This year, Stanford football is a collective of upperclassmen, some of whom are preparing to improve their stock value for the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s a matter of months before that preparation is on trial, but five special Stanford Cardinal ballers – Bryce Love, Kaden Smith, Nate Herbig, Bobby Okereke, and Alijah Holder – are frontrunners for next year’s draft. None of them want to be painted as the draft’s Mr. Irrelevant, but the temptation of taking one’s game to the next level makes that irrelevant in itself.
All NFL scouts care about is a sight for sore eyes and fifth-year Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love has those eyes wide open, but he’s not alone. Other Cardinal players on the 2019 NFL Draft watchlist include juniors Nate Herbig, an essential part of Love’s rushing diet, and TE Kaden Smith, successor to Dalton Schultz. On the other side of the ball,fifth-year student-athletes LB Bobby Okereke and CB Alijah Holder are the cherries on top of a very experienced defensive backfield sundae.
RB Bryce Love
Weight: 196 pounds
2018 Watch lists: Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, Maxwell Award, Sporting News Preseason All-America (first team), Athlon Preseason All-America (first team), Athlon Preseason All Pac-12 (first team)
Collegiate career statistics: 403 rush attempts, 3,126 rush yards, 24 touchdowns
NFL team fits: Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions
Last year, Bryce Love accounted for nearly 70-percent of Stanford’s offense. As the proverb goes, “love is patient, love is kind,” the instinct that Love has for football is never-ending and it shows on and off the field. He’s fiery, a team leader, and above all else, ready to make the transition to the NFL. Luckily for Stanford, Love decided to stick around for one more semester after shadowing Christian McCaffrey in 2015 and then creating his own path afterward.
Not only is Love of Heisman pedigree, but his footwork and all over explosiveness at the line of scrimmage is incomparable to other college football backs. It’s silly to define it as art, but that’s who and how Love operates. He represents Stanford so well and any NFL organization would welcome him with open arms. Basing his Stanford days on stats alone is an injustice. Just watch him on Saturdays and his body language says it all.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bryce Love not only wins the Heisman this year but also if his waiting time in next year’s green room is short.
TE Kaden Smith
Weight: 253 pounds
2018 Watch lists: Athlon Preseason All Pac-12 (first team), Athlon Preseason All-America (third team), Mackey Award
Collegiate career statistics: 23 receptions, 414 yards, 5 touchdowns
NFL team fits: Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders
Taking over for Stanford graduate Dalton Schultz, Smith is one of a few that are defining the next generation of college tight ends. His height makes him pretty much immune to vertical competition and his speed doesn’t drag, despite walking in the clouds. One of Smith’s most impressive catches was during last year’s Pac-12 Championship when two feet practically separated Smith and Southern Cal LB Cameron Smith.
That also happened to be his most productive game, ending with a season-high in receptions (four), yards (80) and touchdowns (two). Though most tight ends are used as a fifth or sixth blocker on the o-line, Smith’s dominance in the air can’t be ignored.
He’s set up to have a great year at Stanford, but don’t expect him to go any sooner than round five of the 2019 NFL Draft.
OG Nate Herbig
Weight: 348 pounds
2018 Watch lists: Sporting News Preseason All-American (second team), Athlon Preseason All-America (second team), Athlon Preseason All Pac-12
NFL team fits: Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos
Nate Herbig is one of the most promising NFL prospects from Stanford not named Bryce Love. There’s always a certain sprite in how Herbig jumps off the line of scrimmage, keeping his knees bent through most of his movements. That gives Herbig a lot of leverage in beating his defender in a game of push-and-shove, which is why Stanford’s o-line is so strong on the right side.
One quality that sets Herbig apart from other offensive linemen is a signature move, sliding across the line. It’s almost like he’s on a pair of ice skates because he makes it look so fluid and effortless. For a man of his size, Herbig isn’t shy in scrambling up the field if it means more yardage from Love. Week in and week out, Herbig puts out for himself and for his team. That kind of work ethic will go over well in the long run, so expect Herbig to be an early second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
LB Bobby Okereke
Weight: 232 pounds
2018 Watch lists: Athlon Preseason All Pac-12, Lott Trophy
Collegiate career statistics: 133 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks
NFL team fits: Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants
Unfortunately, Bobby Okereke has some blemishes that make him an average linebacker. For starters, he’s a little slow at dissecting the play and making proper adjustments to make an impactful play himself.
Additionally, his shuffling and aggressiveness lack flavor, but it’s not all bad news bears for Okereke. Regardless of his deficiencies, Okereke is a hard hitter and is pretty beefy, almost Von Miller like.
There was a core defensive group that left Stanford, so it’s important that Okereke adopt the captain role and make sure he and others perform at an NFL-like caliber level. He has the right attitude to do so, but actions always speak louder than words, especially if there’s an NFL scout involved.
CB Alijah Holder
Weight: 184 pounds
2018 Watchlist: Bednarik Award
Collegiate career statistics: 73 tackles, 14 passes defended, 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions
NFL team fits: Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns
Holder, especially, has an extra load to carry because of pre-existing injuries to his leg and shoulder. If he can stay healthy, then he’s a viable threat from what’s been seen from him during his limited playing time. He’s a featherweight that can limit passing options and shut down long drives because he’s so agile.
Other draft-eligible Stanford players to watch in 2018: FS Frank Buncom, WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, DE Dylan Jackson