The top 10 Baylor football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. QB Seth Russell
Needing neck surgery isn’t compatible with playing football, but Russell is trying to come back from a season-ending injury to get back on the statistical superstar track. The 6-3, 210-pounder was a good recruit for the program with athleticism and rushing ability to go along with his size and passing skills. He showed it all off over his seven games, throwing for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and six picks, while rushing for 402 yards and six touchdowns before going down.
The big question mark is his accuracy, completing close to 60%, but only hitting half his passes in the opener against SMU and connecting on 16-of-37 throws in his final game against Iowa State, but that’s nitpicking. Three of those six interceptions didn’t matter in the win over Lamar, and he led the offense to 60+ points in every game but the 56-21 opener against SMU, and he was looking like he was just gearing up. Now he has to get healthy and be back to form – he won’t have long late this summer to get back into his groove.
2. WR KD Cannon
Is he the program’s next superstar receiver? He certainly looked the part at times as the No. 2 guy on the other side of Corey Coleman, finishing second on the team with 50 catches for 868 yards and six touchdowns, averaging over 17 yards per catch. He hit Oklahoma State for 210 yards and two scores and went for 108 yards and a score against Kansas State, showing off the flash of his freshman season catching 58 passes for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. At 6-0 and 180 pounds Cannon isn’t huge, but he’s got track star speed and the makeup to be the go-to guy.
3. C Kyle Fuller
The star anchor of an inexperienced line, Fuller might be the nation’s best center. Extremely smart, very quick, and ultra-consistent, he started every game in the middle over the last two seasons on the way to an All-Big 12 season. At 6-5 and 310 pounds, he’s got the bulk, he can get physical, and he’s got next-level upside.
4. RB Shock Linwood
It only seems like he’s been around for forever. The 5-9, 200-pound veteran is compact, and built to cut on a dime and get through the interior. With deep speed that translates to plenty of big plays, he followed up a 1,252-yard, 16 touchdown sophomore season with 1,329 yards and 10 scores despite missing the bowl game against North Carolina thanks to a broken foot. Linwood doesn’t do much for the passing game, but that’s not his role – he’s the reliable 20-carry workhorse who balances out the attack.
5. RB Johnny Jefferson
Jefferson took over a bigger role late in the season as Shock Linwood was winding down, and he showed what he could do running for 158 yards against Texas and rolling against North Carolina for 299 yards and three scores averaging 13 yards per carry. On the year, the 5-10, 205-pounder took off for 1,000 yards and eight scores, mostly as a No. 2 option. Now he’ll get even more work – he’s too good not to be more involved. An elite athlete, he’s a more dangerous home-run hitter than Linwood, but he doesn’t bring as much power.
6. S Travon Blanchard
Arguably the team’s best defender, the 6-2, 210-pound nickel back has the ideal build for a safety, but he’s used at times like a linebacker filling a variety of roles. A good do-it-all reserve as a freshman, he was fantastic last season finishing second on the team with 83 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with two picks. He’s more of a natural linebacker than a defensive back – with 14 tackles against Oklahoma and ten against Iowa State – but he’s quick enough to be an intimidator in the secondary.
7. LB Taylor Young
The team’s third-leading tackler, he’s not all that big, just 5-10 and 225 pounds, but he can get behind the line making 80 tackles with four sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. While Young can get shoved a bit, when he’s in space he can fly around and make plenty of stops, coming up with 11 tackles against Oklahoma and ten against both Texas and Iowa State. Also terrific as a freshman, he started out his career with four sacks and 92 tackles – he’s going to be one of the team’s leading playmakers again as well as the leader of a strong linebacking corps from the weak side.
8. S Orion Stewart
An all-star level 6-2, 200-pound safety, he only came up with one pick, but made 64 tackles despite missing three games. A bigger performer as a sophomore with 81 tackles, he’s a solid veteran who doesn’t miss stops, but he needs to make more big plays. He came up with four picks two years ago and did more when the ball was in the air, but that’s not always his job. As long as he’s holding up against the run, he’s doing what the defense needs.
9. DT Jeremy Faulk
The Bears needed a talented option for the nose, and they got one from the JUCO ranks. The 6-2, 295-pound Faulk might not be as big or as strong as Andrew Billings was, but the former Florida Atlantic Owl is quick, with the potential to be more than just a run-stuffer in the interior. While he’s strong enough to work over center, he can move around a bit depending on the alignment.
10. S Chance Waz
The 6-0, 185-pound junior stepped up as a sophomore coming up with 70 tackles with three broken up passes as a solid-tackling, sure-hitting safety. He’s not all that big, and he might not come up with the huge pops against the run, but he’s got cornerback athleticism and quickness getting all over the field as one of the team’s steadier defenders.