Headed into his fifth year at Stanford this past season, Josh Mauro's future as a football player was unclear. The defensive end had never been a starter, wasn't slated to become one and largely represented depth on one of the nation's best defenses.
While not exactly the profile of a future NFL player, Mauro still had hope.
"After my redshirt junior year, I heard from different people that I'd have a chance [at the NFL]," he said. "I was told I had the body for the NFL and put some good stuff on film, but just wasn't consistent at times."
While consistency showed up as a potential flaw, it had more to do with opportunity than ability. He was stuck behind Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner -- two players with NFL futures of their own -- and so long as his playing time came intermittently, consistency was a tough fix.
That changed following the third game of the 2013 season, when Anderson went down with a knee injury that cost him the next five games. It was a minor setback for Anderson's career but provided a major opportunity for Mauro.
He took advantage.
"Once he got more playing time, he actually got better playing in games to the point where I told multiple people in the NFL, 'He's going to play and he's going to be on somebody's team,'" Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He's got the ability to do it, he's got the physical nature to do it. Especially for a lot of these 3-4 teams in the NFL, he's a good fit for those guys."
Mauro's impact was noticeable even before Anderson went down, but when he saw regular playing time, those consistency issues went away. Anderson's return against Oregon on Nov. 7 coincided with a season-ending injury to Gardner, which kept Mauro in the starting lineup the rest of the season.
The Texas native finished the year with 51 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and four sacks and was a midseason add to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football.
"I would describe Josh as the anchor of our defense. So much of what guys like [linebacker] Trent Murphy and I were able to do was a result of Josh being so disruptive on the line of scrimmage," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "He was able to hold the edge and keep guys off of us so we could run free and make plays. On top of that, he made a ton of impact plays himself, especially in big games."
Mauro's season earned him an NFL combine invite, but he left Indianapolis with mixed feelings about his performance. He was happy with his performances in the vertical jump (32 inches), broad jump (116 inches) and three-cone drill (7.43 seconds) but fell short of his goals in the 40-yard dash (5.21) and bench press (21 reps).
The 40-yard dash time and bench press will be two of his priorities at Stanford's pro day on March 20, but the big change will be his weight. Mauro dropped 10 to 15 pounds from his playing weight and tipped the scales at 271 in Indianapolis, but he plans on adding that weight back with a more regular diet. He said he doesn't think it will affect his explosiveness and will feel more comfortable.
Among the coaches Mauro met with at the combine were Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who served as the Cardinal's co-defensive coordinator in 2011, and former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers.