The top 10 UNLV football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. WR Devonte Boyd
An okay recruit who started out his career as a grayshirt, he shocked a wee bit as a freshman catching 64 passes for 973 yards and four scores. Could he possibly keep up the pace as a sophomore? He made 54 grabs for 904 yards and seven touchdowns with a new coaching staff to deal with.
The 6-1, 175-pounder isn’t going to do much to fight for the ball or get physical, but he’s slippery and knows how to get open. Even though he’s more consistent than a deep ball playmaker, he still averaged 16.74 yards per grab, blowing up over the second half of the season with four 100-yard games in the final five highlighted by a 10-catch, 116-yard day against Boise State.
2. C Will Kreitler
The anchor of a veteran line, he grew into the position coming in from the JUCO ranks. He’s built with a low center of gravity at just 6-0 and 300 pounds, generating great leverage and pad level – he doesn’t have much of a choice at his size. Even so, he’s good enough to earn all-star mention after earning All-America honors a Scottsdale CC. A great get for the program, he was exactly what the line needed.
3. LB Tau Lotulelei
The Hawaii native came into his own as a sophomore making 100 tackles with three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, but he slipped last season – missing a few games hurt – making 70 stops with three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss including a 12-tackle game against Hawaii. At 6-1 and 235 pounds, the veteran can play on the inside, but he’s at his best on the weak side with the ability to roam free and deliver the big pop. Really smart and really aggressive, he’s the ideal leader for the defense.
4. LB Ryan McAleenan
While he’s a bit smallish at 6-2 and 220 pounds, McAlleenan can still handle himself in the middle. Built more like a big safety, he came up with a team-leading 86 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss as a steadier defender more than a sensational one, but he came up with a big moment in the 23-17 win over Nevada making a key 52-yard pick six. The former San Jose State Spartan went the JUCO route to UNLV, and now he’s on the verge of all-star status.
5. QB Johnny Stanton
One of the Mountain West’s most interesting transfers, Nebraska’s version of Johnny Football was supposed to be the answer for the Husker offense, but the star recruit out of California didn’t work out in his two years in Lincoln. The 6-2, 245-pounder is a big, strong, athletic option, going to Saddleback College before showing up in Las Vegas. Build like a linebacker, and able to lift like one, he’s a good passer and a Tebow-like bulldozer of a runner expected to transform the offense. No pressure – just take over the program.
6. WR Kendal Keys
It’s hard to get too much attention in the receiving corps with Devante Boyd leading the way, but Keys stood out at times with 43 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-4, 200-pounder is a bigger presence than Boyd, but he’s still able to come up with the deep play and a few big moments. Three of his touchdowns came against Colorado State, and five of his scores came in the last three games setting up a huge 2016 if he gets consistent quarterback play.
7. RB Lexington Thomas
A smallish 5-9 and 165-pound speed back, Thomas made an impact as a true freshman season running for 5-6 yards and three touchdowns, averaging over six yards per carry while catching ten passes for 100 yards. Also a dangerous kick returner, he averaged close to 21 yards per try, even though he was never quite able to break free. The talent and quickness are there to be a weapon, but he needs to get the ball in his hands more.
8. CB Torry McTyer
Fifth on the team in tackles, and also one of the team’s best playmakers on the ball, McTyer came up with 51 tackles and ten broken up passes, doing a great job in the open field with an attacking, aggressive style. Good enough to be wanted by Cal – where he was originally going to go – he’s great hitter for his 6-0, 180-pound size with the quickness to be a kick returner if needed. While he needs to start picking off the ball more, he’s proving to be more than just a speedy option on the outside – he can do it pop in run support.
9. OT Kyle Saxelid
A key returning starter to the O line last year, he was the main man at left tackle doing a nice job for an offense that improved as the year went on. At 6-7 and 290 pounds he has a good frame and can move a little bit, with an aggressive style who attacks well and can get after his man as a pass protector – now he has to be better at it. The line allowed 33 sacks last season, but he’s a veteran who should shine with improvement around him.
10. QB Kurt Palandech
Don’t just give the job to Johnny Stanton quite yet. The 6-2, 185-pound former JUCO transfer got his shot last season, but he failed to complete half his passes. He hit 49% of his throws for 794 yards and nine scores with five interceptions, and ran 293 yards and four touchdowns. Just 6-2 and 185 pounds, he’s not all that big, but he’s a quick baller with a decent arm.