The top 10 Houston football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
QB Greg Ward Jr., Sr.
Ward is the latest in a long line of prolific Houston passers. But unlike his predecessors, he can obliterate defenses with his feet as well as his arm. Ward hit his stride under head coach Tom Herman, gradually blossoming as a passer. It’s as a runner, though, that he’s at his scary best. Despite a painful ankle injury late in the season, the 5-11, 185-pound playmaker still rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. Plus, he made certain defenses couldn’t ignore his quick release, completing 232-of-345 passes for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
LB Steve Taylor, Sr.
Taylor is the quintessential Houston linebacker—not very big, but extremely oppressive and disruptive. The senior roams the field as if shot from a cannon, racking up 92 tackles, 18.5 stops behind the line and team-highs with 10 sacks and 12 hurries. Despite being just 6-1 and 225 pounds, Taylor packs a punch in the open field and rarely misses tackles. He’ll be a sideline to sideline wrecking ball for one more year for the Cougars.
DT B.J. Singleton, Sr.
Numbers will never define Singleton, the Cougars’ rock in the middle of the 3-4. It’s on film that he shines. He registered a pedestrian 20 stops and two stops for loss a season ago. But his ability to eat up blocks allows Houston’s more athletic defenders to clean up the messes and shift momentum. All-AAC voters did not overlook the 6-4, 314-pound Singleton who earned a spot on the second team.
CB Brandon Wilson, Sr.
Houston’s entry for the Paul Hornung Award contributed on offense, defense and special teams last season. Testament to his versatility and athleticism, Jackson scored six touchdowns, one on a pick, one on a fumble recovery, two on kick returns … and a pair as a running back after the Cougar backfield was depleted by injuries. Now that three all-star defensive backs have graduated, the 5-11, 200-pound Wilson is being counted to be the stalwart of the rebuilt secondary.
RB Duke Catalon, Soph.
Catalon is nothing if not timely. The Texas transfer chose his next stop wisely, a Cougar program moving forward without last year’s three best running backs. Unless he slips up between now and the opener, Catalon will get a chance to be the feature back of one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses. Three years ago, the 6-0, 210-pounder was a consensus four-star recruit and one of Charlie Strong’s first class.
WR Chance Allen, Sr.
Leading receiver Demarcus Ayers left school early, leaving a hole in the passing game that Allen plans to fill. In his first season since transferring from Oregon, Allen finished second on the team with 56 catches for 752 yards and six touchdowns, including two against a very good Florida State secondary. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he has the rare size that the Cougars will want to employ, especially on jump balls near the end zone.
LB Tyus Bowser, Sr.
Bowser is a natural pass rusher, an ideal fit at outside linebacker in the Cougar 3-4 defensive alignment. He’s quick off the snap and even quicker to the backfield, notching career-highs with 50 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and 5.5 sacks a season ago. The 6-3, 240-pound Bowser is at his best in space, either as a rusher or dropping back into coverage, but can struggle at times when teams run directly at him.
C Will Noble, Soph.
The Cougars feel they have their center for the next three seasons. Noble cracked the lineup midway through his first year out of Rouse (Tex.) High School and authored a Freshman All-American debut. He’s a quick learner, with the requisite intellect to lead from the pivot. Noble has had a good offseason in the weight room, adding more muscle to reach 6-4 and 290 pounds.
DE Cameron Malveaux, Sr.
Malveaux is flush in untapped potential. And if he fulfills that potential this fall, it’s going to capture the attention of NFL scouts. Malveaux possesses the requisite size, 6-6 and 270 pounds, with the long arms to swim past opposing tackles and bat down balls. He showed flashes in 2015, making 33 stops, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The goal this salary run year is to showcase more big plays and overall consistency.
LB Matthew Adams, Jr.
Adams is poised to pick up where Elandon Roberts left off in 2015, and the Cougars wouldn’t have it any other way. Adams is the prototypical inside linebacker in Houston, undersized at 6-0 and 230 pounds, yet eager to play the game hard and fast. In 2015, he chipped in with 49 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and two sacks. If the offseason so far is any indication, the Missouri City, Tex. native could be hit 100 stops and contend for all-league recognition.