The past three seasons of Stanford football will be remembered for the dazzling play of quarterback Andrew Luck. But the team’s back-to-back BCS bowl appearances would have been unlikely without a pair of All-American offensive lineman who are expected to join Luck as first-round selections in Thursday’s NFL draft.
Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro didn’t just provide the protection that allowed Luck to pick apart Pac-12 Conference defenses with surgical precision; they also dug holes for a running game that compiled the three highest single-season rushing totals in school history.
“No. 1, you’ve got to have a great quarterback to win championships,” said former Cardinal offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who left after the 2010 season to join the 49ers. “No. 2, you need great offensive and defensive lines — and you saw that there.”
DeCastro is expected to be the first guard chosen in this year’s draft (ESPN’s Mel Kiper has him projected to go to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 17), while Martin is projected to be the third offensive tackle selected behind USC’s Matt Kalil and Iowa’s Riley Reiff (No. 23 in Kiper’s mock draft).
It isn’t a shock that NFL teams are eager to add either of these men to their lines: they’re both huge (DeCastro is 6-foot-5, 315 pounds; Martin is 6-foot-6, 312 pounds), athletic and intellectually gifted.
DeCastro is an elite pull and combination blocker, who can work up to the second level and redirect when necessary.
“He’s the prototypical offensive guard,” Martin said of his Cardinal teammate. “The guy’s a freak of nature.”
Martin, on the other hand, was born to guard the blind side with his quick feet, exceptional arm length and undisputed agility.
Behind Martin and DeCastro, Stanford was a power-running team, who just happened to have the country’s best young quarterback under center. The line called itself the Tunnel Workers Union for its blue-collar work ethic and set a school record for single-season rushing yards with 2,837 in 2009.
The team amassed Stanford’s second-highest rushing total a year later, but Martin and DeCastro’s best work might have come last season when they produced the third-best rushing season in school history with three new pieces on the line.
“That wouldn’t have gotten done if they weren’t tremendous leaders,” Drevno said. “Those guys did a great job of getting everyone on the same page.”
They also provided Secret Service-like protection to Luck. In three years, the line gave up a total of 24 sacks, allowing Luck to set school records for touchdown passes, completion percentage and passing efficiency.
But Martin said the relationship was reciprocal; the NFL’s projected top pick had a tendency to make the line look good, too.
“It definitely helps when safeties and cornerbacks are worried about Luck coming over the top,” he said, adding: “He was the ultimate teammate.”