Area of need: Defensive line
Current situation: Stanford has undergone much turnover recently. Aziz Shittu and Brennan Scarlett both exhausted their eligibility following the 2015 campaign, making this Solomon Thomas’ unit in 2016.
Thomas fully embraced that role as he matured into a dominant player this past season. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Sun Bowl, where Thomas manhandled double teams up front and saved the Cardinal's win over North Carolina with a lightning-quick blast to the quarterback on the game's decisive play.
But moving forward, the Stanford defensive line will have to adapt to life without Thomas, who is entering the NFL Draft. This will be a massive gap to fill: Thomas led the team with 62 tackles -- a rarity for a defensive lineman -- while also setting the pace with eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
The Cardinal's next most productive lineman was Harrison Phillips, who delivered 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan Watkins also did some damage, but he's graduating, and the statistical production beyond him was almost nonexistent, so Stanford has huge gaps to fill up front.
Plan moving foward: Phillips will be the centerpiece of this unit, and the Cardinal will ask him to gobble up double teams to free up room for their less experienced talent to operate.
Redshirt sophomore Dylan Jackson represents a critical hinge point. He made huge strength gains entering 2016, but those only translated to one tackle for loss during the season. Jackson or Eric Cotton -- a converted tight end -- must complement Phillips' production, or else Stanford will be reliant on new faces to provide a counter-threat up front.
Those unproven linemen are Michael Williams, Thomas Schaffer, Jovan Swann, and Bo Peek. All four were members of the 2016 recruiting class and will have had a full year to develop under strength coach Shannon Turley by the time 2017 rolls around. Wesley Annon, a product of the 2015 class, can also boost the unit with improvement.
Stanford is well-stocked in other areas of its defense. Its secondary is one of the most talented in the Pac-12, and the majority of players return there. The Cardinal's linebackers, meanwhile, improved immensely throughout the course of 2016 and look to be in a solid position moving forward.
That leaves the line -- often considered the most important pillar of a defense -- as the remaining question mark. Turley's work this offseason with that unit's younger replacement players looms large. It's perhaps the most critical hurdle facing Stanford this offseason.