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NCAA Football

Departure of Tyler Gaffney isn’t a huge setback for Stanford

Last Friday, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney announced that he would be pursuing his dream of playing major league baseball after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates of the MLB.

“Stanford has been amazing. I can’t say enough. Brotherhood on each team,” Gaffney said via his personal Twitter account. “But I’m going to pursue a dream. I CAN’T pass this up. Pirates baby.”

Although it doesn’t mean that he will have to leave the Stanford football program, Gaffney’s announcement shows that baseball has become his primary focus. It’s safe to assume that the Cardinal running game could be without Gaffney during the 2012 season.

As unfortunate as that is for the Stanford offense, it’s not going to be too high of a hurdle for the rushing attack. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but running back is one of Stanford’s strongest positions and they have plenty of talent to make up for the loss.

First and foremost, the Stanford running game is led by potential Heisman candidate Stepfan Taylor. Over the past two years, Taylor has been an invaluable part of the Cardinal’s success. He’s posted two straight seasons of 1,000-plus yards and is primed for his best campaign yet with the focus turning towards the Stanford ground game.

With Gaffney now apparently out of the picture, the backup spot should go to Anthony Wilkerson. A junior who started the 2011 season in front of Gaffney on the depth chart, Wilkerson rushed for 282 yards and three touchdowns last season. Reclaiming his No. 2 spot behind Taylor shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the talented runner.

Behind Wilkerson, the drop off in talent is almost unnoticeable.

Next in line for carries is sophomore Ricky Seale, who had an extremely impressive spring showing. Although he saw limited playing time in 2011, he could see the field more often after Gaffney’s departure.

The depth continues to overflow from there with the likes of Kelsey Young, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders Jr. Young, a redshirt freshman, had a strong showing during spring and will be ready for minutes if called upon. Wright is although promising redshirt freshman who adds depth to the position. Sanders, son of the NFL Hall of Famer, will likely redshirt during his upcoming freshman season but could develop into a Heisman candidate if his bloodlines have anything to say about it.

The roster also includes junior Andrew Stutz and sophomore Jackson Cummings. Stutz is a former walk-on who hasn’t seen a carry since 2010, but still possesses some promise as a short-yardage back. Cummings has some considerable potential, but is buried at the bottom of the Stanford running back depth chart.

The Cardinal will certainly miss Gaffney and everything that he has brought to their offense over the past few years. They’ll also have to find themselves a new Wildcat back. But the fact that they have a plethora of depth to spare makes him leaving for the MLB a bearable setback.

Especially considering that the Cardinal offense is looking to move away from the “running back by committee” approach, there’s little ground lost by Gaffney’s departure. It just means more carries for Taylor.

Follow Gil Alcaraz IV on Twitter.