Bizarre Times: Stanford, 2013 NFL Draft

Chase Thomas: a curious ommision

Surreal: when David Shaw is interviewing Jim Harbaugh on national TV. Or when Zach Ertz plays for Chip Kelly. Or when Chase Thomas isn't selected amongst the 224 picks of the NFL Draft. All that discussed, and more - right here.

Besides that stop at Geno's or Pat's, Zach Ertz had much to digest this past weekend.

At one moment, his former coach Jim Harbaugh had a chance to pick him again, this time to the 49ers (that story would have written itself, considering San Francisco legend Brent Jones has been Ertz's longtime mentor). But one blink later, the Quack Attack's own Chip Kelly -- of all coaches -- selected him instead. Fast forward a few hours, and Ertz found himself three time zones away, munching on his first Philly cheese steak sandwich in the City of Brotherly Love. Yet another snap of the finger brought the former Stanford tight end 2,500 miles back across country, where he celebrated his Eagles selection with fellow Farm Boys like nothing had happened except for possibly the greatest 48-hour whirlwind of his life.

"I couldn't be happier to be going to play for Coach Kelly and the Eagles," Ertz said. "My mom and dad were both born in Pennsylvania, so it feels like this very cool circle of life. I can't stop thinking about how the Pac-12 gave me my start, and now I will be able to keep playing for a coach that I respected since I started at Stanford."

The frenzied cross-country bounce has since settled down, but it's still difficult to fathom that we now live in a world where Kelly coaches Ertz while Jim Harbaugh coaches LaMichael James and Pete Carroll instructs Richard Sherman. Those players all ripped the hearts out of their current coaches' bodies at different college football points in the past. Now, they've become some of their most cherished assets.

Embrace the beautiful dichotomy of college football and the NFL, one that serves as breeding grounds for several surreal combinations. The NFL Draft is the definite moment at which these two gridiron worlds intersect, so it's sure to foster fireworks that overload the senses: How about David Shaw interviewing Jim Harbaugh on national television?

The Thomas Take
A good amount was tough to process this past weekend, but not much was more surprising than Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas' omission from all seven rounds of picks. The Cardinal stalwart signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints shortly after the conclusion of Saturday's proceedings, and one has to believe that he's bringing a heck of a bargain to the Big Easy.

After forgoing last season's NFL Draft to return to school for his fifth year, Thomas was even more productive than he was in his Sporting News All-America 2011 campaign. He racked up 71 total tackles -- 19 more than his previous year's total -- and held relatively steady at 14.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks despite Stanford's marked improvement in defensive depth, a potential stat-killer. Perhaps more significantly, Thomas layered about 10 more pounds of muscle onto his sturdy frame before the season, and that commitment further entrenched him as one of the premiere physical rocks of perhaps the nation's best defense.

The fact that 224 selections came and passed without mention of Thomas this past weekend is perplexing. The 4.91 40-yard dash time he posted at the NFL Combine was the slowest of all outside linebackers at the event, but, then again, the 40-yard dash has little to do with Thomas' style of play on the football field.

"He plays faster than his 40 time," Shaw said about another one of his players this weekend, and those words apply to Thomas as well. "And that's all that matters."

If Thomas ever gets into a situation on the gridiron during which he has to sprint 40 yards on a line, in fact, it's safe to say something has already gone horribly wrong for the defense. He has separated himself not by his Usain Bolt impression, but rather with his superior instincts and fundamentally excellent physicality. Thomas possesses an uncommon skillset, and it's surprising that professional teams didn't value it more considering the fact they're selecting players for such an inherently violent game.

Big-time NFL Draft emphasis is placed on how well players work out off the field. In the context of teams' desire to select players with maximum potential, there is some legitimacy to that mentality. But Stanford strength and conditioning guru Shannon Turley would be the first to tell you that many of the NFL Combine's most popular metrics don't come close to gauging the rigors and demands of actual game play. In a sport that requires unnatural, courageous tendencies to succeed in and around the trenches -- a hunger for physical contact -- there's a spot for rugged warriors like Chase Thomas.

Teams may have been hoping for Tom Brady-like revelations late in this year's Draft while they surpassed Stanford's No. 44, but he'll bring a solid football player's approach, one that is more rare than it seems, to the next level.

Elsewhere: Tight End U
Besides Ertz, tight end Levine Toilolo and running back Stepfan Taylor were the only other two Stanford players drafted. Toilolo's selection in the fourth round to the Atlanta Falcons (where the legendary Tony Gonzalez is likely entering his final season before retirement) ensured that the 2013 season will feature seven Stanford products as tight ends in the NFL. No other school boasts more than five. The Cardinal, meanwhile, will parade Toilolo, Ertz, Coby Fleener, Jim Dray, Konrad Reuland, Evan Moore, and Alex Smith around on Sundays next year.

Of course, the Falcons love Toilolo's size, and there's no question they're intrigued by his in-line blocking ability. Harbaugh once considered using the 6-foot-8 behemoth as an offensive tackle, and any development Toilolo sees in the context of his catching abilities down the road has the potential to create a lethal red zone weapon in the Georgia Dome.

Meanwhile, Taylor will bring his versatile skill-set to the Desert, where Arizona is in desperate need of a running game revamp. The Cardinals chose Taylor in the fifth round to help rehaul a dismal ground attack that averaged only 3.4 yards per carry (75.3 yards per game) last season. University of Phoenix Stadium may be the perfect proving grounds for Stepfan Taylor: Adrian Peterson has gobbled up his predecessor Toby Gerhart's playing time in Minnesota, and we know that certainly won't happen in Arizona.

Other UDFAs
Former linebacker Alex Debniak will move to fullback after signing with Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers, while cornerback Terrence Brown -- the only Cardinal player who passed up remaining eligibility to enter the Draft and went unselected -- signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Wide receiver/punt returner Drew Terrell reported that he's headed to a Kansas City Chiefs rookie minicamp on Twitter. Fellow receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson is headed to the Indianapolis Colts, where he'll join Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Griff Whalen, and Pep Hamilton. Defensive tackle Terrence Stephens will participate in a Jacksonville Jaguars rookie minicamp this coming weekend.

Padric Scott, a defensive tackle in Stanford's 2008 recruiting class that transferred to Florida A&M, has ended up a Cardinal anyway. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Arizona after powering up 39 bench press repetitions at his pro day.

Remember: Stanford led all colleges with nine rookies on NFL rosters at the end of 2012. The 2013 count likely won't be as high, but several surprises may still loom.

David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at

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