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Six Stanford players find homes in the NFL

After months of preparation since college football officially concluded, the NFL draft finally took place this past weekend, and over 300 hopeful prospects were drafted and signed to professional football teams across the country. During this process, four Stanford Cardinal football players were selected by teams with late round draft picks, while two others were signed after the draft concluded as undrafted free agents (UDFA’s).

Safety Justin Reid and linebacker Peter Kalambayi were selected to the Houston Texans. Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips was selected to the Buffalo Bills, and tight end Dalton Schultz was selected to the Dallas Cowboys. Cornerback Quenton Meeks was signed as an UDFA to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and fullback Daniel Marx was signed as an UDFA to the Atlanta Falcons.

In the three years prior to the 2018 draft, Stanford had players selected in the first round. Unfortunately for the Cardinal prospects, this streak did not continue, as during the first round on Thursday, no Stanford players heard their names called or received phone calls. There were no surefire top-tier NFL prospects from Stanford on the board this year, however, as there had been previously with players like Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey, and even the top players in Stanford’s draft class (Phillips, Reid) trended as fringe first round picks at best. That is to say, Thursday’s results were not unexpected, and no Cardinal were attending the draft in Dallas, abandoned in the green room.

But talented Stanford names continued to slip down the draft board, and concerns for Cardinal talent grew as no one was selected in the second round of the draft either. Many experts had Phillips and Reid as surefire second round picks, and the absence of their names on Friday was concerning. The depth of the 2018 draft class was heavy at safety and defensive tackle, but nobody expected the Stanford players to fall this far.

Finally, the drought was broken when the Texans selected Justin Reid with the 68th pick in the draft, right at the beginning of round three. This was the Texans’ first pick of the draft, with the first and second rounders belonging to the Cleveland Browns due to various trades. Reid, considered by many to have first round ability, is an immense value for the third round, and the Texans truly obtained a difference-making player. The starting safeties for the Texans are currently projected to be Andre Hal and Tyrann Mathieu, otherwise known as the “Honey Badger.” There’s no way Reid takes the starting spot from an established strong safety like Mathieu, but he could nab the free safety spot from Hal with a strong training camp performance. With rising cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, the Texans secondary could become a fearsome unit.

The next Stanford player also came off the board in round three, when the Bills took “Horrible Harry” Phillips with the final pick of the round, pick number 96 in the draft. In Buffalo, Phillips will play on the inside of a 4-3, alongside and in rotation with established veteran and perennial Pro-Bowler Kyle Williams, as well as new offseason acquisition Star Lotulelei. Philips should make an immediate impact as a rotational body in the run game and could participate in passing downs as well, depending on how the Bills decide to utilize him. Either way, his massive frame and immeasurable effort will make him a valuable player in the trenches for Buffalo.

In round four, the Dallas Cowboys decided to replace the recently retired superstar Jason Witten with the fresh, young Stanford prospect Dalton Schultz. He was taken with the 137th pick in the draft and is the sixth Stanford tight end to be drafted since 2010. The Cowboys’ tight end room is currently filled with question marks and unfamiliar names, including Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim, and Schultz should be able to make a name for himself immediately within the organization. Plus, his incredible blocking skills will make him a superb asset for the Cowboy’s effective run game and superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The final Stanford player selected in the draft was Peter Kalambayi, a prospect that not everyone even expected to be drafted. He joins Reid in Houston, where he will have to compete for a role not only as a starter, but possibly even to simply make the roster. The Texans have a potent linebacking crew, headed by Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney, and Kalambayi figures to play mostly as a backup and special teamer his rookie year if he makes the roster. He was selected with the 214th pick in the sixth round.

After the draft concludes, any player not selected by a team can sign a UDFA contract with a team of their choosing. These UDFAs often go on to be incredible players in the NFL, despite 32 teams passing up on them on seven different occasions. Notable NFL UDFA’s in recent years include tight end Antonio Gates, quarterback Tony Romo and cornerback Chris Harris.

Quenton Meeks, ranked inside of draft expert Mike Mayock’s top 100 prospects, fell meteorically through the draft rounds for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Meeks has talent and the ability to develop into an NFL prospect, despite not being drafted. He was signed to a UDFA contract by the Jacksonville Jaguars after the conclusion of the draft. The Jaguars have the current best cornerback duo in the NFL with the All-Pro tandem of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye (a UDFA himself who signed a massive free agent contract with the Jaguars after four years with the Texans), but they lack depth behind those two players. Meeks has a legitimate shot to develop as a player behind these two massive talents in training camp and make the final roster.

Daniel Marx was not expected to be drafted, and was not invited to the combine, despite four solid years of blocking for two different Heisman runner-ups in Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. However, he still received a call from the Atlanta Falcons and signed a UDFA contract to participate in training camp with the team. The Falcons did not carry a designated fullback last year after losing Patrick DiMarco to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, and will test the waters with Marx in training camp. With Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to block for, expect Marx to have a legitimate shot to make the roster in September.

Notably absent from this list of Stanford players now in the NFL is offensive lineman David Bright, who, despite being invited to the combine, was not drafted and has not signed a UDFA contract.

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu


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