College Football’s Best 2018 Offensive Lines: Stanford Cardinal

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Throughout the remainder of the off-season, I will be previewing the best returning offensive line units in college football. These previews will give us the opportunity to scout some of the top offensive line prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft, while also highlighting those whose names we will likely see in 2020 and beyond.

I love Stanford football.

Now, I’m a die-hard Hawkeye as a University of Iowa alum; but man….if you want good ol’ fashioned offensive line play, there’s no better place to see it than on The Farm in Palo Alto, California.

On one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, you are able to spend six Saturdays a week viewing some of the dirtiest, “three yards and a cloud of dust” football you can imagine.

Let me set the scene of an ordinary short-yardage situation for the Cardinal:

It’s 4th & 2. David Shaw calls for the heavy package. Mind you, this isn’t the usual formation where they replace a single tight end with a swing tackle. Shaw usually brings out two, maybe three, extra offensive linemen. Some of these linemen may join running back Bryce Love in the backfield, some may overload one side of the line to an almost laughable extent.

With every linemen in a four-point stance, the ball is snapped and nothing but chaos ensues. The known maulers are pulled to the strength, down-blocks are abundant as helmets pop and pads smack with ferocious intensity. Love picks a hole and shoots through it with incomprehensible power behind his sub-200lbs. frame.

Two and a half yards are gained. First down, Cardinal.

It’s one of the simplest, yet most satisfying, plays one can watch. I mean, how many plays can you name where the simplicity of it is only matched by the severity of the needed outcome?

This is the Cardinal’s bread & butter. Now let’s take a look at the guys holding the butter knife.

Left Tackle: #72 Walker Little / 6’7 317lbs. / Sophomore

Little, owner of the best oxymoron on the team, came to Palo Alto as the #1-rated recruit in the country by 247Sports. Scout and Rivals had him as their 4th and 7th-best overall recruit, respectively.

The Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year earned his first start at left tackle against interstate rival San Diego State in just Week 3 of the college football season. This marked the first time that a true freshman started a game at left tackle for the Cardinal since Kirk Chambers did it all the way back in 2000.

The young-gun went on to play in 8 more games with 5 more starts at the blindside spot as he continued to catch the eyes of the rest of the conference. He was named a member of the Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 team and took his rightful place as an ESPN Freshman All-American.

As a former five-star recruit, expectations for Little will be sky-high going into his first full season as a starter. Not to mention his role in a position that is paramount to overall team success.

Left Guard: #74 Devery Hamilton / 6’7 301lbs. / Redshirt Sophomore

Coming out of high-school, Hamilton was a four-star recruit and the 10th-best offensive tackle prospect in the country. At Gilman High-School in Baltimore, Maryland, Hamilton was a standout in not only football, but also in basketball and track & field.

Some other fun facts? He moved to the United States from Germany in 2001 and claims he has aspired to attend Stanford since he was in the fifth grade.

Hamilton redshirted in his first season with the Cardinal but found his way into the starting lineup in 2017. He played in 12 games and collected eight total starts (six at LT, two at RT). Between filling in for both Walker Little and A.T. Hall at the tackle spots, Hamilton showed plenty of evidence as to why he should be a full-time starter.

After checking out the tape, I think Hamilton will be the unsung hero of this offensive line in 2018. I saw some astounding power and veteran-like patience when protecting his quarterback. While starting at left tackle against the Oregon Ducks, Hamilton cleared out some sizable holes on the ground, making sure his productive back stayed productive. In the bowl game against TCU, he used his length and lateral quickness to deter an otherwise wily Horned Frog defense.

Even with a phenomenal 2018 campaign, I don’t see Hamilton declaring for the draft with just one full-year of starting experience. I expect him to come back and hone his game one more year in the Cardinal & White after this season ends.

Center: #73 Jesse Burkett / 6’4 309lbs. / Redshirt Senior

Hailing from St. Augustine, Florida, Burkett decided to take his talents as a 3-star offensive tackle all the way to the other side of the country to play for David Shaw and the Cardinal. The 24th-ranked offensive tackle in 2014 did not see action his first year and saw action in just five games his redshirt freshman season.

Burkett got the starting nod at center before the 2016 season and went on start all 13 games that season. He finished his first year starting on a high-note as he was named an honorable mention on the Associated Press’ All-Bowl Team. In 2017, Burkett played a giant role in helping Love take home the Doak Walker Award. He was named an honorable mention Pac-12 selection and it could be argued he got disrespected on that one.

When you throw on the tape, especially in their bowl game against TCU, many of Love’s biggest runs came off the backside of Burkett. Whether it was 1v1 versus the nose tackle or a double-team with one of his guards, #73 was always clearing out real estate for his backs.

Burkett was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list once more heading into his final year in Palo Alto and he looks to bring the hardware home before he graduates with his degree in-

*polishes glasses*

Japanese and Symbolic Systems? You don’t see that everyday.

Right Guard: #63 Nate Herbig / 6’4 348 lbs. / Junior

Herbig, or the Hawaiian Hogmolly as I affectionately like to call him, is a mammoth of an offensive linemen that would still be considered huge in a room full of others of the same position. The Hawaiian-native tips the scales just under 350 pounds and looks every part of a traditional mauler in the run game.

You’d be wrong to think Herbig only has his size and strength to hang his hat on, however. It speaks volumes about his mental capacity towards the game that, on a team chalk-full of smart people, he was able to work his way into the starting lineup as a true freshmen in 2016. After playing in all 13 games, including six starts, Herbig became the first true freshman since 2012 and the second since 2000 to start on the offensive line for the Cardinal. He was rightfully named a Freshman All-American by ESPN as the team went 6-0 during his starts.

In 2017, Herbig picked up right where he left off. He started all 13 games, splitting time at both guard positions, and unsurprisingly made the Pac-12 First Team after helping his running back to a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy race. So far this offseason, Herbig has been named to the Sporting News and Athlon Sports Preseason All-American Second Teams while garnering a selection to the Phil Steele All-American First Team squad.

Right Tackle: # 75 A.T. Hall / 6’5 306lbs. / Redshirt Senior

After redshirting in 2014, Hall received significant playing time the following year by playing in nine total games. In 2016, Hall got the starting nod at right tackle for the first two games of the season before an injury to then-starter Casey Tucker caused him to finish the last 11 games of the season at left tackle.

This past year, Hall finally enjoyed some consistency as he started all 13 games for the Cardinal at right tackle. Although overshadowed by some of the other great talent along the line, he still managed a Pac-12 honorable mention nod for his fine work.

Hall is the type of rock-steady production you need from any linemen that isn’t being touted as the next best thing from your team. The guy plays mistake-free, handles his business, and gives the team confidence in the right side of the line while the left is stuffed with two potential All-Americans.

Looking Forward

I expect a lot more of the same this year for Stanford. Just like my prediction for Wisconsin and their offensive line, there’s no reason to fix something that hasn’t been broken in over a decade.

Expect them to lean on Bryce Love and short-yardage back Cameron Scarlett to keep the chains moving while allowing redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Costello to get comfortable behind center now that the other two quarterbacks he split time with in 2017 are gone.

With a duo of phenomenal possession receivers in Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, plus two former five-star tight ends in Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson, expect the Cardinal to take advantage of play-action concepts and a quick passing game to stay ahead of schedule and keep defenses guessing.

That is, until the “extra hefty-set” starts to trot out, then you know exactly what you’re about to get hit with.

Follow Michael on Twitter @ZoneTracks. Check out his other work here, such as his preview of the Notre Dame and Wisconsin offensive lines. 

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