The top 10 San Jose State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. LB Christian Tago
A big hitter who’s been a huge part of the defensive puzzle for years, Tago made 186 tackles in his first two seasons and led the team last year with 125 stops with a sack and nine tackles for loss in an All-Mountain West season. A guided missile to the ball, he came up with double-digit stops six times, highlighted by 14 tackles against Air Force and 13 against both UNLV and Nevada. While he’s not too much of a pass rusher, the 6-1, 242-pounder moves quickly and efficiently, and brings the thump whenever he gets to the play.
2. TE Billy Freeman
The team’s leading receiver, Freeman is as reliable a target as any tight end in the country, catching 48 passes for 586 yards and six scores, averaging 12.2 yards per grab. He’s not going to do too much blast blocking at a high level, but he’ll hit a bit. He knows how to get open with tremendous route running ability and outstanding hands, catching a season-high seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown against Boise State, but mostly being a consistent force throughout.
3. S Maurice McKnight
Christian Tago might be the team’s defensive star, but McKnight is the sheriff of the secondary making 66 tackles as a freshman and following it up with a 100-tackle sophomore campaign – with 16 tackles against Boise State – with five tackles for loss and a pick. While he can pop, he’s known more for his athleticism and the ability to fly to the ball. At 6-0 and 180 pounds, he’s not all that big, but he’s a physical talent who should come up with another massive statistical season – if he can make a few picks.
4. WR Tyler Winston
Originally a defensive back, he switched over to the offensive side right away and was tremendous, catching 58 passes for 858 yards and five scores as a freshman. He followed it up with a 78-catch sophomore season, and looked ready to do even more as a junior with 35 catches for 368 yards and two scores before suffering a knee injury. Ultra-athletic, the 6-2, 181-pounder saw time with the Spartan basketball team, while also using his hops and quickness to create mismatches on the football field. Once he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the Mountain West’s biggest stars.
5. QB Kenny Potter
The 6-2, 208-pound former JUCO transfer was good once he took over the job last year. While he’s not all that big at 6-2 and 212 pounds, he has decent size to go along with terrific mobility, running for 415 yards and seven scores while completing 67% of his passes with 1,984 yards and 15 scores and seven picks in 11 games. Hot from the start, he connected on 13-of-14 passes in the opener against New Hampshire and hit 8-of-9 throws against Oregon State before getting hurt, but he struggled a bit at times before gearing it up during a great final stretch.
The Spartans needed him in the final few games throwing for 312 yards and three scores against Hawaii and 336 yards and three touchdowns against Boise State. Now the job is clearly his, and he’ll end up doing more through the air after being a midrange dink and dunker.
6. P Michael Carrizosa
No, he doesn’t quite look the part of a long, lean punter at 5-10 and 226 pounds, but looks just fine on the field, rising up after averaging 37.1 yards per kick in a mediocre sophomore season. He provided a blast, averaging more than ten yards per pop over his 2014 campaign averaging 47.5 yards per boot with 22 inside the 20 on the way to an all-star season. When he gets his chance to get into it, he can kick the ball out of the stadium.
7. OG Jeremiah Kolone
Someone had to help pave the way for Tyler Ervin’s big season. The 6-3, 301-pound junior worked at right guard earning All-Mountain West honors, doing a nice job on the move, but mostly shining as a big popper for the ground game inside. He’s just athletic enough to move to tackle if needed.
8. WR Tim Crawley
Part running back, part receiver, part kick returner, Crawley does a little bit of everything. While he’s only 5-7 and 169 pounds, he’s able to run a bit with 326 career yards with two scores. Ultra-quick, he’s a midrange receiver making 57 grabs for 627 yards and three touchdowns, and he averages 20 yards per kickoff return. Really, really fast, and really, really good in the classroom, he really is a do-it-all performer. If he can hit a few home runs here and there, he’ll be exactly what the offense needs.
9. OT Nate Velichko
At 6-7 and 302 pounds, he has the NFL frame to go along with the skills – now he has to start filling out his frame a little bit. An interesting all-around blocker, he spent the first part of his career as a long, lean guard, and then moved over to right tackle. He’ll get a long look at left tackle in place of Wes Schweitzer with the talent to do what’s needed. With four starters returning, Velichko’s versatility will be one of the line’s biggest keys.
10. RB Thomas Tucker
Is he finally ready to roll? He was good as a freshman running for 338 yards and three scores, but he was hurt as a sophomore and didn’t see too much work as a junior with Tyler Ervin handling most of the work. He saw garbage time work finishing with just 159 yards and two touchdowns, but he has the skills to be the star back for the attack. At 5-10 and 202 pounds, he has more size than Ervin and can catch a little bit – he might be the team’s breakout star, if he can stay in one piece.