Stanford Offense Needs A Healthy Devon Cajuste

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Good news for Stanford football: the ankle surgery wide receiver Devon Cajuste requires will only keep the fifth-year senior sidelined for 6-8 weeks, meaning he should be in the lineup for the Cardinal’s Week 1 trip to Northwestern (h/t @Emilnem):

Earlier this month for Athlon Sports, I examined Stanford head coach David Shaw’s assertion that Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan could be “as good as anybody in the country.” Two examples I cited of Hogan demonstrating that potential are Stanford’s 2013 Pac-12 Championship romp over Arizona State, and last November’s upset of UCLA.

It’s no coincidence those were also two of Devon Cajuste’s best games. Cajuste is Hogan’s most reliable big-play target, particularly with Ty Montgomery gone for the NFL.

One could make a case that, when available, Cajuste was actually a more dangerous pass-catching option than Montgomery due to the match-up problems his combination of size and athleticism posed defenses.

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Cajuste is considerably bigger than any opposing defensive backs. His agility and leaping ability make him an equally tough cover for linebackers.

Put simply, Devon Cajuste is the most fundamentally important piece to Stanford’s passing offense, the key to Kevin Hogan reaching his lofty potential and arguably the engine driving the Cardinal in a potentially pivotal 2015.

The Stanford offense suffered bouts of anemia last season, the result of an inconsistent run game. The Cardinal offense is founded on strict balance, if not more reliance on the rush. Thus, the lack of a reliable running attack threw the Cardinal completely off-kilter.

The late-season emergence of Christian McCaffrey should solve some of the Cardinal’s run-game woes. McCaffrey is also a capable pass-catcher on the periphery or working out of the slot.

Stanford’s also lacked the consistent tight end targets who were so integral to the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal offenses earlier this decade. Like McCaffrey, Austin Hooper made some late-season strides that have him headed into 2015 positioned to be a true impact player, and fill a void missing from the Stanford offense for a few years now.

For Devon Cajuste, the key to consistency is to simply be in the lineup. He missed chunks of each of the last two seasons, including last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game rematch with Arizona State.

The Stanford offense was completely stymied without Cajuste available. He may or may not have made the difference against the Sun Devils in 2014, but it is worth noting he caught for 187 yards in the two meetings against them the season prior.

With Devon Cajuste healthy and playing, and more weapons around him, Stanford shouldn’t have as many what-if scenarios in 2015.