The top 10 WKU football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
WR Taywan Taylor, Jr.
Many receivers are products of their high-powered systems. Taylor is not one of those receivers. The Louisville native would fit in perfectly in the ACC or SEC. And he’s coming off the best season by a pass-catcher in WKU history, catching 86 passes for 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 6-1, 195-pound Taylor is one of the game’s premier deep threats, armed with enormous hands and a penchant for finding the soft areas of a defense.
LT Forrest Lamp, Jr.
Lamp is one of the unsung heroes of the Western Kentucky offense, a highly skilled blocker with a future in the NFL. After being named honorable mention as a rookie, he rose to the All-Conference USA First Team in 2015. Lamp is one of the cleanest all-around blockers among Group of Five linemen, yielding just one sack in more than 500 passing attempts. He won’t overpower opponents at 6-4 and 300 pounds, but his light feet and quick hands make him tough to beat.
RB Anthony Wales, Sr.
When opportunity knocked, Wales was ready to answer the call last fall. Starter Leon Allen was lost to an injury in 2015, which afforded Wales his first good chance to handle a starring role. After clearing his own health hurdle, Wales went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards, score 11 touchdowns and carve out a spot on the All-Conference USA Second Team. He’s a dynamic 5-10, 195-pound athlete who’ll have a role in the attack even if Allen returns to 100%.
LB T.J. McCollum, Jr.
The Hilltoppers aren’t rich in defensive stars. McCollum is bucking to become an exception. In his first season after transferring from UAB, he was an instant hit, netting honorable mention All-Conference USA attention for leading his new squad with 106 tackles and 11.5 stops for minus yards. McCollum has the best size among the WKU linebackers, 6-3 and 230 pounds, and he’s first in line to clean up the messes that spill over to the second level.
WR Nicholas Norris, Sr.
Norris was one of the four Hilltoppers to catch at least 50 passes a season ago, making 63 grabs for 971 yards and six touchdowns. He’s the smallest of the team’s receivers, just 5-9 and 175 pounds, but he’s been ultra-productive from the slot over his first three seasons. Norris is a shifty playmaker, with a track record of turning short hitches into long gains.
DT Omarius Bryant, Sr.
No Topper defender has a higher ceiling this season than Bryant. And as such, no one has more at stake. In his first year out of Southwest Mississippi Community College, the 6-3, 310-pounder came off the bench to make 30 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. Even better, Bryant was unblockable over the final two games of the season. He’s very strong and very quick, shooting the gaps to create backfield havoc. And if he can bring the chaos on a more consistent basis, he’s liable to turn his senior year into an NFL audition.
S Branden Leston, Sr.
Leston has turned out to be quite a find for Western Kentucky since transferring from Division II Presbyterian College in 2013. He’s a two-year starter at free safety, last season notching the most tackles by a Topper DB in 13 years. Leston, who stands 6-3 and 205 pounds, performed like a linebacker in 2015, making 96 stops, including a program-high 70 solos.
LB Keith Brown, Sr.
Brown is expected to be one of the quick fixes for a defense that lost a lot of veteran talent to graduation. The 6-1, 235-pounder comes by way of Louisville, where he never quite fulfilled expectations for Charlie Strong and Bobby Petrino. Still, Brown is big, strong and fast, and he’ll be moving to his more natural inside spot after playing on the flanks with the Cardinals.
DE Derik Overstreet, Jr.
Overstreet built on a solid debut in 2014 by blooming into one of the team’s better edge rushers a year ago. While resembling an inside linebacker at 6-2 and 250 pounds, the junior performed beyond expectations against the run as well. In the end, Overstreet led his team’s defensive linemen with 48 tackles, including nine that were behind the line of scrimmage.
S Marcus Ward, Sr.
Ward is bringing 29 starts into his final year, which is more than any other Hilltopper defender. And at 6-3 and 210 pounds, he has the size and the muscle to be WKU’s enforcer from the last line of defense. A heady and experienced defensive back, Ward tallied 57 tackles, a career-best 7.5 stops for loss, two sacks and eight pass breakups from strong safety in 2015.