The Stanford Cardinal enjoyed a great deal of success in 2012. They overcame an early loss to run the table and win the Pac 12 championship, earning their first Rose Bowl Game Presented By Vizio berth since 1999 where they dispatched the Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers 20-14. They will try and match the success of their 12-2 (8-1 Pac 12) campaign next season, but will have to do it without a key contributor as tight end Zach Ertz has declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.
The Mackey Award finalist led the Cardinal in receiving this season, catching 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns. He was by far the favorite target for the Stanford passing game, catching three times as many passes as the second leading receiver for the Cardinal, wide receiver Drew Terrell (33 receptions, 463 yards).
He was a constant threat to burn defenses off the play-action pass, as he did in the Rose Bowl on a 43-yard strike from Kevin Hogan that set up a Stanford touchdown. He caught at least one pass in every game this season, highlighted by an 11-catch, 106-yard, one-touchdown performance in Stanford’s overtime upset of the Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium.
The 6-foot-6, 249-pound Ertz is considered the No. 1 tight end prospect and No. 29 overall prospect of eligible prospects for the upcoming draft. His ability to catch in traffic and superb route-running abilities set him apart and his great size will make him a very attractive option for clubs on the first day of the draft. There are questions about his ability to finish blocks, but his athleticism will allow him to overcome that.
Stanford will sorely miss Ertz next season as they also try to overcome the departure of their leading rusher and all-time touchdowns leader Stepfan Taylor. Their young quarterback, Hogan, will have to find some new options in the passing game during spring practice to keep the Cardinal from a sluggish start in 2013.