Stanford has established one of the best reputations for offensive linemen in all of college football in a relatively short amount of time, especially when it comes to power. 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 has experience lining up at left tackle, which has proved to be invaluable.
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. The tools are there to be successful for Yankey and he projects as a top 100 pick as a result with the possibility of going in the latter part of round two because of the fit he has with some teams and if he can eliminate the bad habits, he can be an outstanding blocker as a right guard for the next decade.
Vitals & Build
Yankey is listed at 6’5” 315lbs 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 has paid off in his move back to guard. In pass pro, he keeps good balance, slides well and really and has shown he can cover laterally without issue.
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. Going back to guard, he has shown he can handle power with relative ease, maintain an anchor and hold up at the point of attack. Yankey has also shown he can adjust to speed and handle stunts. His natural ballast makes it easy for him to cover ground laterally and shut down the hole.
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. The one habit that Yankey needs to break is how often he seems to get overextended and bend at the waist in the process. Yankey is strong enough where this is simply unnecessary and while it can result in the big time kill shots, he will end up on the ground far too often.
His footwork is problematic in that he does not use it enough, especially with his run blocking. Yankey ends up on the ground far too much and it is not a matter of being coached to do it. That may happen in certain situations, but too often he is simply off balance and ends up falling down or being shoved to the ground when it would have absolutely no benefit whatsoever. It is not a matter when going down to the ground would take out an opponent, but has situations where he just goes down in no man’s land. Yankey needs to take better angles when it comes to getting to the second level.
His footwork when it comes to pulling is inconsistent. His pulls seem to be too deep and loops too far back when he is trying to get across and put a block in the hole, which should not be a difficult fix in the NFL. He does seem to do a solid job when it comes to trap blocking, but he is a little slow footed and needs to find a way to be quicker. If he can get quicker, he can be more impactful in that part of his game.
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, but is best suited to play on the right side. 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.
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.
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. He might have teams give him a shot at left guard but seems like he is best suited to play on the right side over the long haul. Yankey projects as a top 100 pick as a right guard and a mauler that can come in and boost a running game as well as assist in pass protection but still needs to eliminate some bad habits, which could end up going on the latter part of the second round.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com