The top 10 Kansas State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. LB Elijah Lee
Built like a big safety, the 6-3, 218-pounder went from being a pass rushing specialist as a freshman with 4.5 sacks to cranking out an all-star sophomore season with 80 tackles and five sacks with three interceptions. A do-it-all force on the outside, he’s good at dropping into pass coverage and can crank into the backfield when turned loose. He’s always going full-tilt and he never takes a play off, working like a smallish defensive end while doing a sensational job in the open field on the outside.
2. DE Jordan Willis
One of the Big 12’s best pass rushers, he might not have done too much against the run, but that wasn’t his role. A rangy 6-5, 250-pound outside threat came up with four sacks in 2014 before cranking things up last year as a playmaker who had to be keyed on. 3.5 of his 9.5 sacks on the season came against Louisiana Tech, but he dominated late in the season with two sacks in three of the last four games and showing all he could do. A veteran now who’s been through the wars, he’s a leader who’ll demand attention on every play.
3. S Dante Barnett
One of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in 2014, Barnett finished second on the team with 77 tackles with three interceptions with eight broken up passes. The 6-1, 193-pounder is built like a corner but looks strong at free safety with good hitting ability and great range. An elite leader – he was a team captain from the start – he was poised and ready for a big 2015, but he suffered a knee injury early on and was out for the season. Now he’s back as the star of a secondary that desperately needed him last year – it should be far, far better now that he’s back.
4. WR Byron Pringle
The Wildcats need a big-time receiver, and they might have gotten one from the JUCO ranks. At 6-2 and 212 pounds, he’s a big target with the skills on the field worthy of taking a chance on after several past off-the-field problems. The Tampa native got into a ton of trouble for various alleged crimes several years ago, but after bouncing around and trying to find the right fit, now he’s a 22-year-old getting his shot at something special.
Bill Snyder gave his seal of approval after vetting the star prospect, and now the payoff could be huge. The talent is there to be one of the Big 12’s best receivers as long as someone can consistently get him the ball.
5. DT Will Geary
A bowling ball of a tackle, the 6-0, 297-pound interior presence will have to be one of the stars up front. He might not be all that bulky, and he might not fit the definition of a true anchor, but he’s a battler who earned All-Big 12 honors fitting the part of a true Kansas State grinder. An unheralded walk-on, he ended up working his way into a starting role early on before growing into the job last year. With 45 tackles, 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, he’s got the stats, but more than that, he’s the leader for the interior to work around.
6. FB Winston Dimel
Kansas State is one of the few places that makes a star out of the fullback, and Dimel was that as a freshman. The 6-1, 235-pound blaster of a blocker was an All-Big 12 star cranking out big things for the ground game with his hitting ability. A solid short-yardage runner as well as a cog for the ground game, he ran for 86 yards and six scores. Also a nice receiver, he made big things happen on his eight catches, going for 261 yards and two scores with a 48-yard scoring play against Arkansas in the bowl loss, and managed a 44-yard play against Kansas. He can do it all.
7. QB Jesse Ertz
All ready to be the main man for the offense, he suffered a knee injury right out of the gate on the first drive of the season in the win over South Dakota. The 6-3, 205-pounder got hurt early enough to get time to heal for the spring, he was solid completing 12-of-18 passes for 124 yards in the spring game looking back to form, but he’s got to turn it loose with the ground game again. He’ll need to fight off Joe Hubener and Alex Delton for the job, but it’ll be his to lose this fall.
8. RB Charles Jones
A solid, serviceable back, the 5-10, 206-pound veteran from Louisiana did what he could with everyone keying on stopping him. At 5-10 and 206 pounds, he has good size and can catch a little bit, taking off for 696 yards and five scores last season and caught 12 passes for 139 yards. Good around the goal line, he ran for 13 touchdowns in 2014, and last year scored all his rushing touchdowns in three games with two against both TCU and Iowa State. In this offense, being able to block is a big deal, too, and Jones can do that.
9. LB Charmeachealle Moore
After growing into a big-time defensive producer, Moore should be ready for a huge season. At 6-0 and 221 pounds, the Dallas native is undersized but he doesn’t stop and doesn’t slow down – he makes plays on effort as well as quickness. The team’s second-leading tackler, he came up with 55 stops with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, highlighted by a phenomenal finishing kick. He only made 12 tackles in the first nine games, and then came up with ten tackles – all solo stops – against Iowa State. He closed with 17 tackles with the team’s defensive stop of the year in the win over West Virginia, and finished with ten tackles against Arkansas. Now he’s a veteran on the outside who won’t come off the field.
10. WR Deante Burton
There wasn’t too much of a passing game, but what was there came mostly from Burton and his team-leading 38 catches for 510 yards and four scores. He only had one 100-yard day – catching five passes for 135 yards and a score against West Virginia – but he has the upside to do far more. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he’s got excellent size, he’s physical, and he’s got just enough quickness to make plays on the move. A local product, he’s a reliable target who could grow into a more dangerous deep threat in single coverage.