While the game will be “battling” with the NFL for viewers, the more important battle may be between two Pac-12 teams with unique offenses and talented defensive playmakers.
Stanford has become known for their running backs (now have Stefan Taylor) and tight ends (two talented juniors), but also have two very talented linebackers that are rated among the tops at their position for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Washington features an athletic quarterback who has a year (and hopefully his senior season) to improve and impress NFL scouts, but also a cornerback with a notable name and lot of talent.
The senior prospect reports are excerpts from the Optimum Scouting Pre-Season NFL Draft Guide. Order it by clicking here.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford – 5’11, 210, #33
Taylor has been the workhorse back for the Cardinal for the past couple of years, essentially leading one of the conference's most consistent running attacks. He is a one-cut runner who is undersized for his style of play. He runs downhill and does a nice job of keeping his legs churning through traffic between the tackles but he doesn't generate much power and doesn't break as many tackles as you'd like for such a straight line back. While he lacks any dynamic quality, Taylor is a patient runner who certainly takes advantage of every yard blocked for him. He runs hard to and through the hole and is not afraid to deliver contact, even if his lack of size limits his power to run through defenders. He stays balanced and always keeps his feet under him to plant and drive at the first sight of space downfield. However, he could do a better job of picking up his feet in traffic, as he's often tripped up at the ankles. Taylor's top end speed is marginal at best and it takes him some time to get there. He is a one gear back who will not be able to turn the corner at the NFL level. Taylor can play 3rd downs and is a willing blocker but blitz recognition is still questionable at this point. Taylor could see his pro prospects rise if he can play the same game with an additional 10-15 pounds added on. He must show that he can create yards that may not be blocked for him as he's too much of a one trick pony at this point. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford - 6’4, 240, #44
Thomas is one of this year's top speed rush specialists from the outside linebacker position. Thomas is somewhat undersized at a lean 6-4 but is muscular and has the frame to add about 10-15 pounds. He has long arms and good overall length which keep separation against offensive linemen. He lacks bulk through his lower and upper body and will need to continue to add strength as he isn't naturally powerful. He is however, a very good athlete who has a very explosive first step. He plays from the stand up or three point position and consistently beats his man off the snap. His niche and biggest strengths are his speed and explosiveness off the edge when rushing the passer. Most OL have issues containing the edge against Thomas and many teams opt to double team him. Still, he displays excellent agility to execute a very effective outside in move as well as collapsing the edge flat from the outside. He uses his hands well to slap away OL's hands from his chest and shows effective rip and swim moves. He does not generate much power as a bull rusher and does not show the ability to jolt top OL upon contact but he stays active and his hand usage prevents him from being eaten up upon failed initial separation. Against the run, Thomas does not have the anchor to consistently set the edge and really struggles to stack and shed when teams run at him, especially on double teams. However, Thomas has a knack for finding the football and shows good instincts in reading and reacting quickly to the ball. In coverage, Thomas shows good fluidity in dropping back and occupying his zone. With the demand for pure pass rushers in the NFL, Thomas' stock is likely to skyrocket with another productive year.
Shane Skov, ILB, Stanford – 6’3, 244, #11
Skov is coming off a torn ACL which sidelined him for all but two and a half games in 2011. For a guy who plays so physical, it will be interesting to see if he's able to restore that power that made him one of the most intimidating linebackers in the country. Even though he missed most of his junior season, there is enough film from the 13 games he played in as a frosh (7 starts) and the 14 starts afterward that indicate Skov should have a dominant season barring any injury setbacks. A clear defensive leader on the field, Skov plays with excellent tenacity and physicality and is a bear in the run game. He will instantly help a team's run defense with his diagnostic skills and seek and destroy mentality. There aren't many backers in the country who are as active on pass and run plays as Skov. He is a proven impact player in all facets; whether it's blowing up the pocket, filling the gap for the stop behind the line, or dropping back and disrupting passing lanes or separating the ball from receivers. His blitzing ability from the middle linebacker spot is better than any at the position in recent memory and he should continue to get better as he learns to use his hands to counter. His aggressivness and tenacity certainly have their advangtages, but Skov must learn control that aggression to avoid running himself out of plays and taking bad angles to the ball. When he gets going, he begins to play somewhat wreckless, which weakens his fundamentals and leads to big plays he normally neutralizes before they start. He may get exposed in coverage against some of the elite receiving tight ends of the world as he isn't the most fluid athlete to stay in the hip pocket of receivers as he locates the football but he is at his best when he can press his man at the beginning of the route and play underneath coverage. Still, he reacts very quickly and has the type of closing burst you from some of the leagues' top tacklers. Off the field, Skov has some recent red flags that have surfaced after he was arrested for a DUI in February of this year. He actually had to be reinstated by the team before being suspended for one game this upcoming season. The questions about Skov are not so much in his skill and ability to play the position, but rather how he recovers from ACL surgery and how he handles himself off the field. There is no questioning his presence on the field changes offensive game plans.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington – 6’0, 170, #6
Trufant came to Washington as one of the more highly coveted cover corners coming out of high school and played in all 12 games as a true frosh, including 9 starts. The younger brother of former two NFL defensive backs, Marcus and Isiah, has started every game since. Trufant is an excellent athlete with an ideal skill set for a cover corner. He has long arms and at 6 feet, good height to compete with taller receivers. He displays quick feet and hips quickly snap in changing direction and in turn and run. He doesn't take false steps when redirecting or in his click and close. He has very good burst to the football and shows make up speed to recover downfield. However, Trufant has a wiry frame and subpar play strength. While he's become stronger each year, he is not a naturally physical player and is very finesse. He has the athleticism to stay in his guy's hip pocket in man, but when it comes to competing for the ball against bigger receivers, he can be out-physicalled. Trufant mostly played in off many coverage at Washington and while he has some experience in zone and press, it's limited. Even in off coverage, you would like to see him tighten up a bit, as he tends to give up too much underneath, allowing easy completions on outs and comebacks. His lack of physicality does not indicate he could be a successful press corner and he is still raw in his backpedal, however he has the quick feet and hips to improve his technique. Perhaps the biggest knock on Trufant is his tackling ability. His tackling technique is often poor, rarely squaring up and wrapping up. He just doesn't seem like he wants to tackle, often trying to wrestle down ball carriers high or diving at their feet head down. He's also easily blocked on the outside. When receivers stalk him he lacks the upper body strength to shed and loses battles against average blockers. Trufant undoubtedly has the natural skill set and athleticism to be a top cover man, but he must continue to get stronger and improve his overall physicality.
Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford – 6’7, 265, #11
-The tight end trend continues at Stanford, with Toilolo (and slightly less talented Zach Ertz) being the next one in line to be a future NFL prospect. More complete of a prospect than Coby Fleener, we’ll see if his upside is the same.
Keith Price, QB, Washington – 6’1, 195, #17
-Flashed on the big stage vs. Robert Griffin in last year’s bowl game (going neck and neck most of the game), Price still has a way to go before team’s can overlook his height concern. Quick feet, downfield touch, adequate arm, big play ability, solid on the move, but still lacks sound footwork, mechanics, and consistent accuracy.