The top 10 Tulane football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
DT Tanzel Smart, Sr.
Smart registered the necessary numbers to be voted on to the All-AAC First Team. But numbers alone don’t even begin to portray the work ethic and dedication of Tulane’s premier player. The 6-1, 304-pound Smart moves well for his size. If he didn’t, there’s no way an interior lineman could amass 62 stops, 15 tackles for loss and two sacks. However, his rare makeup and thirst for greatness leaves an impression on the Green Wave even when games aren’t being played.
LB Nico Marley, Sr.
At 5-10 and 208 pounds, Marley doesn’t stack up by the usual measuring stick. But Tulane is thrilled to have him for one more season. Bob Marley’s grandson is compact, fast … and never far from the ball. The three-year starter is an impact player, even if he misses some tackles and can occasionally be a liability versus the pass. Fueled by boundless energy and know-how, Marley collected a team-high 82 tackles and 13 stops for loss to earn First Team All-AAC.
RB Dontrell Hilliard, Jr.
Someone is going to benefit from the philosophical shift to a ground-and-pound offensive attack. That someone might be Hilliard, who led the Green Wave with 646 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 115 carries a season ago. The 5-11, 195-pounder won’t drag tacklers, but he hits the hole quickly, runs with good vision and is effective out of the backfield as well. Hilliard is also Tulane’s second-leading returning receiver after catching 23 passes for 267 yards and a score.
OG Chris Taylor, Sr.
Taylor will begin his third season as a starter with a very good chance of earning all-league honors. He took a big step toward that goal in 2015 by starting a dozen games at right guard and creating running room for the Green Wave backs. At a powerful 6-3 and 320 pounds, Taylor has the size and strength to become a cornerstone blocker for a program committed to pounding down opponents’ throats this fall.
FS Jarrod Franklin, Jr.
Franklin was one of Tulane’s breakout stars of 2015. Now, he’ll look to build his career at a new position. As an undersized strongside linebacker, the 6-1, 208-pounder from Baton Rouge tied for second on the team with 74 tackles. This season, Franklin will have an opportunity to move back a level, where his size actually becomes a plus and his athletic ability can be used over a wider area of the field.
CB Parry Nickerson, Jr.
Nickerson’s takeaway production plummeted in 2015, so he’ll be looking to recapture his Freshman All-American form of two years ago. To be fair, opposing quarterbacks targeted him less. Still, the precocious 6-0, 182-pounder was unquestionably more vulnerable through the air in his second season. After making 46 stops, eight pass breakups and not a single interception, Nickerson will be operating with a sense of purpose in 2016.
NT Sean Wilson, Jr.
The Green Wave will have plenty of holes this fall. Defensive tackle won’t be one of them. Wilson only started five games in 2015, but he made an impression when the opportunities came. Small and explosive at 6-3 and 271 pounds, he was a handful for opposing blockers trying to plug the gaps. In a table-setting sophomore year, Wilson notched 29 stops, including six for minus yards and a pair of sacks.
DE Ade Aruna, Jr.
Aruna is determined to hold on to his starting job by impressing an entirely new coaching staff. In 2015, he was employed more as a pass rusher than a run stopper, resulting in 32 tackles, five stops for loss and three sacks. The 6-5, 241-pound native of Nigeria harbors all of the necessary measurables to blossom. But now Aruna needs to put it all together and sharpen the finer points of his game.
LB Eric Thomas, Jr.
Thomas cleaned up a lot of messes for the Green Wave D in his first season as a starter. From middle linebacker, he was fourth on the team with 67 tackles, 7.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. At just 5-11 and 243 pounds, he can be a liability in pass defense. But against the run, Thomas is a stout defender, with the strength and low center of gravity to stand up to bigger opponents.
TE Charles Jones, Jr.
Under Willie Fritz, Tulane won’t throw nearly as much as in the past. But when it does, Jones ought to be the target, especially since last year’s two best wide receivers are no longer with the program. Six of the tight end’s 38 career receptions have resulted in touchdowns, so he has a nose for the goal line. And at 6-4 and 234 pounds, Jones also has the size-speed combination to create mismatches with opposing linebackers.