I will be going through the teams of the Big 12 and ranking them, bottom to top, and giving in depth grades. If there is interest, I may move on to other conferences. These grades are all based on viewing the most recent film available of the player. If I have limited or no access to film or highlights, I will instead use a compilation of scouting reports. In the worst-case scenario, I fall back on high school tape and recruiting rankings.
At #9, I’m sure my choice of Kansas State is more controversial than my previous ranking of Kansas in last place (but then again, I can’t think of many claims less controversial than saying Kansas is bad at football). Wildcat fans think they weren’t being given the benefit of the doubt they deserve for having Bill Snyder as a coach when the media ranked them seventh. I think that more than accounts for his formidable coaching skills, because this year that roster is devoid of talent in key areas. Before you head to the comments to tell me why I’m wrong, let’s dig into the Wildcat roster and see why they grade out so low.
Note on grades: The backups and starters are graded on a different scale. A player who grades out as an ‘A’ backup may only be a ‘B’ starter for example.
Let’s start with Joe Hubener, assumed by many to be the next starting quarterback for K-State. The former walk-on got some action last year, going 9-17 on his pass attempts. He does have some athleticism going for him, and based off his film I’d put his 40 time in the 4.8-4.7 range (I looked around a bit but couldn’t seem to find a recent source on this point), roughly the same as Jake Waters or Collin Klein. However, he completely lacks the passing ability that either of these players, especially Waters, possessed, and I don’t see him being a physical enough runner to adopt Klein’s playing style. Simply put, I don’t think Hubener is remotely capable of quarterbacking a Big 12 offense. Alex Delton, the early enrollee freshman, got a decent amount of hype about being able to compete for the starting job immediately. He does bring an exciting dual threat skill set to the table, but looking at his high school film, I don’t buy it. Over his time at Kansas State, assuming the natural athlete doesn’t change positions, he will develop into a decent starting quarterback, and nothing more, and he certainly isn’t ready to see the field yet. Delton would strongly benefit from a redshirt season in 2015. That being said, I say the best quarterback on the Wildcats roster could very well be one of the most overlooked: Jesse Ertz. While he is the least mobile of the quarterbacks mentioned, he was an extremely prolific high school quarterback throwing 98 touchdown passes in his career. Looking at his film, I am very impressed by the ability to make good reads he showed, albeit against high school defenses. I don’t think he has all the tools to be successful physically, but K-State could be stuck with him starting for a couple of years.
Starter grade: D-. I don’t think much of Ertz, but I think even less of Hubener and Delton.
Depth grade: F. Delton should redshirt, and I honestly would be shocked if Hubener turned out to be a remotely proficient quarterback.
Position grade: F. Right off the bat, you can see why I have my doubts about the Wildcats, Bill Snyder or not.
The discussion here starts with junior Charles Jones, who rushed for over 500 yards last year, averaging a shade over 4 yards a carry. Jones isn’t the biggest or fastest or quickest, but has a decent blend of athletic ability without excelling in any area. With the struggles in the passing game I foresee for K-State, a heavy load will be placed on Jones. Behind him, there is a large disparity in talent. Dalvin Warmack, a redshirt freshman is an intriguing prospect. He ran for over 2,000 yards in both in junior and senior seasons in high school. On the other hand, the competition he played against was weak, and I don’t see him as anything more than an slightly above average redshirt freshman, which means he isn’t ready to play yet. He may be thrust into a backup role regardless. Others to keep an eye on include Jarvis Leverett, who produced 67 yards on 20 carries in limited action in 2014, and early enrollee Alex Barnes, who is best off redshirting but could become a decent back by the time he graduates. At fullback, the Wildcats are in great shape, with first team All Big 12 player Glenn Gronkowski returning. Gronkowski is one of the best fullbacks in the nation, and could end up as an All American this year. His physical presence will be a huge asset in the run game for Kansas State. Winston Dimel will be the second string back, coming off a redshirt year.
Starting back grade: C+. Charles Jones isn’t bad, but not good enough to carry an offense, which is what K-State needs here.
Fullback grade: A+. Gronkowski is as good as they come.
Depth grade: F. Behind the starters, no one is ready to produce. K-State can’t afford an injury here.
Position grade: C+. Having a strong lead blocker is an important asset, but it looses some impact if the guy actually carrying the ball isn’t that great.
Kansas State lost two very valuable players here, including the elite Tyler Lockett. Deante Burton is a fairly average FBS starting receiver, and that may make him the best the Wildcats have. He caught 17 passes for 171 passes last season, and will look to take over a leading role this year. Andre Davis is a former JUCO player who failed to make an impact last season, his first with K-State. He is a speedier option than Burton and has a good shot at earning a starting role, though he is unproven. I also like Kyle Klein as a first team receiver. The younger brother of former quarterback Collin, the 6-4 receiver will make a large target, and gives the Wildcats good balance at receiver: the fast, athletic Davis, the tall Klein as a possession receiver, and Burton as a blend between the two. Of course, I can’t count out returning starter Kody Cook, K-States leading returning receiver. I do believe that the previously mentioned players are a little better, but regardless, the senior will see plenty of playing time. Judah Jones would have been a valuable asset had he not transferred. Steven West and Stanton Weber occasionally saw the field, and will provide depth and potentially see more second team snaps. At tight end, Cody Small was the second string, but only played in three games. He should become the full time starter this year, and provide another large target, as he has a 6’ 5’’, 240 pound frame. After a redshirt year, Dayton Valentine will challenge for playing time, as will sophomore Zach Heiman who stands at 6’7’’, but I don’t think either will push Small for the starting job.
Starter grade: C-. All of the Wildcats’ receivers can be described as ‘ok’, and not much better.
Depth grade: C-. The only position where the second string would be a big drop off is tight end.
Position grade: C-. Not good enough for a Power Five conference, especially when compounded with the fact that K-State doesn’t have a quarterback.
At left tackle, Kansas State is in great hands with Cody Whitehair. The senior has started 38 games in his career, and was named second team All Big 12 both of the past two seasons. He could very well push for first team this year. He is good in both run and pass situations, which the Wildcats need badly if they want to get any offense going. The starting right tackle, Matt Kleinsogre also returns. He is one huge step down from Whitehair, but it never hurts to bring back starting experience. JUCO transfer AJ Allen could push Kleinsogre for the job, as could redshirt freshman Alec Ruth. Either of these players would make serviceable backups. Both starting guards from 2014 return, including former JUCO player Luke Hayes, who transitioned very well last year and will be a very good player, and Boston Stiverson, who played decently enough last year. He will be a fairly average guard, but needs to move better when going after linebackers. The only position on the offensive line where the Wildcats lost a starter is center. BJ Finney, who was signed by the Steelers, leaves a sizeable hole to fill. Last year’s backup, Reed Bergstrom, is back, but Kansas State is probably better off if he stays a backup. Instead, Dalton Risner looks like a better option to me. The redshirt freshman will make an above average center and could become every bit as good as Finney with time. His run blocking skills and physicality are impressive.
Starter grade: B. This is a pretty good group, returning four starters and led by one of the nation’s best tackles.
Depth grade: C-. There is a pretty big drop off at tackle after Whitehair, and the guard position is vey thin as well.
Position grade: B-. IF K-State succeeds on offense, all the credit should go here, and it’s a fairly decent group to lean on.
This unit is below average due to the lack of offensive skill talent. Quarterback is a huge issue for K-State, and I don’t see how they can effectively overcome it. The offensive line is a decent unit, but has a couple relatively weak points. Despite overall solid blocking from Gronkowski and the line, the skill positions aren’t good enough for this to be a strong unit.
The Wildcats lost their best player here, but they could be in worse shape. One starter at defensive end should be Tanner Wood, a sophomore whose physical skill set puts him in good position to play well. However, his experience last season was limited to special teams, and he is still fairly young. At the other end slot, Marquel Bryant was fairly productive last year, picking up three sacks, but overall I believe he won’t challenge the betters tackles in the league all that much. This means Jordan Willis should, from what I’ve seen, be displaced from his starting role. He should still see the field with the second team, where he will be serviceable, but I haven’t seen much consistency from him. Davis Clark is another player to keep an eye on for depth at the position, though his chances of seeing the field much are slim. At tackle, two year starter Travis Britz returns, giving the Wildcats a big, solid presence in the middle. He can disappear at times, but brings a lot to the table at his best. Terrell Clinckscales was my top candidate for the other spot, but he is gone, so the other starting spot is up for grabs, and here is where the Wildcats might be worried. Massive true freshman Bryce English would probably be my pick, which isn’t a great sign, as despite his 315 pound body, he could use a redshirt year to acclimate to the college game before contributing to the two deep. Former walk-on Will Geary started some last year, but I am overall unimpressed by his film. He has good instincts, but can get pushed around and has difficulty with double teams. The other candidates are Demonte Hood, who played a bit each of the last two seasons, and redshirt freshman CJ Reese.
Starter grade: C+. Better than average, but not good enough to compete against the better lines in the Big 12.
Depth grade: D-. Outside of Jordan Willis and maybe Will Geary, there isn’t a backup that belongs on the field.
Position grade: C-. I think a lot of people are overrating this group. Kansas State is going to miss Ryan Mueller more than they think.
After playing some his first two seasons, Charmeachealle Moore missed last season due to injury. He should be back to grab a starting spot this year, where he will be a major contributor. Now, for the part of the post where everyone gets to tell me how wrong I am: I think Elijah Lee is extremely overrated. He is a pretty good pass rusher, but that’s it. He doesn’t play the run well, and can’t cover. K-State will be in a lot of trouble if they have to depend on him as an every-down starting linebacker. Will Davis, who started half the season last year, is a better candidate, if not an especially strong one. He plays the run better as is a more rounded player. JUCO transfer Isaiah Riddle would have been a candidate for a starting spot immediately, but he ended up transferring to Eastern Illinois. Trent Tanking got a bit of time last year, contributing a good amount of special teams, and he could see more time in the linebacker rotation this year. Elijah Sullivan, a true freshman, looks like he could have a big impact down the road. Look for him to find a role, if a limited one, right away.
Starter grade: D-. Since I don’t see Elijah Lee as a successful full time linebacker, K-State is very thin on quality here.
Depth grade: D-. The backups aren’t much worse than the starters; it’s just that none of them are that good.
Position grade: D-. This position is the reason I don’t believe in the Kansas State Defense this year.
This is the real strength of the roster, especially the corners. Lets start with Danzel McDaniel: he lacks the speed to run with the burners of the league, but his physicality more than makes up for it. In the end, there is a pretty short list of receivers on the schedule that can give him any real trouble. This is a fantastic start to the secondary. Next, I’m fairly high on Nate Jackson, once a JUCO player, to perform decently against the #2 receiver of the opponents. He played very little last year, but I might like him overall a bit more than returning starter Morgan Burns, a very fast player who can keep up with just about anyone. Burns will do a good job as well, but I think he lacks the overall skill set to play at an elite level. For further depth, Cre Moore is probably the guy to go to. He played only sparingly last season, but he will make a decent second team corner. As for the safeties, Dante Barnett is a great start. He has started for two seasons, and was named second team All Big 12 last year. He is excellent in run support, and not bad in coverage over the top either. There isn’t another safety nearly as good on this roster: the best of the rest is probably sophomore Kaleb Prewett, who played primarily special teams in his first season. Competing for that spot are fellow special teamer and former walk-on Sean Newlan, and redshirt freshman Kendall Adams. Jesse Mack, who transferred from community college last year, is another safety that may play with the second team.
Starter grade: B. This is actually a good group here. McDaniel is fantastic, Barnett will be a great asset, and Prewett is the only real weakness.
Depth grade: D+. Kansas State is ok a depth for the corners, but it’s basically non-existent at safety. That position is pretty much just Dante Barnett.
Position grade: C+. An above average secondary, that will hold up if there aren’t any injuries to overcome.
Overall, this side of the ball will have its own share of struggles: the secondary will more or less do its part, but the defensive line and, especially, linebackers, will struggle. I foresee running the ball not being much of a challenge against the Wildcats.
Special Teams: C-
The young Matthew McCrane is a good kicker who has a bright future. He was highly accurate for K-State a year ago, and should only improve with time. Nick Walsh returns as the punter. The former walk on wasn’t bad a year ago, but has room for improvement. The loss of Tyler Lockett hurts the return game; I’m not sure who can step up here as well. Speedy Morgan Burns is one possible candidate.
Overall Grade: C-
This roster is filled with holes on both sides of the ball, largely due to the lack of JUCO talent that Snyder usually fills said gaps with. The Wildcats have no quarterback, few playmakers at the skill positions on offense, gaps on the defensive line, and a very serious weakness at linebacker. Honestly, I don’t think this team goes to a bowl game, forget about the Big 12 title conversation most Wildcats seem to think having Snyder entitles them to be a part of. No amount of Snyder ball can take this team that far. Maybe to six wins, but more likely four or five.
Players that could be drafted in 2016:
Glenn Gronkowski, but fullbacks don’t leave early so probably not
Cody Whitehair, mid-late rounds
Danzel McDaniel, late rounds
Feel free to let me know why I’m wrong in the comments, and I’ll have my #8 team out in another couple of days.
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