The top 10 Ball State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. LB Sean Wiggins, Sr.
Can the 6-3, 228-pound outside linebacker take his game up a few notches? He was one of the few bright spots on a woeful defense, earning First Team All-MAC honors making 95 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Steady, he came up with ten stops in three straight late season games and nine or more in five of his first six games – he doesn’t miss many tackles. While he’s not a natural pass rusher, he has the burst and the ability to be more dangerous in his final season. The Cardinals need a playmaker in the backfield, and he can be just that.
2. QB Riley Neal, Soph.
Very tall with a good arm and nice mobility, the 6-5, 217-pound sophomore has to build on a strong first season. He took over early on finishing with 2,276 yards and 16 touchdowns with just six picks, completing 58% of his passes, but he didn’t really turn it loose. He showed flashes of potential greatness – completing 24-of-28 passes for 194 yards and a score against Eastern Michigan – and he showed he can be dangerous on his midrange throws. Can he start pushing it deep more? With 399 rushing yards and two scores, and the passing skills, he could grow into one of the MAC’s better stars – if he gets the starting job. Nothing is promised to anyone under the new coaching staff.
3. FS Martez Hester, Sr.
With 6-3, 207-pound size and state champion-level track speed, he has raw tools. Now he has the experience after spending three years in the Cardinal defense. The big problem has been his ability against the pass – he hasn’t done enough to make things happen when the ball is in the air. However, he can hit, making 78 tackles with 11 stops against Northwestern and 13 against Central Michigan. It’ll be his job to grow into the star of the veteran secondary.
4. RB Darian Green, Jr.
The smallish 5-8, 176-pound speedster led the way with 730 yards and five touchdowns averaging just over five yards per pop, and caught 14 passes for 84 yards and a score. Just as dangerous was his kick return ability averaging almost 26 yards per pop using his shiftiness and speed to be one of the team’s most dangerous weapons. He might have been inconsistent running the ball, but he had his moment running for three touchdowns in the opener against VMI and 164 against Eastern Michigan, but he only had the one 100-yard game. That’ll change this year. Really, really fast, he’s too dangerous not to have the ball in his hands more.
5. DE Joshua Posley, Sr.
Built like a big linebacker, or a stocky defensive end, the former Cincinnati Bearcat turned in a nice first year with the Cardinals making 58 tackles with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. While he was just okay against the run, he was a steady producer for a line that needed lots of help. Can he start to get to the quarterback after coming up with just one sack over the final ten games? Can he be more explosive? As the likely main man up front, he has to be the one who makes offensive coordinators scared.
6. LB Zack Ryan, Sr.
A terrific veteran, he started out his career on fire making 92 tackles in his first year and 91 to follow with 14 tackles for loss in the two years. He didn’t really have a down season, but he came up with 67 stops in 2015 as the fourth leading tackler with ten stops against Texas A&M and a steady season throughout. Good, tough, and experienced in the middle, he should be back to around the 90-stop mark and should be able to attack into the backfield a bit more. While he doesn’t need things funneled his way, he’ll get plenty of work on the inside and should be an all-star against the run.
7. RB James Gilbert, Soph.
A wee bit bigger than Darian Green, but not as fast, the 5-8, 191-pounder got on the field right away as a freshman running for 608 yards and eight touchdowns in a great start to his career. He didn’t hit the 100-yard mark, he only caught three passes, and he scored five of his touchdowns in the first three games, but he was still strong for around 12 carries a game. He didn’t explode enough, but he became a good enough No. 2 back to start getting the ball more.
8. WR/PR Corey Lacanaria, Jr.
Good as a receiver, the 5-8, 165-pound junior caught 45 passes for 376 yards and two scores highlighted by a ten-catch, 72-yard, one score day against Central Michigan. However, he didn’t explode, didn’t come up with too many big plays, and averaged just 8.4 yards per catch. He saved his pop for his return game averaging 10.45 yards per punt return showing off his impressive speed and quickness.
9. PK Morgan Hagee, Soph.
Hagee solved a problem right away with a good freshman season hitting 16-of-21 field goals including six straight to start the year. He didn’t show off a huge leg – he missed the one try from more than 50 yards and hit 2-of-5 tries from beyond 40 – but for a team that needed scoring, he was ultra-reliable connecting on 14-of-15 shots from inside 40.
10. SS Dedrick Cromartie, Jr.
While he might not be all that big at just 5-10 and 179 pounds, and he might not be all that physical, he isn’t afraid to get around the ball making 63 tackles. He’s a smallish strong safety with the athleticism to play just about anywhere in the secondary, but he needs to do more with the ball in the air breaking up just two passes with a pick. As a last line of defense, though, against the run, he does a good job coming up with ten tackles in the season finale against Bowling Green and doing a decent job overall.