The top 10 Nevada football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. RB James Butler
Part of the two-headed running back monster to go along with Don Jackson, Butler ended up leading the team with 1,345 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He’s not much of a receiver, but when he was on as a runner, he was unstoppable at times with eight 100-yard games highlighted by a 189-yard, two-score day against Colorado State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. At 5-10 and 210 pounds, the former JUCO transfer is built to handle the load with good toughness and the one-cut ability to take a hole and blow up through it in the Pistol attack. He’s not going to be alone now that Jackson is gone, but he’ll carry more of the load.
2. S Dameon Baber
The All-Mountain West performer was fantastic right out of the blocks, finishing fourth on the team with 65 tackles at free safety after not starting the first three games. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, he’s a huge thumper, but he has good size and a great nose for the ball, picking off two of his six interceptions on the year in his first game against Buffalo with three against Fresno State. He could play anywhere in the secondary – he could bulk up a bit and see time at strong safety if needed, and he could work as a corner in a pinch. As is, he’s going to be an all-star safety again with the range to keep coming up with big plays.
3. QB Tyler Stewart
Stewart had big shoes to fill taking over for Cody Fajardo, the 6-4, 220-pounder did a decent job running the attack, but he can do far more. While he might not be the runner Stewart is, he was still able to take off for 322 yards and four scores and getting on the move when needed. The rushing part of the fun is handled by the great backs, and Stewart handled the passing game well completing 57% of his throws for 2,139 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven picks.
Consistency was a bit of a problem, not throwing a touchdown pass in his final three games, and he completing fewer than half of his passes over the span, but he had a few huge moments throughout the year – completing 16-of-19 passes with two scores against New Mexico – but he has to connect around 60% his throws and get the deep ball going a bit more.
4. PK Brent Zuzo
The All-Mountain West performer connected on 17-of-19 field goals with his two misses coming from beyond 50 yards. A 52-yarder against Wyoming and a 50-yarder against San Jose State didn’t work, but that was it. He nailed everything else under 50 yards. While Zuzo has a nice leg, he tops out at around 45 yards – his longest make last season came from 47.
5. TE Jarred Gipson
The longtime starter earned all-star honors in each of the last two seasons, he caught 33 passes as a sophomore and followed it up with 19 grabs for 247 yards and five scores. The 6-1, 240-pounder is built more like a fullback, and he can block like one doing a great job of providing the key pop to spring the backs. With the hands and the experience, he can be used more as a third-down receiving option and can start stretching the field.
6. OT Austin Corbett
At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he’s a big left tackle who can move. He runs well and he’s the right blocker for the offense, doing a great job in space and being the anchor who can spring the big play on the outside. A leader on and off the field, he’s an All-Mountain West blocker with the upside to be among the team’s most important cogs to handle a line with four starters back up front.
7. WR Jerico Richardson
The team’s leading receiver caught 68 passes for 750 yards and five scores, averaging 11 yards per grab – and ran for a one-yard touchdown. At 5-11 and 190 pounds he has decent size as a solid, proven midrange target over the past few years. Consistent, he topped out with nine catches for 121 yards and a score against New Mexico. With a good receiving corps returning, to go along with quarterback Tyler Stewart back, Richardson should shine. The offense must be better at getting him the ball on the move.
8. SS Asauni Rufus
The team’s leading tackler, Rufus came up with 105 stops with a pick in his redshirt freshman campaign. At 6-0 and 190 pounds, he has decent size with the range to play either safety spot. He started out with a bang making 22 stops in his first two games, and came up with 13 tackles against Utah State seemingly getting in on every play. A leader who plays a mature game, he’s going to start being better against the pass while also acting like a smallish linebacker against the run. This year, he’ll get All-Mountain West honors if he does what he did in 2015.
9. WR Hasaan Henderson
At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Henderson is like a thin tight end as much as he’s a big receiver, getting over an injury that knocked him out in 2014 to catch 52 passes for 741 yards and four scores. A nice, consistent receiver, Henderson was good for around three grabs a game with five catches for 136 yards against Fresno State and eight grabs for 112 yards against Wyoming. Combining with Jerico Richardson, Henderson should improve the passing game.
10. P Alex Boy
An all-star as a sophomore, averaging 44.3 yards per kick, Boy came back with a solid junior season coming up with 42 yards per kick putting 18 inside the 20. The 6-3, 200-pound former walk-on has a big leg with outstanding hang time. A key part of Nevada’s defense in terms of field position, he’s fantastic at flipping the field with 11 of his kicks going over 50 yards with just four touchbacks.