The Stanford predicament

This story appears in the April 30, 2012 NFL draft issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

EVERY FOOTBALL PLAY tells a story. Many stories, actually: those of players, of teams, of the play itself, all intertwined like the wires in a messy circuit box. It's a scout's job to make sense of these stories, distilling them to distinguish the great players from those who only appear so, ultimately seeking to answer the multimillion-dollar question: If players' pasts are woven together, what's the story of each of their futures?

David Shaw, Stanford's coach, sits in his office on a sunny March afternoon with his own story. Shaw, the 39-year-old with a shiny head and a soft voice, spent nine seasons as an NFL assistant and then returned to his alma mater as offensive coordinator in 2007 before succeeding Jim Harbaugh last year. He helped develop, then inherited, what some consider the most talented college offense ever, one that produced 43 points per game last season.

The depth of that prolific offense has now created a historic opportunity. Never before have a quarterback, guard, tackle and tight end from the same college been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. On April 26, that may change. Cardinal right guard David DeCastro is considered the draft's nastiest offensive lineman; left tackle Jonathan Martin is 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds and runs like a tight end; tight end Coby Fleener, 6-6 and 247, runs like a wide receiver. And then there's that Andrew Luck guy.

Theirs is a singular story: seven combined first-team All-Pac-12 slots, three first- or second-team All-America selections and the legacy of turning Stanford from a 5-7 also-ran in 2008 to a back-to-back BCS bowl invitee. Still, years from now, their collective story will almost surely be one of unmet expectations. It's just the way these things go: Of the 15 Miami Hurricanes drafted in the first round from 2002 to '04, only three -- Ed Reed, Vince Wilfork and Andre Johnson -- became superstars. In 2006, five USC players, including Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, came off the board in the first 45 picks. Combined Pro Bowls: zero.

You can view the complete story here.