The top 10 Cincinnati football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
QB Gunner Kiel, Sr.
Yeah, Kiel’s junior year traveled sideways. And he’s fielding competition from up-and-coming Hayden Moore, especially after the incumbent missed the Hawaii Bowl for personal reasons. But there’s little doubt that Kiel is Cincinnati’s most talented player. He has an NFL arm, and he’s thrown 50 TD passes in two years since transferring from Notre Dame. Still, the strong-armed 6-4, 215-pounder is looking to put it all together after a so-so year in which he completed 206-of-316 passes for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 picks.
LB Eric Wilson, Sr.
Cincinnati was waiting for Wilson to bust out. Last season, it happened. After serving as a backup in his first year after transferring from Northwestern, he erupted from weakside in 2015. Wilson was one of the Bearcats’ most valuable defenders, leading the team with 106 tackles to earn Second Team All-AAC. True, he’s only 6-2 and 219 pounds, but that size and speed allow him to make plays from sideline to sideline.
S Zach Edwards, Sr.
Edwards continues to be a gem for the Bearcats. Since arriving as a two-star recruit, he’s started 36 games and performed with consistency. Edwards has made over 200 stops the past two seasons, including 94, 4.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups in an honorable mention All-AAC junior year. Despite standing 6-1 and 200 pounds, he plays with the intensity and physicality of a linebacker. And his instincts and diagnostic skills ensure he’ll be around 100 tackles again in 2016.
C Deyshawn Bond, Sr.
Bond will begin his final season as one of the more accomplished centers in the country. He’s not very big at just 6-1 and 291 pounds, but he’s smart and fundamentally sound, the cornerstones of a successful center. Bond is also chock full of experience, boasting three years of experience and landing on the All-AAC Second Team as a junior.
RB Mike Boone, Jr.
Boone is the more explosive backfield complement to 230-pound Tion Green, nearly leading the team in rushing despite missing a pair of 2015 games. He needed only 104 carries to go for 749 yards and nine touchdowns, twice surpassing 100 yards in games. The 5-10, 201-pound Boone operates with good vision and pad level, and he’ll bounce off defenders to pick up more yards after contact.
RB Tion Green, Sr.
A year removed from an injury-abbreviated sophomore year, Green rebounded well in 2015. He was one of three Bearcats to rush for at least 700 yards, rumbling for 729 yards and eight touchdowns on a team-high 151 touches. Green is the thunder in the Cincinnati backfield rotation, using all of his strength and leg drive in a 6-0, 230-pound frame to power through arm tackles and force missed tackles.
OG Ryan Leahy, Sr.
Without a lot of headlines, Cincinnati has perennially developed quality O-linemen out of marginal recruits. Leahy, as a current example. He’s well-sized, 6-6 and 292 pounds, experienced and very smart. And while there are still areas for growth as a technician, Leahy is coming off a junior season in which he was named to the All-AAC Second Team.
DT Alex Pace, Sr.
With Pace and Cortez Broughton on the interior, the Bearcats are set at tackle entering 2016. Pace has been a full-timer in each of the last two seasons, quietly filling an important role in the Cincinnati run defense. He’s a powerful 6-2, 295-pounder who’s tough to move off his base. And his ability to eat up the blocks of multiple blockers belies his pedestrian 2015 numbers of 27 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
DT Cortez Broughton, Soph.
Broughton’s career in the Queen City is off to a terrific beginning. Cincinnati’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year broke into the starting lineup as a rookie, and then proceeded to show that he belonged. A sturdy 6-2, 297-pounder, Broughton has the potential and the athleticism to become a cornerstone in the middle. His 28 tackles and pair of quarterback hurries only begin to tell the story of his potential.
PK Andrew Gantz, Jr.
While kickers rarely make headlines, unless they’re blowing a big kick, Gantz has quietly become one of the most reliable Bearcats. He’s been accurate for two years running, earning Second Team All-AAC in 2015 for hitting 21-of-27 field goals, including a 51-yarder. Three of his misses were from beyond 50 yards, and he was No. 28 nationally in kickoff average.