlook for the defense is not great. Harrison Phillips was the only thing holding together the defensive line for most of the season, and there’s no clear replacement for his remarkable production. Some of the young guys are going to have to grow up fast or else opposing offensive lines will just dominate up front. Meanwhile, the secondary will be without two guys who have been major contributors for the last three years in Reid and Meeks. Both were at different times among the best in the country at their position, particularly Reid. Frank Buncom and Alijah Holder will help hold things together in the back end, but there will still be a lot of new faces everywhere on that defense. Coordinator Lance Anderson always makes the most of the talent available, but this is going to have to be one of his best coaching jobs.

Good thing that offense with Bryce Love, KJ Costello and crew should be able to put up 50 on almost everybody. They might need it.

JS: I am not very optimistic about the 2018 defense. Losing Phillips hurts a lot as the run defense was a weakness this last season. Phillips had 100 tackles as a defensive tackle! No defensive tackle should ever have 100 tackles, and I know it is a testament to Phillips’ talent but it is also a testament that none of the other players could make the tackle. Defensive linemen Jovan Swann and Mike Williams will need to step up their play. Additionally, the loss of All-Pac-12 Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks is big as well. The losses will be mitigated with the return of Alijah Holder and if Frank Buncom can improve on his play in the Alamo Bowl. I believe that Coach Anderson will make the squad competent and it might be good enough against most teams, but like King said, thank goodness that Love decided to come back.


Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ and Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’

Contact King Jemison at kjemison 'at'

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