Stanford has established one of the best reputations for offensive linemen in all of college football in a relatively short amount of time. When people think of offensive linemen, especially guards playing for the Cardinal, they think tough, gritty, strong run blocking players. The next in the line of those is left guard David Yankey, who is tailor made for the Stanford offense, but also had a good year at left tackle. It is important to note that the Stanford scheme does play with smaller splits than just about any team in college football and their goal is to force the opponent to play in a smaller area of the field. The result makes it easier for opponents to hit their targets in run blocking, which allows them to go with more force and power off of the line of scrimmage.
Yankey is extremely powerful, has a great punch, and can push the pile as a run blocker, but he might surprise some with how well he progressed as a tackle over the course of last year, especially in pass protection. He got to be effective in how well he mirrored, used angles and cut off opponents trying to get outside of him. As he moves back inside this year, the experience of pass blocking at tackle should only make him better. Yankey has got to work to improve how he fires out as a run blocker to maintain his balance and avoid ending up on the ground as well as taking better angles to the second level. At this point, Yankey projects as a top 75 pick but if he works to stay off of the ground, he could end up going closer to the top 50 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Vitals & Build
Yankey is listed at 6’5” 311lbs and just looks like a Stanford guard. He has a big, barrel chest, almost no neck, and extremely strong legs that allow him to generate a ton of power in a small amount of space quickly. Yankey is athletic and moves well with great feet for the guard position. The one area where he tends to have some problems is with his balance. He needs to work to improve it so that he can stay up on his feet but he does appear to have the frame to continue adding strength to an already impressive power athlete. Should that end up being the case and he come in with more power as a senior, he will still have time to improve before the draft and he could be scary in that respect.
Yankey is an extremely powerful run blocker who does a fantastic job of creating space and running lanes for Cardinal backs. Stanford uses smaller splits in general which allow him to fire out as hard as he can basically straight out and land his block when he plays guard, but at tackle, Yankey has to be more conscious of hitting a target in space. He needs to continue working to avoid overextending and getting off balance. As long as he lands the block, he is powerful enough to drive them off of the line of scrimmage, so it ends up being overkill to try to launch so much and risk missing and getting put on the ground. There is an element of Yankey not seeming to know his own strength. He plays with a mean streak and is someone who seems to really take pride in getting pancake blocks to send a message to the opponent.
Yankey has the ability to pull but he really struggles when going to the second level. He ends up out of control too often, takes some questionable angles and misses too many blocks. Some of this should improve with experience but he just needs to work on taking better angles and just landing a block. As strong as he is, as long as he connects with a linebacker or defensive back, they will get knocked backward and not be a factor in the play.
The one big problem with Yankey in the running game is how often he ends up on the ground. He is on the ground pretty regularly. There are some teams in high school and college that actually teach this with some of their blocking techniques and when they get to the NFL, they learn new habits and stop doing it. Some of that might be the case with Yankey but there are plenty of times when he just loses his balance and falls down as well. He needs to avoid getting off balance, overextending and ending up on the ground.
Ultimately, Yankey has a tremendous about of power for an offensive linemen and he just needs to trust in that and worry about his fundamentals when it comes to how he fires out, staying in control, and maintaining his balance. If he can do that as a senior, he will really have a great year and the experience as a tackle should only help him as he goes back to guard.
While Yankey is moving back to left guard in a full time capacity and is a better fit at guard, he acclimated well to left tackle in pass protection. He was not a liability in that respect and while he might not be a great fit in the NFL at left tackle, he would not get a team killed there either. More importantly, his experience at left tackle should help him as he transitions back to guard. Even though the style of pass pro is different as he is taking on defensive tackles as opposed to defensive ends and is anchoring against power more often than speed, his experience and learning how to operate in space should be beneficial. The fact he was able to cover enough ground laterally for a tackle should make him extremely difficult laterally when he is working in a smaller space.
Yankey shows a nice punch and is not afraid to use in the running game or in pass protection. In fact, there are times when he just knocks the opponent backward and continues to do it from pass pro. For the most part he uses his hands well as long as he can get them on the opponent. Once locked on, Yankey takes control and does not let up until the play ends.
His footwork is problematic in that he does not use it enough, especially with his run blocking. Whether it is how he is coached or his own choice, he fires out with so much force that he ends up off balance far too much and then is put on the ground without too much issue. Yankey needs to take better angles when it comes to getting to the second level, but he is able to pull well.
On the other hand, his footwork is good in pass protection. He slides comfortable and has a good initial first step to get in position to protect. Yankey also demonstrates a good power step when he needs to cut off an inside lane. His pass protection shows what kind of footwork he can have in run blocking and he just needs to carry it over to that spot and incorporate it to maintain his balance, stay on his feet and under control.
Yankey is perfectly cast for the Stanford system and as a result, naturally projects as a guard in a power system. Teams like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and San Francisco would love to have a player like Yankey. There is no question that Yankey can adapt and play well in other systems but he needs to adjust his style to fit them. The one system that might not love Yankey is a zone blocking scheme that puts so much emphasis on range and athleticism. Yankey could do it from an athletic standpoint, but it would require him to change so much of how he has blocked in college in the running game. Yankey will certainly have a chance to be a plug and play guard at the next level, but he will need to learn and adjust his style in run blocking on the fly to make a great transition as a rookie.
The question with Yankey comes down to how well teams feel he can pull and how important it is for him to be able to do it. The reason is that if he can pull well, he is a fantastic left guard prospect. Yankey really does a good job in pass protection, but if he can pull and get out in front of the run going to power, he can be a complete threat from that position and bring more value to the table. If not, teams may want to move him to right guard.
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. San Jose State|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Army|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Arizona State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at Washington State|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Washington|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Utah|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. UCLA|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Oregon State|
|Thu, Nov. 7||vs. Oregon|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at USC|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Cal|
|Sat, Nov. 30||vs. Notre Dame|
Arizona State has their impressive defensive tackle, Will Sutton and he usually lines up on the right side, so he could see quite a bit of Yankey week two of the season. Sutton is quick and brings incredible technique so he is a unique test. When Stanford takes on UCLA, Yankey could be facing off against Cassius Marsh much of the game. Yankey will have a massive power advantage but Marsh functions on quickness and avoiding having offensive linemen get their hands on him. The big matchup for Yankey will be when Stanford hosts Notre Dame. Depending on the setup, there should be a good amount of Yankey up against Louis Nix and could be opportunities where he ends up against Stephon Tuitt. Nix is the big ticket matchup as those two titans face off but Tuitt provides a longer, more athletic matchup.
It may feel cheap and easy to say that Yankey’s game is similar to David DeCastro of the Pittsburgh Steelers and formerly of Stanford, but the way Stanford runs their offense and how they use their offensive linemen are extremely unique. The result is that the NFL is a little bit more of an adjustment than onlookers may realize because they are suddenly playing in more space and have to be more accurate with how they attack the opponent in run blocking. DeCastro was extremely impressive coming out because of just how nasty he was in the running game, but he was not on the ground as much as Yankey is. Unfortunately, DeCastro missed his rookie year with the Steelers after a knee injury and is trying to hit the ground running as a second year player. He has picked up where he has left off in terms of his ability to be a good run blocker, but the issues with adjusting to the spacing in the NFL do prop up at times. Both of these players can be terrific NFL players, but the adjustment from Stanford’s system to the NFL is not an easy one.
From a physical standpoint, Yankey is the prototype guard and he plays with a mean streak as well. He is a good pass blocker and should really look good as he transitions back to guard fulltime this season. Yankey needs to find a way to stay on his feet more consistently and not end up on the ground so much. His value is higher in the NFL if he can prove to play left guard but he would be a great right guard prospect as well, which will come down to how comfortable teams are with his ability to pull. Based on what he has done to this point, Yankey projects to be a top 75 pick but could end up in the top 50 and if he really irons out his issues, could have a chance to sneak into the back end of the first round.