One of the biggest questions facing Stanford in 2013 was how would it replace so many key offensive players who graduated or left for the NFL following the highly-successful 2012 season.
Enter -- errr -- re-enter Tyler Gaffney, who could prove to be a game-changer for the Cardinal.
Gaffney announced that he'll return to the Cardinal on April 1 after spending one year playing minor league baseball. His college eligibility for baseball is up, but he has one year remaining on his "football clock."
You put an outstanding athlete like Gaffney behind Stanford's offensive line and you have the makings of a 1,000-yard rusher who can take the pressure off of quarterback Kevin Hogan and allow the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense -- which is pound the football.
Gaffney spent the bulk of his career backing up Stepfan Taylor -- and there's no shame in that because Taylor was one of the greatest backs in Stanford history. In three years Gaffney totaled 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus three receiving touchdowns. In 2011, he rushed for 449 yards (6.1 average) and seven touchdowns.
With his return, Gaffney gives a fairly inexperienced running back corps an immediate veteran presence and you'd expect he jumps to the top of the list of candidates to replace Taylor. And you have to assume he'll be in pretty good shape, too. After all, he's been a professional athlete for the last year. He'll know the system, since it hasn't changed, so all he has to do is make friends with the new offensive linemen.
Remember, Gaffney was one of the most sought after backs on the West Coast coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego -- turning down offers from USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Utah to come to The Farm. And I'm also a little bias because I've known him since he was a sophomore in high school and I watched him put on one of the greatest rushing performances in California prep history in the California State Championship game (current Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz was pretty darn good in that game, too).
Given the opportunity to be a 15-to-20-carry back, Gaffney could do some damage. In 2011, he only had double-digit carries once. But remember in 2011 Stanford was rotating heavily between Taylor (242 carries), Gaffney (74), Anthony Wilkerson (56), Jeremy Stewart (55) and Andrew Luck (47).
The Cardinal will still likely be by-committee in 2013, more so than they were in 2012 when Taylor carried a league-high 322 times. But the addition of Gaffney is a major boost to a Stanford offense that has plenty of potential and talent, but is lacking in proven playmakers.