In this installment of The Recruiting Notebook, we meet a versatile and athletic player who will elevate the Canes’ defensive backfield down the line: Melbourne (FL) Eau Gallie 4-star ATH Robert Stafford.
In an effort to improve the overall depth and talent in the defensive backfield, Miami turned their attention to Melbourne (FL) Eau Gallie ATH Robert Stafford.
A standout receiver, Stafford started making a name for himself as a sophomore in 2020 with 12 catches for Eau Gallie during a playoff run. Things really started to pick up for Stafford as a junior, when the 3-sport (basketball, track) athlete started playing on both offense and defense. Eau Gallie only tested the waters on playing Stafford on defense in the spring before his junior year, but it was a move that was not only good for his HS team, but set the stage for his recruitment as well.
Stafford’s production on offense scaled up on offense in a big way. 42 catches for 605 yards and 5 TDs, more than triple his previous numbers from his sophomore year. The even bigger upgrade was the addition of Stafford’s disruptive play on defense. Primarily lining up at CB, Stafford had 17 tackles, 5 PBUs and an interception.
Miami was actually Stafford’s very first scholarship offer ahead of his sophomore year of HS. But, when he made the move to play both ways, indicating being open to playing defense at the next level, Stafford’s offer list started to explode. He quickly went from one offer — only Miami — to seeing nearly 50 schools from around the country offer him starting in the spring of 2021. And, in the group of teams flocking to offer Stafford heading into his junior season was Mario Cristobal’s Oregon Ducks.
You’ve probably read a version of this already (likely one of the many other Recruiting Notebooks that have gone up on the site today), so you probably know what happened here. Cristobal left Oregon, but remembered Stafford from his time there. Then the coach made Stafford a priority, envisioning his speed and playmaking ability in the defensive backfield for Miami in the future.
With a much improved recruiting profile, Stafford had plenty of options. Taking advantage of the new recruiting calendar which allows for spring/summer official visits, Stafford trekked to Kentucky, Oregon — still recruiting him even after Cristobal’s departure, Arkansas, and Miami for OVs in the spring of 2022. After quickly being made a priority for the Canes in this class, Stafford felt the love, and it was mutual, and he committed to Miami on June 30th, just days after his final OV to Arkansas.
On the 247sports composite, Stafford is a 4-star prospect, the #14 CB nationally, #32 in the State of Florida, and #133 player overall in this class.
Stafford committed to Miami over finalists Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oregon from a booming list of 44 offers from around the country.
As A Player
At 5’11” 170lbs, Stafford has decent size for a cornerback. He could stand to add some weight as he’s a bit light, but anything over 185lbs probably wouldn’t be needed. Gaining size and strength to battle receivers is great, but overdoing it and losing a step would not be great.
Stafford’s excellence in football and his experience playing multiple sports — basketball and track — has been a boon to his explosiveness. He’s a quick, sudden athlete in the best ways, and he should be able to use that movement skill to great advantage in college. And, before I go on, let it also be said that Stafford is FAST fast. And speed like his will play anywhere, believe that.
Stafford played both ways in his junior and senior seasons, and Eau Gallie used his speed to great success on offense and special teams. On offense, go routes and jet sweep touch passes got him the ball in positions to do damage, which he did. In the return game, Stafford shows his elite acceleration by getting to top speed in a matter of steps, and his decisive, one cut return style was very effective. Whether it was a kickoff or punt return, or one of several interception returns, Stafford does well to find a crease, get up field, then leave the opposition in his dust.
Having only played CB for a couple years, there is refinement needed to his technique and overall defensive IQ. The good thing here is that since Stafford is such a plus athlete, he should be able to apply the forthcoming behavior adjustments over time. The quicker he’s able to consistent apply the coaching on the field, the sooner Stafford will work his way into the rotation on defense.
Stafford shows a solid understanding of coverage concepts on film. Additionally, he plays thru the whistle, and that effort to the end of the play shows up with PBUs at the catch point in multiple instances. Stafford is also opportunistic, catching interceptions on underthrown or 50/50 balls. He also has plenty of speed to play catch up if he gets beat by a receiver (a rarity at the HS level, but good to know for college).
Though he’s not the strongest player on the field, Stafford shows a willingness to tackle in the run game. He’s probably going to have to go low on bigger, stronger backs and receivers at the next level to get them on the ground, but he won’t be the first DB to do that successfully.
Here’s another look at Stafford from 247sports Director of Scouting Andrew Ivins:
An explosive multi-sport athlete that has just started to make the transition from wide receiver to defensive back. Not much meat on the bones, but makes up for it with his fast-twitch muscle fibers and insane ups. Tested off the charts spring before senior season posting the fastest 40-yard dash at an invite-only camp loaded with talented skill players. Also had the best vertical jump out of anyone that day. Aggressive in coverage and not one to shy away from a challenge. Ability to go up in the air and make a play at the catch point separates him from most other defenders his size. Rather fluid in his backpedal and has shown that he can mirror with his hips while gaining some depth. Appears to be pretty comfortable in off-man situations, which makes sense given his burst and ability to close gaps. However, will need to bulk up some if he’s going to jam larger wideouts at the line of scrimmage on Saturdays. Viewed by most college recruiters as a corner at the next level because of how easily he changes directions. Could also get a look as a single-high safety given his range, although he would need to embrace the role of mashing ball carriers in the open field. Skillset and athletic profile suggest that he should be viewed as one of the top cornerback prospects in the Sunshine State for the 2023 cycle. Will need some seasoning, but has NFL upside.
- Quickness (yes, different from speed)
- Experience at CB
- Physical build
The thing for Stafford is taking the teaching from the coaches and putting that to work on the field, whether practice or during games. He’s a very good athlete, so that’s half the battle. But we’ve seen other players, ones with more of a history at CB than he, have struggles with taking the technique they’re taught and employing it correctly on the field.
Though he’s a 4-star caliber kid, and every bit of that, by the way, I wouldn’t count on Stafford starting too soon in his career. He could see time outside or inside in his career, and that versatility may allow him to earn rotational snaps for a bit before eventually stepping into the starting lineup.
I think a role on special teams and rotation snaps on defense early in his career will make way to a starting role in the defensive backfield down the line. And, hopefully for all parties, Stafford is able to realize his incredible potential into consistent (and hopefully elite) performance at Miami. This is something that has seldom been seen by CBs in the last 20 years at Miami — and yes, especially CBs because this has been a MASSIVE problem position for years and years — but hey, maybe that changes when Stafford (and others) get to campus.
That’s it for this installment of The Recruiting Notebook.