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Stanford in the NFL draft preview: part two
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Stanford in the NFL draft preview: part two

The NFL draft begins tonight, and several Stanford football players will hope to hear their name called at some point during this weekend. Yesterday I took a closer look at defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and tight end Peter Kalambayi. Today, I’ll be covering the strengths and weaknesses of safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks, as well as a few other players who may or may not be drafted as they each look for a home within the National Football League.

Justin Reid

Justin Reid is no stranger to the NFL. His brother, Eric Reid, spent the last five years of his career just down the road with the San Francisco 49ers after being drafted in the first round out of Louisiana State University. Eric Reid is currently in the news as he remains unsigned as a free agent after continuing Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest during the 2017 season, despite being a Pro Bowl caliber starter. The Reids play the same general position, safety, with Justin showing flexibility in the backfield during his time with the Cardinal. In fact, it will probably be his experience and versatility that gets him drafted.

I mentioned yesterday that Stanford has had players selected in the first round of the past three NFL drafts. Reid just might be the Cardinal’s best shot to continue that streak, as the draft stock of Harrison Phillips continues to fall and Reid shines more and more in the eyes of scouts. His pro day, performance at the combine and team needs could all be reasons that he ends up going in an early round.

Justin was invaluable to the Cardinal’s success in 2017. He singlehandedly kept the secondary together, both as a leader and as a coverage and in-the-box safety. He had 99 total tackles, with 6.5 of them breaking into the backfield for a loss. He registered a sack in Stanford’s massive win over Notre Dame, and had six total pass breakups during the season. He also led all Pac-12 players with five total interceptions, proving he has serious ball skills as well. He was named to the All-Pac 12 team and the AP All American second team and decided to forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the draft.

Reid dominated at the combine, and despite being slightly smaller than the average defensive back at 6’0” and 207 pounds, Reid showed off the one characteristic that will probably be the most useful in getting drafted. He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash. Any defensive back with a 40-time that fast is well on their way to finding success in the NFL. His time placed him in the top 95th percentile of all DB’s. He also ran a 6.65 3-cone, a top 90th percentile performance.

Draft scouts agree that Reid functions as a prototypical defensive back in the modern NFL. His speed and athletic ability combined with his natural football instincts make him a scheme fit to drop into coverage in the slot or over the top. His biggest weakness is his tendencies to get beat by pure speed receivers, but good scheming should keep him safe in an NFL defense to do what he does best, stay composed and make plays with his excellent technique and intuition.

Reid is now being mocked as a late first-round pick, particularly by teams with strong overall rosters but possible secondary needs. The most common locations tend to be the Carolina Panthers, where he could become a day one starter, or the New England Patriots, where he could learn the position behind Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty. He could also drop to the beginning of the second round, where a team like the Cleveland Browns could jump on the opportunity to take a possible future Pro Bowler to even out their roster.

Quenton Meeks

Quenton Meeks has everything that you need to succeed as a cornerback in the NFL. That’s right, he’s got a cool nickname — “Showtime.” Meeks also has football in his genes, as his father served as the defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts during their Super Bowl XLI victory. Meeks has the mindset to come into the NFL and immediately make a difference on a team.

Showtime did just that when he came into Stanford as a freshman, starting immediately and leading the team with three interceptions with his snaps on the field. He matured and became a leader in the secondary, partnering with Reid and the rest of the defensive backs to create a fearsome unit for opposing quarterbacks. In his junior season, Meeks had 65 total tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions, landing him a spot on the second All-Pac 12 team.

At the combine, Meeks tested very closely to other Stanford defensive backs in draft history, namely one Richard Sherman. As Sherman was taken in the fifth round, and Meeks projects to be a third or fourth round pick, the similarities may not stop there. Meeks is 6’1”, (Sherman is a little taller at 6’3”) and weighed in at 207 pounds. One thing that jumped out off of Meeks’ performance at the combine was his hand size; his hands are 10⅓”, in the top 96th percentile of defensive backs. Meeks declined to run the 40, but did his 3-cone in 6.72 seconds.

Meeks’ size makes him a good cover corner for big-bodied wide receivers, of which there are plenty in the NFL. With good development, and solid safety play to assist him as a rookie, Meeks could truly shine in the right system. He lacks acceleration to catch up on misread routes but is disciplined with his hips and techniques. I could see him truly succeeding in a system like Buffalo, where he would have two all-pro safeties and a shutdown cornerback working across from him. Like Sherman in Seattle, he could grow into a massive player for his draft position. Speaking of which, Seattle could be a great spot for Meeks as well, as playing with Pete Carroll would be beneficial for both parties. Other landing spots include New England, to help replace Malcolm Butler, or Philadelphia, who still is seeking DB help.

Other Stanford players:

Stanford has a few other players with NFL eligibility who hope to make a roster next season. Two other Cardinal were invited to participate in the NFL combine, offensive lineman David Bright and linebacker Peter Kalambayi. There are questions as to their NFL ability, and they may end up falling all the way through the draft.

David Bright did not end up competing in any combine events due to injury, but has been a solid line piece for the Cardinal during his tenure. He has served as a captain, played at four different spots along the line, and was a team captain. Bright might end up being drafted simply for his versatility and drive; he has a lot of football intangibles that coaches look for in a locker room presence. At the very least he will be signed to a roster for camp, with a chance to compete for a final spot on a practice squad or 53-man depth chart.

Peter Kalambayi is an incredible athlete, but he is almost more of an athlete than a football player. He has so many gifts and flashes incredibly on tape for highlights, but other times he fades completely into the background. Scouts are concerned that as a fifth-year senior, any potential for football would have been coached out by David Shaw and the Stanford coaches. If he keeps his nose to the grindstone and works hard, he could prove to be a solid special teamer and backup rotational linebacker in a 3-4 system. Again, he could go undrafted and compete in camp for a spot, but his NFL future seems hazy and no surefire guarantee.

There are also a few players for Stanford who were not invited to the combine. Chief among them is Ryan Burns, the ex-starting quarterback for the Cardinal, who has attempted to transition into a long snapper and has worked out for several teams. Watch for his name to pop up in the undrafted free agents after the draft.

And for any NFL team looking to add fullback competition, keep an eye out for Daniel Marx, the solid fullback who blocked for Bryce Love last year. With the amount of heavy personnel that Stanford employs, Marx got a ton of experience, and has proven himself as a great blocker. He could find himself in a camp, or even on a starting roster.

The NFL draft begins tomorrow at 5 p.m. Major sporting networks will have coverage, and as usual, David Shaw will join NFL network to break down the Cardinal prospects as well as all the other schools.

 

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.