When Jim Harbaugh left the program he had built to join the San Francisco 49ers on January 7, 2011, Stanford football stood at a crossroads. Most observers believed the program would crumble and that the assembled recruiting class would splinter in the four weeks that remained before National Signing Day, but that didn't happen. This series will take a closer look at some of the players from that landmark class who are poised for greatness in 2013.
Kelsey Young arrived at Stanford two years ago as one of the top running back recruits in California, grading out as a four-star prospect according to both Rivals and Scout. But like most of Stanford's running back recruits over the past few years, he spent his first season on the sidelines. The coaches have been excited about him since his signing, however, and when I asked Coach Shaw about Young prior to last season, he explained the situation like this: "We have a depth chart on a board in my office. The receivers are listed [in one column], and the running backs are listed [in another]. Right in the middle, all by himself, is Kelsey." He further explained that although they weren't sure how they were going to use him, they knew they had to get him the ball.
When they did get him the ball last year, Young was often electric. He only had 14 carries and 8 receptions, but he averaged 10.7 yards per touch and produced two touchdowns. In an offense like Oregon's he'd play the role of De'Anthony Thomas, but with the Ducks, Thomas is the focal point of the offense. Stanford coaches, however, have to be a bit more creative in finding ways to utilize Young within the framework of the Cardinal's pro-style offense. We saw a glimpse of that on the opening drive of January's Rose Bowl. First, Young was involved in the double-reverse that turned into a 34-yard pass play, then on the following snap he took the ball on a jet sweep (my favorite play in the Stanford playbook, by the way) and scored untouched from 16 yards out. Kelsey Young and green grass. Not much else.
One of the things I'm most interested to see with regards to the 2013 Stanford offense will be the utilization of Kelsey Young. Stepfan Taylor's 25.9 touches per game will need to be redistributed, and at least some of those should be earmarked for Young. He saw the ball less than twice per game last year, and that simply isn't enough.
If the coaching staff follows my suggestion and puts the ball in his hands seven to ten times per game, Kelsey Young will develop into one of the more dynamic players in the conference. I can't wait to watch it happen.
Previously in this series:
[Photo Credit: Tony Medina/Getty Images North America]