10 catches. 132 yards. 3 touchdowns. No, not an impressive day for a top wide receiver–that was Stanford tight end Jim Dray’s stat line for the entire season. How, then, did he wind up on the Pac-10 second team when all-conference honors were announced today?
First reason: not a lot of good TEs in the Pac-10. Only four were acknowledged at all by the conference. So, let’s admit that there’s a bit of a process of elimination at work, but not dwell on it for too long because…
Second reason: the coaches, who vote on the all conference picks, know what’s up. Ed Dickson of Oregon is a star and made the first team; no drama there. They could have easily picked USC’s Anthony McCoy (22 catches, 457 yards) for the second team and no one would have blinked twice, even though he’s been injured. Anthony Miller of Cal (21 catches, 302 yards) also had a case. Instead, they went with Dray.
So why the love for Stanford’s senior? The Pac-10 coaches saw what NFL scouts soon will and what Stanford fans have seen all year: Dray’s blocking is simply unparalleled at his position. And when you’re a smash mouth football team that has to pound the rock to be successful, players like Dray are integral to any success you might hope to have.
Ask his coach or his teammates, particularly the offensive linemen–they describe him as an “extra tackle.” Go back and watch some Notre Dame highlights. On any given play, there’s Dray sealing off two men along the sideline, or leading into the middle to take on a linebacker. He thrives at the point of attack; frankly, he blocks better than many of the offensive tackles I see in any given game. Rarely, though, do you see a non-lineman acknowledged for his blocking. And the coaches, by putting Dray on the second team despite his receiving totals–although, as a red zone threat with unbelievably sure hands, he shouldn’t be pigeonholed–are demonstrating an appreciation for his particular skill set, and how important it is to this Stanford team.
For Dray, this has to be particularly gratifying. He played his high school football at powerhouse Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, and actually came into Stanford as more of a receiving tight end. He burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2006 and immediately began tearing it up; he looked like a long term starter at tight end and a high NFL pick in the making. But he suffered a gruesome knee injury in 2007 and was lucky to make it back by 2008, when he had to fight his way into the rotation. Now, in his final year, and as Stanford’s starter, he’s finally received the recognition that he appeared destined to deserve at the beginning of his Cardinal career.