The top 10 SMU football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
WR Courtland Sutton, Soph.
How was Sutton missed on the All-AAC Team? Sure, the Mustangs were feeble, but No. 16 overcame his surroundings and his lack of experience to catch 49 passes for 862 yards and nine scores. True, he had a quiet November, but so did his quarterback. It’s early, of course, but Sutton has many of the tools of a future pro—excellent ball skills and the 6-4, 215-pound size to box out defenders and drag them for additional yards. Sutton is a Big 12-caliber receiver playing against Group of Five competition.
QB Matt Davis, Sr.
Following stops at Texas A&M and Tyler (Tex.) Junior College, Davis finally found a home on the Hilltop. And in many ways, his athleticism was a good fit for Chad Morris’ offense. Davis led the Ponies in rushing, scrambling for 1,111 pre-sack yards and 10 touchdowns. It’s as a passer that Morris hopes to see more growth from his senior. Davis completed 183-of-336 passes for 2,263 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven, and really labored through the air in the final few weeks.
DE Justin Lawler, Jr.
If only this defense had a few more players like Lawler. As a sophomore, he did the improbable for a defensive lineman, leading his team in tackles. Lawler made 64 stops from end, including nine for minus yards and five sacks. He moves very well laterally for a 6-4, 257-pounder, and his trajectory toward the end of 2015 indicates a fast start could be in the offing this September.
RB Xavier Jones, Soph.
Jones began his first season out of Spring (Tex.) High School on the bench. He ended it as the program’s running back of the future. Jones led the team’s back with 634 yards and 10 scores on 152 carries, while also catching 27 passes for 214 yards. He’s a quick and durable 5-10, 193-pounder who’ll has a 1,000-yard ceiling now that the staff is even more committed to running the ball.
CB Horace Richardson, Sr.
If Richardson could ever stay healthy, he might be exactly what SMU needs to help solidify the secondary. Unfortunately, injuries have followed him throughout his career, limiting him to seven games in 2015. Richardson played well in half a season, making 21 stops, two picks and five passes defended. And at 6-0 and 195 pounds, he has the size to body up receivers to neutralize them. Fingers are crossed that this is the year Richardson can survive from wire to wire.
S Darrion Millines, Sr.
Richardson is one of the team’s most experienced players, having started 22 games over the last two seasons. He has the know-how and the muscle, standing 6-0 and 202 pounds. Now, he needs to be better in coverage after allowing too many receivers to get behind him. In only 10 games, Richardson was third on the team with 53 tackles, but his role in the secondary must involve providing better support for the corners.
LB Kyran Mitchell, Soph.
Built like a safety, hits like a linebacker. Mitchell is a good fit for the Mustangs’ hybrid STAR position. The 6-0, 200-pound riser missed the final month of the season with a serious injury, yet still finished fourth on the team with 40 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. With a better feel for his position and his role, Mitchell is banking on delivering more money plays in his second season … assuming he can return to health in time for the opener.
OT Chad Pursley, Soph.
The SMU O-line struggled last season. Out of that uncertainty, though, Pursley stood out as an exception in his rookie season. The former three-star recruit started nine games at left tackle, bringing a degree of consistency to pass protection down the stretch. Sure, there’s plenty of room for growth—and muscle—but the 6-4, 280-pound Pursley’s career is off to a promising start.
TE Jeremiah Gaines, Sr.
Gaines has a knack for finding the end zone, so the Mustangs hope to use him a little more in his senior season. June Jones failed to maximize the ability of the 6-2, 255-pounder, an athletic former hoops star. However, under Chad Morris Gaines caught 16 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns. And even bigger numbers are expected from the tight end position this fall.
NT Mason Gentry, Jr.
Gentry looks the part, 6-6 and 305 pounds. That’s never been the problem. But now he needs to begin turning that physical ability into production. Gentry started all 12 games a season ago, yet his output slipped to just 19 tackles and a pair of stops for loss. This defense, which has so much to prove in 2016, will be looking for No. 93 to take the next step in his development.