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Draft Decisions: Stanford Cardinal

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Ed Reynolds is one of several Stanford players who declared early for the NFL draft. Did they make good decisions? Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
Ed Reynolds is one of several Stanford players who declared early for the NFL draft. Did they make good decisions? Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

A Stanford degree could send student athletes to careers just as profitable as the NFL. After all, the average pro career is somewhere between three and six years, depending on if you trust the NFL Player's Association or the NFL for your numbers. A Stanford degree can provide a safety net if a pro football career fails. All of the players leaving have a degree in hand, so the biggest questions is whether the timing is right for their draft stock. Here is an analysis of the Cardinal draft decisions this year.

Early Departures

Stanford’s best offensive lineman, David Yankey will be the school's first offensive player selected. Could he have stayed another year? Certainly. Still, he ranks in the second round with the slight possibility of pushing into the first, depending on how many interior linemen are taken. That’s all he can ask for; he will get paid and have a great opportunity to start. Yankey’s decision was the least surprising as he is the highest-rated Stanford player.

Ed Reynolds had a tough season on a secondary that was 91st in passing yards allowed per game. As far as his stock goes, I can’t imagine him getting lower if he stayed. But he’s so talented with the ball in the air and physical with it on the ground. In 2012, he accounted for six interceptions that resulted in three touchdowns. He didn't make an interception in 2013, but as mentioned, he played a key role in a leaky secondary. From reading around, he won’t slip out of the fourth round and might go as early as the second. There is a long way to go, but I can’t help but think that another year would have improved his stock — particularly because experts like Mel Kiper Jr. rated him in the first round last year.

Cameron Fleming was the biggest surprise. I have no idea what circumstances Fleming was under — finances, family — but the right tackle’s decision struck me as premature. Sure, he has his degree and he'll likely get drafted. From what I am reading in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN, he gets a mid- to late-round grade. He could have been the anchor of the offensive line in 2014, but now he will have to market himself well in the next few months. Most importantly, he will have to answer the question that I am thinking, “Why did you decide to leave early?” His answer could get him drafted.

Derek Mason, perhaps Stanford’s biggest loss, will be leaving for Vanderbilt. The former defensive coordinator was giving lessons to NFL coaches last year about the read option. With all of the defensive talent on its way out, Mason picked a great time to move on. He may not have a degree in hand, but David Shaw has certainly taught him everything he needs to know. Now he will try to keep Vanderbilt out of the depths of an SEC East expected to rebound. Stanford will sorely miss his abilities to develop all-NCAA players and scheme against the best offenses in college football.

Notable Graduates

The following players have no more eligibility. We included their consensus NFL draft projections:

Trent Murphy (1-2)

Shayne Skov (2-3)

Josh Mauro (5)

Tyler Gaffney (6)

Ben Gardner (6-7)

Kevin Danser (Undrafted Free Agent)

Khalil Wilkes (UFA)

Returners

Henry Anderson and AJ Tarpley made good decisions returning. Neither of them played with the productivity to shine last season. Anderson struggled with an injury and managed only 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks on the season. He is unquestionably more talented than his stats say, and another year — hopefully a healthy one — will do him good. Tarpley played background singer to Murphy and Skov but still managed 93 tackles. With sack master Murphy and field general Skov gone, Tarpley could show more versatility as the featured linebacker. Anderson and Tarpley will be important to Stanford’s defense next year and will improve their draft stock.

David Shaw had the opportunity to graduate with his players and Mason. If Mike Pettine got an NFL head coaching job, Shaw likely could have as well. Shaw may not get much hotter as a coach. He's ready, so consider him to have the "degree" for the pro game, though there's no sense in rushing into a coaching position that he doesn't want. Taking a look at the early departures and graduates, there’s no question: Stanford needs Shaw. If it wants to continue its success, he must bring continuity and develop younger players to retool the offensive line and defensive front seven.

Stanford took a big hit by losing this graduating class and the early departures. They lose some of the Pac-12's best players. On the other hand, the Shaw-Harbaugh era produced an elite class like this one, and I expect Shaw to continue that legacy. There are a lot of vacancies, but that just means great opportunity.