Stanford’s top three receivers from last season are gone, leaving a gaping hole at wide-out on its depth chart. But, with Andrew Luck leading the charge for the Cardinal’s offense, it begs the question: does Stanford even need a top tier receiver to be successful in 2011?
While it might be outlandish for some to compare Luck to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning this early in his career, it is certainly not a stretch if you call him one of the best quarterbacks in college football today.
Like Brady and Manning, Luck has the tools to succeed at his position despite an apparent lack of talent lining up wide. The vision and cerebral nature of these quarterbacks allows them to find the open guy and let even the most unknown of names become a league leading receiver.
Take the Cardinal’s last season for example. Many (including myself) thought that Chris Owusu would bear the torch of the "go-to receiver" amongst a bunch of otherwise no-name guys. This was hardly the case.
Instead, seniors Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalan quickly became Luck’s favorite targets once Owusu failed to perform.
Other important targets for Luck last season were tight ends Coby Fleener and Konrad Reuland. As with most west coast offenses, the tight end plays a crucial part to the offense’s success. Luck certainly took advantage of both, lacing seven touchdowns to Fleener and connecting on 20 receptions to Reuland.
Unfortunately, the graduations of these players creates a cloud of uncertainty for the Cardinal’s offense this season.
Owusu has yet to prove that he can consistently catch the ball. His Quikcrete hands tend to form out of nowhere, and usually during the most important plays. This is a huge concern for Owusu going into this season.
As the most experienced and the most talented member of the Stanford’s receiving corps, Owusu is going to be leaned on heavily by Luck in order for the Cardinal to be successful. If he can’t stop dropping the ball like its fourth period French, then another receiver will have to step into the limelight.
In order to add more depth to the position, senior Corey Gatewood made the switch from corner to wide out for his final season. While it is easy to be suspect of corners becoming receivers, Gatewood was actually a three-star recruit at wide receiver coming out of high school and could surprise many defenders this season.
At tight end, the depth built by Jim Harbaugh should lessen the impact of losing Fleener and Reuland. Last season, Zach Ertz showed signs of potential, finishing third on the team with five touchdowns.
Junior Levine Toilolo is also anxious to prove his worth. Toilolo was a four-star recruit coming out of Helix High School, but has had to wait in the wings due to the depth at his position.
If Toilolo and Ertz can quickly reach the potential don upon them by their critics, Stanford should have a solid tight end duo once again in 2011. This will require the attention of every secondary that they line up against. Hopefully allowing some of the other receivers to find seams where Luck can take advantage.
While it is always nice to have a top tier receiver to lean upon on during those crucial moments of a game, if Stanford proved anything last season it is that they can be successful without one. As long as their tight ends can continue to play an enormous part of this offense, Luck and the Cardinal’s offense should continue to roll in 2011.