The top 10 West Virginia football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. DE Noble Nwachukwu, Sr.
The team’s top pass rusher, Nwachukwu came up with 8.5 sacks with 47 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 275 pounds, he’s a short, squatty option on the outside who’s a great one to work around. He’s got help up front with Christian Brown on the other side and a good group of defensive tackles to take the pressure off, but Nwachukwu is the guy. He crushed Texas with three sacks, but was steady and consistent, spreading out his production throughout the season.
2. RB Rushel Shell, Sr.
When he’s on, for former Pitt transfer is one of the Big 12’s best backs. With a good blend of next-level quickness and occasional power, he ripped off 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries against Texas Tech, and ran 14 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns, finishing the year second on the team with 708 yards and eight touchdowns, but averaging just four yards per pop. Pushed aside for Wendell Smallwood as the main back, he hasn’t been able to blow up and be the steady all-around workhorse, but at 5-10 and 220 pounds, and with a world of untapped upside, now it’s his job to shine at the true main man.
3. QB Skyler Howard, Sr.
Was the Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State the kickoff point to what could be a special senior year? Good throughout the year, he threw a few too many picks in big games – with three against Oklahoma – but overall he put together a nice season with 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns and 14 picks, highlighted by his 532-yard, five score day against the Sun Devils. Now he has to be more accurate – he only completed 55% of his passes – and he has to come up with more explosive plays with a good receiving corps to work with.
Taking off for 502 yards and six touchdowns – with 129 yards against Kansas – the 6-0, 207-pounder is a baller who fits exactly what the coaching staff is looking for, including the experience. There’s no looking over his shoulder and there’s no question that he’s the guy to run the attack. In the Big 12 shootouts, the production has to be there every week.
4. WR Shelton Gibson, Jr.
The team’s leader in receiving yards, and the main deep threat, Gibson caught just 37 passes but he made them count, cranking up 887 yards and nine scores averaging almost 24 yards per grab. When he’s on, he’s unstoppable, catching 148 yards worth of balls against Iowa State, and hit Arizona State for 143 yards and a touchdown on four catches against Arizona State. The 5-11, 195-pound speedster brings his wheels to the return game, too, with a kickoff return for a score last year. Can he be even more than just a great deep threat? Yeah, but in this offense, his job is to stretch the field.
5. C Tyler Orlosky, Sr.
Get ready for the West Virginia offensive line to provide more power and more pop, and that’s where Orlosky comes in. The veteran center has been a key leader over the last few seasons, earning All-Big 12 honors last season both on the field and in the classroom. Now the 6-4, 295-pound blaster gets to be the main man on an experienced front that should be among the conference’s best.
6. WR Daikiel Shorts, Sr.
A solid, steady receiver, Shorts led the team with 44 catches for 511 yards and five scores. At 6-1 and 204 pounds, he’s a big target who’s ultra-reliable, but he’s not a deep threat. He only averaged 11.6 yards per try, and he didn’t get anywhere near 100 yards until the wild bowl game shootout against Arizona State – he caught six passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns – but he’s always going to be good for around four grabs a game.
7. S Dravon Askew-Henry, Jr.
Can he be the star who makes the West Virginia secondary rise up again? The 5-11, 198-pounder came up with 59 tackles and managed to always be on the field – a big key for the banged up secondary last year. While he only came up with one pick and broke up four passes, he was a force against the run at times, especially for his size. Extremely quick, now that he knows what he’s doing he should become more of a ball-hawker.
8. PK Josh Lambert, Sr.
The veteran all-star kicker got two of his seven misses blocked, but he’s reliable with a great leg. He bombed away late in the year hitting nine field goal attempts in ten tries over the final three games, and with 50+ yard range, he’ll get plenty of chances to try several deep shots. While he didn’t have the year he had in 2014, he was still plenty good – he’ll be one of the Big 12’s biggest kicking weapons.
9. S Jeremy Tyler, Sr.
While he might not have put up massive numbers, he came up with a nice year and should be a terrific option next to Dravon Askew-Henry. The 5-11, 210-pounder has been a good part of the rotation, and now will be a key starter after coming up with 20 tackles with a pick. He’s getting his chance to shine in a full-time role, and he’ll come through with a big statistical year.
10. DT Darrian Howard, Sr.
A backup part of a rotation so far, he’s been a veteran part of the line puzzle who’ll get his shot this year to anchor the front wall. At 6-1 and 297 pounds he has decent size and gets good leverage, but he hasn’t done too much yet with 14 tackles and three tackles for loss last season. While he might not be a massive presence, he’s a veteran who’ll be relied on right to be steady.