Recruiting class superlatives
Rivals.com ranks Terrence Alexander as a 5.7 three-star cornerback. The ranking isn't egregiously low - Alexander is ranked as the nation's No. 32 cornerback in the nation - but Alexander has the talent and the opportunity to surpass the productivity of a typical three-star prospect. The main knock on Alexander has been his height - he's listed at 5-foot-10 - but he's more well-built than some defensive backs, and he was dominant at Stanford's Friday Night Lights camp and starred for one of the top high school programs in the country. Given the lack of proven cornerbacks behind junior Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, there will be every opportunity for Alexander to be a multi-year starter at corner. Alexander also had a four-star caliber offer list. (Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Ohio State, Tennessee, etc…)
Burkett is also a three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, but unlike Alexander, he's ranked on the low-end of the three-star spectrum. Rivals ranks Burkett as a 5.5 three-star. Three-star prospects range from 5.5 to 5.7. Burkett didn't participate in many camps, and committed relatively early (to Vanderbilt), so he didn't receive as much exposure as other players in his class. Nonetheless, Burkett's size (6-foot-4.5 with a 79-inch wingspan) and athleticism resulted in him receiving offers from the likes of Stanford, Ole Miss, Florida State, Nebraska, South Carolina and Penn State. Moreover, he has the versatility at the college level to play either guard or tackle. Stanford has plenty of depth along the offensive line, which could prevent Burkett from earning a starting spot early in his career, but the Florida native has the talent to have a productive career on The Farm and exceed the expectations that accompany the 5.5 three-star ranking.
Harrison Phillips, who shined at the International Bowl over the weekend, is ranked by Rivals as a 5.6 three-star. He has the tools and attitude to become a multi-year starter for Stanford along its defensive line. Fullback Daniel Marx, a 5.5 three-star, will have every opportunity to be Stanford's fullback of the future - the Cardinal hadn't signed a scholarship fullback since Patrick Skov in 2011 - and he has the versatility to help Stanford in the run and pass game.
Also considered: Harrison Phillips, Daniel Marx
Most likely to become a first-round NFL Draft pick: Keller Chryst
This was a difficult choice. Stanford has several top-100 players in its 2014 class who, with proper development, could be top selections in the NFL Draft. But Chryst's pedigree and physical tools make him the choice. At 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, Chryst has the size NFL scouts desire. In addition to having a strong arm, he's mobile in the pocket, and is well-versed in playing in a pro-style offense. Given the value the NFL places on top quarterbacks and Chryst's skillset, becoming a top NFL prospect is certainly a possibility.
Also considered: Dalton Schultz, Bobby Okereke, Casey Tucker, Reilly Gibbons, Solomon Thomas
Most likely to become an All-American: Dalton Schultz
This was a tough call. Several of Stanford's incoming recruits have what it takes to one day earn All-America honors. But ultimately, Stanford's coaches think Schultz is the top tight end prospect in the nation, and they're not the only ones; two prominent recruiting services list Schultz as the No. 1 tight end in their rankings. One of the most well-rounded tight ends Stanford has signed in recent years - Schultz is a devastating blocker in addition to a productive receiver - the four-star prospect will be the beneficiary of a system that features the tight end in the passing game and several talented and strong-armed quarterbacks. Schultz is versatile enough to have a role in nearly every offensive package, and should have no shortage of opportunities to rack up impressive stats and draw the attention of the national media, which is important for All-American consideration.
Also considered: Bobby Okereke, Solomon Thomas, Casey Tucker
Most likely to play in the 2014 season opener: Brandon Simmons
Simmons might not be the highest-ranked commit in Stanford's 2014 class, but he's honed his skills against stiff Texas competition and plays a position where the Cardinal's depth is lacking. Even with a few position switches to bolster the safety position, playing time alongside Jordan Richards at safety will be available. Zach Hoffpauir has some experience and has played well in limited opportunities, but he appears targeted for the nickelback spot. As a result, Simmons will have a chance to leave his mark on a safety competition that's expected to include Kyle Olugbode and Dallas Lloyd, among others.
Also considered: Dalton Schultz, Solomon Thomas, Terrence Alexander, Christian McCaffrey
Media Favorite: Harrison Phillips
Phillips, a defensive lineman from Nebraska, has been one of the leaders of Stanford's 2014 recruiting class since committing to the Cardinal over summer. Never was that more evident than on Stanford's mid-January official visit, when Phillips organized an informal meet-and-greet on the first night of the visit, which helped pave the way for a hugely successful weekend. Some of those same traits will make Phillips a hit with the media. He's funny engaging, and isn't afraid to speak his mind. And, he's always good for a memorable quote.
Schultz and Thomas each announced his college decision in creative fashion. Schultz, who has chronicled his recruitment on his YouTube channel, announced his commitment to Stanford in a YouTube video. Schultz is thought to be the first prospect to announce his commitment over YouTube.
Thomas, meanwhile, went a more traditional route to announce his commitment, but did so with a twist. Like fellow Stanford players Andrus Peat, Barry Sanders and Terrence Alexander, Thomas announced his commitment to the Cardinal on TV. However, instead of putting on a Stanford baseball cap to indicate his choice, Thomas pulled a small tree - yes, an actual tree - from out underneath the table where he was seated for his announcement. A pair of 'Nerd Nation' glasses accompanied the tree, and Thomas was off to The Farm.
Most likely to be a four-year starter: Solomon Thomas, Brandon Simmons
Stanford's two Texas recruits receive this distinction, and that's no coincidence. Thomas and Simmons are among the most college-ready recruits in the class (not to mention most talented), and as a result, each could play early and often.
Brandon Simmons will face minimal experienced depth in the free safety competition; the door is wide open for him to contribute as a freshman and stake his claim to a starting spot in 2014. Meanwhile, Stanford has more depth at defensive line than in the secondary, but Thomas might be one of the 10 most college ready players in the country. It would not be a surprise if, say, Thomas followed the Alex Carter path - assume a starting spot late in his true freshman season, and then hold a starting defensive end spot for three more seasons. If Stanford redshirts Thomas - which though unlikely, is possible - he'd have a great shot at starting as a redshirt freshman due to the departure of Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders.
Dalton Schultz was a very close third in this category; while certainly possible, the challenges of learning Stanford's offense and the Cardinal's trio of redshirt freshman tight ends will earning the full-time starting tight end gig difficult, but he's a good enough blocker and receiver to contend for playing time earlier than the vast majority of incoming offensive recruits.
Also considered: Dalton Schultz
Most likely to play offense and defense: Joey Alfieri
Alfieri is the easy choice here. As a senior, prior to suffering a knee injury, Alfieri wasn't only arguably the top linebacker in the state of Oregon, he was also among the top running backs. Alfieri's senior running back film is nothing short of dominant - he runs through, around, and past defenders. Especially given the lack of a Toby Gerhart or Tyler Gaffney-sized back currently on Stanford's roster, there could be some temptation to use Alfieri in special situations as a running back.
Most likely to become President of the United States: Reilly Gibbons
It goes without saying that Stanford's recruit are some of the most intelligent and articulate in the nation. And even within that group, Reilly Gibbons stands out; he's one of the most impressive recruits I've spoken with in the five years I've been covering the Cardinal's recruiting efforts. Gibbons plans to become an attorney once his football career concludes; he's currently considering the intellectual property field.
Also considered: Daniel Marx, Bobby Okereke
Best recruiting win: Casey Tucker over ASU, USC, others
Stanford had to overcome a lot to earn the commitment of Casey Tucker. The Rivals 100 prospect made a verbal commitment to USC in the summer following his sophomore year of high school, before Stanford's 2014 recruiting efforts hit full gear. Stanford's first order of business (along with that of other schools) was to convince Tucker to give them a fair chance despite his USC commitment. And even when the four-star recruit backed off his USC pledge in April, Stanford still had to overcome a very significant hurdle: Tucker's desire to enroll in college early. Stanford doesn't accept early enrollees into its football program. Eventually, Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and co. were able to do that as well - a May unofficial visit to The Farm increased Tucker's interest in the Cardinal, and the offensive tackle committed to Stanford in late-January. He chose the Cardinal over the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils and offers from top programs across the country.
Also considered: Solomon Thomas
Most likely to make SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays: Christian McCaffrey
It's still somewhat uncertain how Stanford will use McCaffrey as a running back in its offense - McCaffrey has plenty of versatility as a pass catcher and with the ball in space - but he's already shown that he can handle punt return duties on the big stage, albeit in a small sample size. Whether it's on offense or special teams, McCaffrey has the sort of elusiveness and athleticism that could easily land him a spot on highlight reels for making opposing defenders look, well, silly.
Case in point: McCaffrey's punt return in the U.S. Army All-American game
Also considered: Keller Chryst, Isaiah Brandt-Sims