The top 10 UCF football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
DT Jamiyus Pittman, Jr.
Pittman was easily UCF’s best penetrator a year ago. The fact that he’s a 6-0, 300-pound interior lineman is both a credit to his explosiveness and an indictment of the team’s smaller defensive ends. Pittman moves well for his size, getting out of the blocks suddenly and maintaining his balance. In a junior year that was better than the raw number, he paced the team’s linemen with 45 stops, including seven behind the line and 4.5 sacks.
CB Shaquill Griffin, Sr.
UCF boasts a growing history for developing next-level defensive backs. Griffin has a chance to be the next Knight to play on Sundays. He laid the ground floor in 2015 by starting 11 games, two at safety and nine at corner, and posting 50 tackles, two interceptions and a Knight-high 13 pass breakups. Griffin’s size, 6-1 and 192 pounds, versatility and budding coverage skills make him an intriguing prospect entering the new season.
WR Tre’Quan Smith, Soph.
The Knights were pining for a new set of receivers last season. Smith, more than any other pass-catcher in Orlando, answered the call. Just an inexperienced redshirt freshman, with sketchy help from his quarterbacks, he led UCF with 52 catches for 724 yards and four touchdowns. It was the basis for league coaches to name the 6-1, 201-pound Smith the American Rookie of the Year for 2015.
LB Chequan Burkett, Jr.
The Knights needed a playmaking linebacker in 2015 following the graduations of Terrance Plummer and Troy Gray. Burkett stepped up and began to fill the void, starting all dozen games at outside linebacker. He’s a speedy 6-2, 228-pound athlete, with frenetic tendencies, tallying 56 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, three sacks, five hurries and two forced fumbles. Now, Burkett needs to settle down and reduce the number of missed tackles that plagued him last fall.
QB Justin Holman, Sr.
Someone is going to win the privilege of piloting Scott Frost’s new offense in Orlando. And while nothing is certain, Holman makes the most sense based on his experience and skill set. It’s been a rocky past two seasons for the 6-4, 213-pounder, who showed flashes in 2014 before bottoming out last year. Holman possesses the requisite athleticism Frost is seeking, but he’ll need to evolve beyond his 2014 passing stat line … 127-of-250 for 1,379 yards, seven touchdowns and 14 picks.
P Caleb Houston, Sr.
Nothing went right in Orlando in 2015. Nothing except the punting game. Houston has been the team’s top specialist since his redshirt freshman season, peaking last fall as a junior. Houston averaged 44.2 yards per punt and parked 28-of-65 boots inside the opponent’s 20-yard line to earn a spot on the All-AAC Second Team.
S Drico Johnson, Sr.
Johnson started just nine games in 2015, yet finished second on the team with 64 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage. It was easily the best effort of his UCF career, laying the groundwork for what ought to be another season in the lineup. Johnson’s biggest asset is his run support, bolstered by a solid 6-1, 207-pound frame.
TE Jordan Akins, Soph.
The ceiling is high for Akins. Unfortunately, an injury kept him from approaching that potential in 2015. Akins was a starter, catching 14 balls for 152 yards and two touchdowns, but he only last two games. Interestingly, he hasn’t played much football, spending his first few years after high school in the Texas Rangers farm system. But now that he’s focused on being a Knight, his athleticism and balls skills at 6-3 and 237 pounds could create interesting possibilities in the new offense.
OT Aaron Evans, Jr.
The O-line in Orlando is a serious work in progress that’ll require time. Evans figures to be a part of the rebuilding process after being the only Knight to start all 12 games on offense in 2015. Evans has the right size, 6-5 and 290 pounds, to protect the pocket from left tackle, and should continue to improve now that he has a full season of snaps in the vault.
S Tre Neal, Soph.
Neal made the trek from scout team standout in 2014 to key contributor a year ago. In his initial season of action, the 6-1, 200-pound Georgian started five games at strong safety and ranked fourth on the Knights with 55 tackles. The new staff is hoping that Neal continues to blossom this fall into a more complete and consistent defensive back.