Your Ultimate Guide to Stanford Football 2022: Part 1 – Offense
A new season of Stanford Football is upon us, and The Daily is back to bring you another three-part mega-preview. Get ready for an in-depth look at the Cardinal roster, as well as our predictions for the season and big-picture thoughts on the program. We’ll start it off by taking a look at the offense. Here we go:
The offseason was kind to the Stanford offense. Ten of 11 starters return in a unit loaded with talent in the skill positions. That one departure came from the running back room, with Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat transferring to USC and Missouri, respectively. Each of Stanford’s three wins last season came in large part due to strong play from now-junior quarterback Tanner McKee. His ability to stay healthy and continue his upward trajectory, as well as improvement from the offensive line, will prove to be the barometer for this upcoming season.
On the topic of McKee, let’s start with the passing game. A Pac-12 Honorable Mention last season, the newly-married 6-foot-6 junior is receiving a bunch of preseason media hype, especially surrounding his NFL potential. Many analysts are projecting McKee to be a first round pick in the upcoming draft. McKee’s top tier arm strength and accuracy will make him one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, if not the country, this upcoming season.
McKee needs to improve under pressure — Pro Football Focus had him in the bottom five of Power Five quarterbacks last season — but he was very good overall when healthy in 2021. His backup, sophomore quarterback Ari Patu, is still young and is very much an unknown quantity. It is of utmost importance that McKee stays healthy, and if he does, the Cardinal are in a great spot at QB1.
We are similarly confident in the tight end position, headlined by junior Benjamin Yurosek. The man whose great grandfather invented the baby carrot is poised to be the next star TE to play for the Cardinal. The preseason Pac-12 Second Team selection led Stanford in receiving yards last year, imposing his 6-foot-4, 242-pound frame on defenders. Senior Bradley Archer and junior Lukas Ungar backed him up in 2021, but be on the lookout for early enrollee Sam Roush — a four-star recruit — to jump up the depth chart.
The wide receiver room is the strongest position group on the roster, filled with talent and experience. Fifth years Michael Wilson and Brycen Tremayne, senior Elijah Higgins and junior John Humphreys are the four names to know. We didn’t get to see these four play together last year, as the wide receiver room was hit hard with injuries. None of the four played more than 10 games, with Wilson and Tremayne only participating in five. Humphreys, Tremayne, Higgins and Wilson stand at 6-foot-5, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2, respectively — these are your typical Stanford receivers (I hope you like fade routes). While Higgins was the only one who got preseason conference recognition, you can make a case for each of those four seeing their names on the awards watchlists come December.
If the wide receiver core stays healthy, expect to see less of juniors Bryce Farrell and Silas Starr. Keep an eye on freshmen Mudia Reuben and Elic Ayomanor to push their way up the depth chart as well. With this group of wide receivers, along with a stud tight end in Yurosek, there is no shortage of options for McKee in the passing game.
With Jones and Peat now finishing their collegiate careers elsewhere, the attention in the backfield turns to junior E.J. Smith. Only receiving 98 snaps last season, Smith still graded as the second best Cardinal offensive player by PFF. Even though it was a small sample size, he also impressed in spring ball and has the pedigree to go on to become the next great in Stanford’s line of successful ball carriers.
Fellow junior Casey Filkins will serve as a nice change of pace running back if he can stay healthy. Filkins is no slouch either and we would not be surprised if he impresses enough for David Shaw to elect for the running back by committee approach that saw Jones and Peat split carries for the past two seasons.
Behind Smith and Filkins will be junior Caleb Robinson, sophomore Brendon Barrow and freshman Arlen Harris. A walk-on, Robinson was forced into duty at times last season when the position group was struck by COVID-19 and injuries. Barrow never saw the field, redshirting the last campaign, so it remains to be seen how he will factor into the equation. Finally, Harris, a highly regarded running back recruit, may be able to push for snaps in his debut season on the Farm.
Also in the backfield, leading the way blocking for the running backs, fifth year fullback Jay Symonds will make the position his own thanks to the departure of team captain Houston Heimuli. The former captain is using his final year of eligibility at BYU. Symonds played in 11 games last season, scoring a touchdown and accumulating 56 receiving yards. A pair of redshirt freshman fullbacks in Shield Taylor and Coco Lukrich will back him up. Both of them redshirted a season ago.
The offensive line is the only Cardinal position group not to have a single scholarship departure. Hopefully that continuity will see them improve, as they were the weak point of the Stanford offense last fall. Senior Walter Rouse is headed into his fourth year as a starter at left tackle, and is joined on the line by three other seniors — center Drake Nugent and guards Branson Bragg and Barrett Miller. Junior Myles Hinton rounds out the offensive line at the right tackle spot.
Rouse, Bragg and Nugent are entrenched at their spots, as the three have started a combined 57 games. Bragg suffered a season-ending injury against Oregon State last season, and the offensive line did not look the same after. The left guard spot is a battle between Miller and senior Jake Hornibrook. Hornibrook has made 12 career starts and saw action in every game last season, but Miller started all 12 games last fall at left guard. Hornibrook may be ready to make that jump to being a full time starter. One possibility for offensive line coach Terry Heffernan and Shaw is to move Miller to right tackle, as he came into the program as an offensive tackle but was shifted to guard early on into his Cardinal career.
Hinton made nine starts at right tackle last season, and played in all 12 games, but was graded by PFF as the worst ever offensive lineman in David Shaw’s 11-year Stanford tenure. A former top-75 recruit in the class of 2020, Hinton came into the program with massive potential, and still has time to live up to those high hopes. However, the Cardinal have five senior offensive linemen who are proven contributors and are ready to play now. If Hinton is a Week One starter against Colgate, hopefully it means that he has made a much-needed offseason jump.
Stanford has done a good job of building depth behind the main six guys. Juniors offensive tackle Connor McLaughlin and offensive guard Levi Rogers are waiting in the wings. The 2022 recruiting class included four highly rated offensive linemen — tackles Fisher Anderson, Kenji Swanson and Jake Maikkula, as well as guard Lucas Heyer. Sophomore Jack Leyrer is also in the pipeline at offensive tackle.
Quarterback: Tanner McKee (JR)
Running Back: E.J. Smith (JR)
Fullback: Jay Symonds (5th Year)
Tight End: Benjamin Yurosek (JR)
Wide Receiver: Michael Wilson (5th year), Elijah Higgins (SR), Brycen Tremayne (5th Year)
Offensive Line: Walter Rouse (SR), Jake Hornibrook (SR), Drake Nugent (SR), Branson Bragg (SR), Myles Hinton (JR)
Running Back: B+
Tight End: A
Wide Receiver: A
Offensive Line: C+
Looking at the talent on the roster, there is little excuse for this offense to be anything other than one of the best in the conference. There’s a potential first-round pick at quarterback, proven talent at tight end and wide receiver, a promising running back and loads of experienced, highly-rated former recruits on the offensive line.
But the talent has to live up to their billing. It’s year two for offensive line coach Terry Heffernan, and the performance of his unit will dictate the ceiling for this offense. He now has had a normal offseason with his guys, and it’s all about gelling as a group. Despite the injuries that plagued the Cardinal last year, the offensive line was healthy — taken together, the starters played in 57 of 60 games last season. All five guys are back, and they must realize their potential. They’ll come back more experienced and with a massive chip on their shoulders. Again, there is no shortage of talent on the offensive line; they have the ability to get it together, but it’s anyone’s guess how they’ll perform this year. It’s up to them whether this is one of the best offenses in the conference, or if all the talent around them goes to waste.