The top 10 Kansas football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. S Fish Smithson, Sr.
For good and for bad, the former JUCO transfer turned into the Big 12’s leader in tackles per game. Texas Tech’s Micah Awe finished with more total stops, but Smithson – who missed one game – was the only player in the league to average more than ten tackles per game finishing with 111 on the year. Thanks to a porous defensive front – and with so many Big 12 teams throwing the ball – Smithson had plenty of opportunities, coming up with double-digit tackles in eight games including the last six he played in. At 5-11 and 201 pounds, he’s got the right size and the all-star smarts to be a leader who’s always in the right spot. He might not make enough plays when the ball is in the air, but he’s too busy trying to do everything else.
2. LB Joe Dineen, Jr.
The best of a solid linebacking corps, Dineen started out his career as a running back before finding a home on the defensive side. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, he’s a compact hitter who’s still learning on the fly and now should be far more consistent. Smart, he earned academic all-star honors, and he proved he could hold down the job finishing second on the team with 86 tackles with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Once he settled in, he was all over the run with 27 tackles in a two-game stretch late against TCU and West Virginia. He’ll be a double-digit stop machine.
3. LB Marcquis Roberts, Sr.
The transfer from South Carolina stepped up right away. He made 79 tackles for the Gamecocks before moving to Kansas, and last year he was terrific at times on the outside of an awful defense, finishing third on the team with 71 tackles with a sack. Athletic with 6-1, 233-pound size, he has the potential to be used more as a pass rusher if needed, and he can make things happen in pass coverage taking a pick 83 yards for a touchdown against Iowa State.
4. QB Ryan Willis, Soph.
Is he going to be able to keep the job and keep Montell Cozart on the sidelines? Thrown to the wolves as a freshman when nothing else was working, the 6-4, 211-pound passer started to look like the solid prospect he was expected to be. He couldn’t lead the way to a win, but he led the team with 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns with ten interceptions. But even with all his problems in his true freshman season, and with all his wild inconsistencies, he showed the potential to be the quarterback the team needs once the rest of the parts are in place. He’s got the arm, and he’s got the poise. If he can be a better decision-maker in time, he’ll start putting up big numbers.
5. RB Ke’aun Kinner, Sr.
The team desperately needed something positive to build around, and Kinner did what he could coming from the JUCO ranks. A feisty 5-9, 191-pound runner who can catch a little bit, he’s a workhorse who can take a pounding and handle anything that comes his way. The team’s leading rusher came up with 566 yards and five scores, averaging 4.22 yards per carry, to go along with 16 catches for 147 yards. He started out the season with 157 yards against South Dakota State and followed it up with 113 yards against Memphis, and he didn’t score over the final nine games. Now he needs the ball more.
6. DT Daniel Wise, Soph.
A freshman All-American, he was one of the positives on the defensive front coming up with 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in a spot-starting role. A decent prospect for the program, he was a good get who should turn into an anchor and a key part over the next few years. At 6-3 and 290 pounds, he’s got decent size and showed off the quickness to be a factor in the interior as he gets more experience, and more help around him.
7. TE Ben Johnson, Jr.
The receiving corps should be better this year and Johnson won’t have to be the main man for the passing game, but he could be if needed. At 6-5 and 245 pounds, he’s a good-sized blocker with nice hands and the athleticism to be like a big wideout at times. He only caught 13 passes for 115 yards, and was an afterthought late in the year, but there’s enough talent to become a key midrange part of an improving puzzle.
8. FB Michael Zunica, Sr.
One of the solid parts of a struggling offense, the 5-11, 231-pound former linebacker moved over from the defensive side and turned into a tough guy for the ground game. He didn’t get any carries, and he made only one tackle in his time on defense, but with his build and his strength, he’s a protector who earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors.
9. OT Clyde McCauley III, Soph.
Can McCauley grow into the left tackle the offense so desperately needs? At 6-5 and 307 pounds he’s got nice size, and he can move a little bit, but he was a turnstile a bit too often when he got his chance on the outside. He worked a little as an extra lineman/tight end, and he only started a few games, but with his athleticism and his size, he’ll get every chance to grow into a role.
10. P/PK Matthew Wyman, Sr.
A do-it-all kicker who’ll mostly get his work in as a punter, he used his big leg to hit a 51-yard bomb – going 2-for-4 on the season – while averaging 41.47 yards per punt. He only put ten inside the 20, but he was consistently solid for a team that needed him to bail the D out of jams.