Last year’s draft saw the lowest number of players selected from Stanford since 2009 among the 259 taken across seven rounds to ascend from the college ranks to the NFL. That should change this year, despite the Cardinal’s record staying the same at 3-9 in David Shaw’s final season as head coach. Here are four Stanford players who should expect to hear their names called on draft day in Kansas City, Mo. later this April.
CB Kyu Blu Kelly
Top modern NFL cornerback prospects are prized for their size and athleticism — both of which are strong points for Stanford senior Kyu Blu Kelly. Hailing from Las Vegas, Nev., his 6-foot, 191-pound build is well-suited for the mold NFL evaluators are seeking in their cornerbacks. Kelly also has an NFL pedigree as the son of a former 11-year NFL veteran, as well as starting experience across all four of his years with the Cardinal.
He may not have a single trait that blows anyone away, but he is well-rounded enough to carve out a solid career at the next level. In an unusually deep cornerback class this year, expect Kelly to be a steal for a zone-heavy defense in the late fourth or early fifth round.
Potential team fits: New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons
NFL comparison: Kendall Fuller
WR Elijah Higgins
The senior pass-catcher from Austin made a strong showing in his final year at Stanford, racking up 59 receptions for 704 yards and two touchdowns. However, he struggled somewhat at creating separation at the Senior Bowl last month, which may mean that some teams will doubt his ability to play as a pure outside X receiver. Some teams will likely label him as a tweener due to his unusually large build for a wideout at 234 pounds; others may be open to trying him in a dynamic F tight end role where he will have the opportunity to match up against less agile linebackers or smaller safeties whom he could box out with his 6-foot-3 frame.
Higgins’ draft position will vary depending on whether or not teams can be creative enough to integrate him into their offensive gameplan. I see the Chiefs and Lions as offenses where that may be possible, and the Steelers as a team that has historically taken bets on players with Higgins’ size and profile (see Chase Claypool). Expect to see Higgins picked sometime after the middle of the fifth round depending on how teams stack him on their receiver rankings.
Potential team fits: Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers
NFL comparison: Quincy Enunwa
QB Tanner McKee
McKee was a highly touted recruit who put up strong passing statistics, despite suffering over 60 sacks throughout the past two seasons. With more protection and a more pass-friendly offense around him, the redshirt sophomore’s best days as a quarterback should be ahead of him. At 6-foot-6 and 231 pounds, he offers the size profile that many front offices will prize, though his lack of mobility may shrink the number of teams which see him as a fit.
In a top-heavy quarterback class, McKee will certainly not hear his name called on day one of the draft but could go as high as late day two. Look for a team with an aging starter at quarterback to pick him up as a developmental backup with a high floor. Miami’s offense could also be a fit, given the demands on its quarterback to stay in the pocket and process reads quickly.
Potential team fits: Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins
NFL comparison: Nick Foles
WR Michael Wilson
The shifty wide receiver from the Simi Valley did an excellent job for himself through the draft process, building hype by being one of the top performers at the Senior Bowl and by leading all receivers at the combine in the bench press, racking up 23 reps. Wilson ticks all the boxes evaluators are looking for: He was a team captain, dominated in an all-star event, performed well in athletic testing, has prototypical size at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds and boasts excellent run blocking for a receiver.
If injuries had not plagued Wilson over the past few years, he would likely be a mid-second-round pick, but he may fall due to concerns that durability will continue to be an issue in the pros. His versatile skill set makes him a fit for most offenses, but he may be targeted by teams who particularly appreciate his work in the run game.
Potential team fits: Green Bay Packers (see Matt LaFleur’s emphasis on blocking), Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans
NFL comparison: Pierre Garçon
A previous of version of this article misstated the number of Stanford players taken in last year’s NFL Draft. The Daily regrets this error.