The top 10 Stanford football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. RB Christian McCaffrey
Everyone on The Farm knew McCaffrey was going to be special. Few knew he’d be this good, this fast. The playmaking wunderkind morphed into a household name, racking up a bunch of records and accolades, including a second-place Heisman finish. The 6-0, 202-pound McCaffrey was an all-purpose dynamo, rushing for a school-record 2,019 yards, leading the team with 45 receptions for 645 yards and five touchdowns, and scoring a pair of special teams touchdowns. As an exclamation point, he strafed USC for 461 all-purpose yards in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Iowa for a Rose Bowl-record 368 yards to set the NCAA mark for single-season all-purpose yards.
2. DE Solomon Thomas
Thomas is on the verge of becoming one of the top young players in the Pac-12. He scratched the surface as an honorable mention all-league performer in 2015, displaying the flexibility to play inside or outside at 6-3 and 275 pounds. Thomas amassed 39 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks and six hurries. And he’s the total package up front of strength, quickness and an unquenchable desire to put his stamp on the game.
3. WR Michael Rector
Rector was the Cardinal’s long ball hitter on the outside a year ago, a role he’ll continue to play for one more year. The speedy fifth-year senior led all wide receivers with 34 receptions for 559 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Rector has good length at 6-1 and 185 pounds, with the jets to separate behind defensive backs. He’ll need to broaden his repertoire this fall as Stanford breaks in a first-time starter behind center.
4. OG Johnny Caspers
Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy and Graham Shuler have exhausted their eligibility. Caspers is the new graybeard of Stanford’s Tunnel Workers Union. If the Cardinal is going to continue its tradition of assertive offensive lines, Caspers, among others, must take their games to a new level of dominance. He’s a powerful 6-4, 296-pound interior lineman coming off an honorable mention All-Pac-12 second season as a starting guard.
5. LB Peter Kalambayi
Kalambayi is a big-time pass rusher off the edge for the Cardinal, as well as an improving run stopper. He’s the player the staff likes to turn loose from the second level when it’s time to disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm. Kalambayi has the measurables for continued growth, excellent balance and closing speed in a 6-3, 245-pound frame. And after making 52 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks and three pass breakups, he’s set to take his game to a new level.
6. LB Joey Alfieri
Alfieri hopes to be the latest in a growing line of versatile Cardinal outside linebackers who can make plays from the second level. In a part-time role last year, the Portland native showed a penchant for supporting against the run and the pass. And if, as expected, his reps increase in 2016, so too will last season’s output of 40 stops, seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and five hurries.
7. CB Quinton Meeks
The coaching staff couldn’t be more pleased with the opening act of Meeks, who looked the part in his first season removed from high school. He exhibited confidence from Day One at one of the toughest positions for young players. The well-sized 6-2, 195-pounder made 34 stops and three picks in what could be his first step toward contending for all-league recognition in 2016.
8. FB Daniel Marx
There are better offensive players in Palo Alto than Marx, but none more underrated on the Cardinal roster. He’s the unsung honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection who helped make the rushing attack hum in 2015. Marx is a 6-2, 253-pound battering ram and one of the best old-school maulers at his position in the country.
9. OT David Bright
This will be a critical year for Bright, who’s being counted on to provide leadership and pass protection to a unit missing three of last year’s key starters. The 6-5, 301-pound biomechanical engineering major has been a backup the past two seasons, excelling as a run blocker. Now, Bright, whose toughness and competitiveness is infectious, will be expected to make a seamless transition into the starting lineup.
10. CB Alijah Holder
Holder’s first season of action was a successful one, the ground floor of what promises to be a successful career on the Farm. He played a prominent role in the Cardinal pass defense, making 37 tackles, a pick and eight pass breakups. Holder’s consistency improved as his debut unfolded, and his size, 6-2 and 185 pounds, allows him to neutralize the taller receivers on the schedule.