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Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney's stats will get hard look from scouts

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There will not be a more confusing player evaluation for NFL scouts than Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney.

Gaffney has put up unreal production in his return from a one-year sabbatical in minor league baseball, rushing for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has shredded talented defenses such as Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon and USC, handling workloads that would make Atlas' knees buckle.

But Gaffney doesn't break explosive plays -- only eight runs longer than 20 yards in 284 carries -- isn't much of a factor as a receiver -- only 13 receptions this season -- and runs behind a veteran offensive line loaded with future draft picks. has Gaffney ranked 18th at his position.

Gaffney (6-foot-1, 226 pounds) doesn't have the bulk of former Cardinal standout Toby Gerhart or the all-around versatility of Stepfan Taylor. And yet he is the focal point of Saturday's Pac-12 championship game against the Sun Devils.

"He's the key," ASU coach Todd Graham said during a teleconference Tuesday. "We've got to make sure we do a great job of keeping him contained. The key is winning the line of scrimmage, which is a big challenge."

Gaffney rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-28 win over ASU in September, but he told the San Jose Mercury News he is a better back entering his 13th game than he was in his third.

"I've got a grasp of the offense," Gaffney said. "I've come to the realization of what we're trying to do each run play, each pass play, and where I fit in."

The ASU defense is also performing at its peak, with standout defensive tackle Will Sutton rounding into form, combining with outside linebacker Chris Young and defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid Carl Bradford for 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks over the last month.

If Gaffney can knife through them once again, it could go a long way toward convincing scouts he is more than a plodder falling forward behind a bulldozing front five. Even if he can't, a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl berth would be a heck of a consolation prize.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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