The top 10 Colorado State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. LB Kevin Davis
Part of the rotation in his first few seasons, Davis turned into the main man on the weak side by leading the team with 101 tackles, three sacks and 14 tackles for loss with a pick. A very smart, very active defender with 6-3, 240-pound size and great range, he’s the right all-around prospect and talent. Steady throughout the year, Davis came up with 13 tackles against Boise State, 12 against Fresno State and 11 against Minnesota – he gets all over the field.
2. QB Nick Stevens
Hardly a rock-solid lock to return to the starting gig, Stevens will have to battle it out a bit with other good options around. However, he showed late last season just how good and how valuable he can be, throwing for over 200 yards in nine games, topping out with a 310-yard day against Nevada in the bowl loss. Now he has to be a bit more consistent, throwing for under 100 yards three times, including the losses to Minnesota and Boise State, and he has to keep the picks to a minimum.
On the year, he completed 61% of his throws for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, with eight of the picks coming in four of the losses. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, the Second Team All-Mountain West performer has good size and a nice arm, and he can get in from close range running for three scores.
3. OG Fred Zerblis
Even with four starters back up front, he’s the leader and main man, even at right guard. The team’s all-star lineman has been a rock for the last few years, earning All-Mountain West honors the last few years as a key run blocker with the reliability to run behind on key downs. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, he has good size, nice bulk, and he’s quick, doing a great job on the move and with the power and versatility to work at center.
4. P Hayden Hunt
While he’s not all that big at 5-11 and 220 pounds, he’s got a huge leg that averaged 45 yards per kick two years ago, with 34 of them going for over 50 yards. Last year he was even better, earning all-star honors averaging 46 yards per kick putting 24 inside the 20. As good as any punter in the nation over the last three years with great hang time and consistent placement, he’s a difference-maker who’s been a key weapon for the Ram defense.
5. RB Dalyn Dawkins
There were several options in the backfield, but the 5-9, 175-pound Louisville native and former Purdue Boilermaker stood out from the pack leading the team with 867 yards and two scores, while catching 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. While he’s not a grinder or a workhorse, he’s ultra-quick, averaging over five yards per carry and doing dangerous things whenever he gets his chance. He ran for over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks against Wyoming and UNLV – combining for 291 yards with plenty of big plays – and now he’ll be the first option.
6. QB Faton Bauta
You don’t transfer to Colorado State unless you think you can start. The 6-3, 215-pound dual-threat option was never really able to make it happen at Georgia, getting a few chances here and there but not doing anything when it was his time. Thrown in as a curveball starter against Florida, he completed 15-of-33 passes for 154 yards and four interceptions, and only ran three times for four yards. No, he’s not the most polished passer, but he’s a different type of option with the tools and the athleticism to see time here and there. At the very least, he’ll be a terrific backup option and should provide a little competition.
7. LB Deonte Clyburn
The thumper in the linebacking corps, the 6-1, 230-pound Clyburn only started for just over half the season, but still finished seventh on the team with 74 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Good in the rotation early on, he was in on just about everything after he took over, making 21 tackles over a two game span against Air Force and San Diego State, and with 12 coming against UNLV. Able to play inside or out, he could turn into a pass rusher on the outside if needed, or take over in the middle – he’s built for any linebacker spot.
8. WR Xavier Williams
The Colorado State receiving corps has been totally and completely depleted, with Rashard Higgins and the top four pass catchers gone, and now it’s up to Williams to be the top target – or at least give it a shot. The 6-4, 215-pounder out of San Diego caught 19 passes for 231 yards and two scores, averaging over 12 yards per catch, in just seven games. He suffered a back injury and missed the last four games, and now he has to be 100%, joining Jordon Vaden to shine to make the passing game go.
9. LB Kiel Robinson
The team’s sixth-leading tackler worked on the strong side, making 40 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He’s not all that big at 6-2 and 225 pounds, but he moves fluidly and can turn into a pass rush when needed. While he only started in eight games, and didn’t do much of anything five games, he has to become a stat sheet filler on a rebuilding front seven.
10. CB Tyree Simmons
The only returning starter in the secondary, the 5-11, 185-pound veteran has been a nice open-field tacklers and a good all-around defender over his first three seasons. Very quick and extremely tough for his size, 81 of his 108 career tackles were solo stops, and he’s grown into the team’s top cover-corner with four picks over the last two seasons and with 17 broken up passes for his career.