With the season opener approaching, I thought it seemed like as good a time as any to get my grades for the Bears out. Remember that a C means that the position is at the national average, aka not especially great for a Big 12 team, especially one that wants to contend for a national title. The grades also do not necessarily reflect a player’s ceiling: experience matters, so a five star freshman lineman could receive a worse grade than a three star senior. These grades are meant to reflect how well the player will play this season.
With that in mind, lets see how the Baylor Bears look this season.
Seth Russell looks to be the next in a line of great Baylor quarterbacks, and by all accounts he has the tools to do so. He will be a very different quarterback than Bryce Petty was last year, and one of his best assets is his speed. He reportedly ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, which would make him quite a weapon on the ground. Practice reports say that he has steadily improved and gotten more in sync with his receivers as time went on this fall. There is little doubt in my mind that Seth will be great, but I’m not sure I’d put him among the nation’s elite just yet. There’s a good chance I will next year. Freshman Jarrett Stidham won the backup spot right out of high school, and I’m very excited to see how he grows. Between his arm and his legs, Stidham looks like the complete package, and I think, unlike Russell, he ends up being better than Bryce Petty by the time he leaves Baylor. Baylor is lucky to have him as a backup; I think he would start for half the teams in the conference right off the bat. Chris Johnson, in addition to playing inside receiver, is listed as the third quarterback. He wouldn’t be a bad option as a backup, but he needs more development before being reliable. I’m interested to see how he looks at the receiver position.
Starter grade: A+. Seth is going to be just fine. Baylor fans, as usual under Art Briles, have nothing to worry about at the position.
Depth grade: A-. Stidham is already a decent college quarterback, and by the time he starts, he’ll be an elite player.
Position grade: A+. Quarterback play will continue to be a strength for the Bears.
Shock Linwood is an elite running back. Fast, quick, strong, and surprisingly hard to bring down due to his incredible balance, Shock is as good a back as Baylor has had for a while. He lacks the straight-line speed of his predecessor Lache Seastrunk, but is a more complete back. He will be the leader of a great rushing attack for the high-powered Baylor offense. Behind him, Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin are both decent backups who will play an important role. Jefferson is a bigger home run threat, but Chafin is a more consistent powerful runner. There are situations where both skill sets will be valuable. Terence Williams may also get some carries, and he should be ok in the 4th quarter blowouts. Williams runs hard, and will be a very good back down the line.
Starter grade: A+. Shock is an elite back in my mind. The former two star recruit has really blossomed into a star.
Depth grade: B-. Two decent backups gives the Bears little reason to worry here, though neither has the talent that Shock does.
Position grade: A+. Baylor will continue to have a great running attack that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Corey Coleman is without question the leader of this group, and he proved last year that he belongs among the nation’s elite receivers. His speed and overall athleticism makes him a very dangerous target, especially since Baylor has a plethora of weapons. These include senior Jay Lee, a versatile target who will finally be a great player for the Bears in his senior year. Lee has always shown promise, but never played a larger part in the offense. Sophomore KD Cannon, another phenomenal athlete, is also a great receiver. I would like to see him become more consistent this year: outside of the Cotton Bowl, most of his big games and yardage came against a weak non-conference slate. He will need to step up like he did against Michigan State this year, and not just because the team sells out against the run. The TCU game is a great example of this, and if Cannon plays like that Baylor’s offense could be unstoppable. Rounding out the starters is Junior Lynx Hawthorne, who has an awesome name and considerable speed. He started three games, but was never a big producer. That could change as he becomes a full time starter. Hawthorne is a good starter who has an opportunity to turn some heads this year. The top second team player is sophomore Davion Hall, who has a very bright future and could become a real star someday. He makes a great backup, and has a chance to be a very good option when he steps on the field. These five receivers would all start for most schools in the nation. Quan Jones is another backup to keep an eye on. He provides the quarterback with a nice big target. However, he has had problems catching the ball at time. Overall, he will still make a good backup, and if he fixes his hands issues will be a great receiver in time. Ishmael Zamora is a redshirt freshman that many fans are excited about due to his blend of size and athletic ability. I like his potential, and he looks like a decent second team player this year. Finally, Chris Platt is an exceptional runner, as he won the 400m state championship in track three times in high school. He is a bit one-dimensional at this point, but will still be fine on the second team due to his ability to stretch a defense. He will become a great weapon, much like Tevin Reese was a couple seasons back. At tight end, Tre’Von Armstead is a much better tight end than many people realize. He excels as a blocker, and has enough athleticism to be a good pass catcher. I have no doubt that he will make a great tight end if Baylor decides to utilize him. Laquan McGowan has gotten a ton of attention this offseason due to his Cotton Bowl fame and his massive size. He also will make a great tight end, but more because of his ability as a sixth blocker than as a receiving threat. Behind them, Gus Penning makes an above average backup, and I think this season would be a good one for Jordan Feuerbacher to redshirt.
Starter grade: A+. There are threats all over this field, and few secondaries will be able to contain them all. The emergence of Jay Lee is key here.
Depth grade: B. The depth isn’t a great as Baylor has had in the past, but still good. There are players with great futures here.
Position grade: A. This isn’t as deep a group as Bear fans are used to, but the top level will be as hard to stop as ever.
The left tackle is Spencer Drango, one of the best in the nation. He really is fantastic as a run blocker, and his pass protection has steadily improved over his career. Seth Russell couldn’t ask for many better players to protect his back. At the other end of the line is fellow senior Pat Colbert, who has been inconsistent at times. I have little reason not to believe that Colbert will have a very good year at right tackle based on offseason and fall camp reports. The backup tackles are Ishmael Wilson, a Texas A&M transfer who looks like a decent second stringer, and redshirt freshman Patrick Lawrence, who has room to gain size and strength. Nevertheless, I think he’ll be just fine in relief duty and could become another great Baylor offensive lineman. The best guard on the roster is Blake Muir, who should be very good in 2015. The Australian moves pretty well for a player of his size, and will open some good holes in the middle of Shock Linwood. Jarell Broxton won the other position this fall over Desmine Hilliard. The former JUCO player will be a decent guard, and he has plenty of size and strength. He does need to improve at getting lower and gaining leverage against bigger tackles. Hilliard will be an excellent backup, there really is very little difference between him and Broxton in terms of overall ability. They are both strong guards and the Bears will do well with either of them. The other second team guard listed on the depth chart is Tanner Thrift. He is the only lineman on the depth chart I am concerned about, and I think one more year of development would have him at the point where he could be a quality contributor. I’d rather see Rami Hammad, one of two players listed as a backup center, take over this spot. Speaking of center, Kyle Fuller really is a special player, and one of the best at his position in the country. He doesn’t get the recognition that Spencer Drango does, but I think he is the bets center in the Big 12, and a possible All American candidate. Behind him, I am very confident in Texas transfer Rami Hammad to be a very good player, and redshirt freshman Blake Blackmar has good potential for the future as well.
Starter grade: A+. With two of the nation’s top linemen, and a quality case filling in the rest of the spots, there’s nothing to worry about here.
Depth grade: B-. Its decent, but Hilliard is really the only player who is at least somewhat comparable to the player they back up.
Position grade: A. As long as there aren’t two or more injuries, the offensive line looks to be in good shape
This is a great unit with few weaknesses outside of some depth concerns at receiver on the line being the only thing stopping me from giving them the elusive A+ grade. A couple injuries to the wrong players, and Baylor’s offense, while still potent, would loose some steam. Barring that, this group is very, very strong. The running and passing games will both be deadly, and I don’t see many defenses at all being able to stop, or even slow, the Bears. Russell is a high quality passer with more weapons than he needs, and Shock, a fantastic running back, has some elite blockers in front of him. What’s not to like?
This is another position that has drawn a ton of attention over the summer, mostly centered around end Shawn Oakman, an incredible physical specimen and athlete. When he is on, there are hardly any tackles in college football that can block him. Hopefully we see him consistently live up to his nearly limitless potential in 2015. Jamal Palmer has the other starting slot at end, and he showed himself to be a skilled pass rusher before suffering a knee injury last year. If fully healthy, he should be very good. Behind them, he have Brian Nance, once a highly regard recruit who finally sees the field for Baylor his year. He looks like a decent player, and I am curious to see if he can live up to that hype and become something more than decent. KJ Smith was the primary backup last season, but I don’t like him quite as much as Nance. He did very well filling in for an injured Palmer, but it was ready apparent that he couldn’t quite get to the quarterback as well. However, Smith is still a better backup than most teams have, so there isn’t much to complain about here. At tackle, Andrew Billings is a real star. Possibly the strongest player in college football, Billings consistently demands and beats double teams. There are few players in the nation that can clog up the middle of the line the way he does. Senior Beau Blackshear is another great tackle. He may not have the raw physical ability of Billings (who does), but he is a very high motor player and earned some recognition last year by being named second team All Big 12. With all the attention Oakman and Billings demand, this season could be a great chance for Blackshear to demonstrate his own talents. His backup is Byron Bonds, who surprised many by earning playing time as a rue freshman. Bonds is another high motor player, but is more lacking in terms of talent than the starters. He is a decent second team player, and not much more. The last tackle slot on the depth chart is a real area of concern. Andrew Morris is the man chosen to play here, and I hope he never has to. Bennett has said good things about Morris, but from his high school film and what I’ve seen more recently in an admittedly limited capacity, he isn’t ready to contribute to a team of this caliber. This is where loosing Masumboko and Magee really hurts us.
Starter grade: A+. If no one gets hurt, this unit will be among the most disruptive forces in the NCAA, with hardly any offensive lines begin able to slow them down. This front four is going to be absolutely dominant.
Depth grade: D+. Loosing anyone but Palmer would be a terrible blow, and even loosing Palmer again would still hurt. If Morris has to play major minutes, we’re in trouble there.
Position grade: A. The top is so good that I can’t go any lower than this. This group is so incredible.
I’m going to be including the nickel back position with this group, because the role in the Baylor defense in most situations is really that of a linebacker with more coverage responsibility. Travon Blanchard has moved up from safety to play the position, and he will be much better in coverage than Collin Brence last year. He is a better athlete overall, and should be a solid young starter this year. Behind him is Patrick Levels, a very athletic player who plays with a ton of energy. I think he could develop his man to man coverage abilities further, and I’m not sure he’ll be able to shed blocks in the run game nearly as well as Blanchard. Overall, I’m not sure I like him at this position rather than a traditional safety role. Grant Campbell, who will try to replace the excellent Bryce Hager, won the middle linebacker spot. Like Blanchard, he should be a decent player and a fairly consistent anchor for the defense. Raaquan Davis is a quality second-string linebacker, and should contend to slide into a starting role next year. The real strength of this group is Freshman All American Taylor Young, who at only 5’10’’ (and that may be generous) still remains an extremely productive player. I don’t think anyone is worried about him, and he will definitely be great once again. Hopefully Baylor fans will see him build on that wonderful game in the Cotton Bowl where he had fifteen tackles and an interception. Aiavion Edwards is the final player on the depth chart at linebacker. The junior was once the starter at the position before the emergence of Taylor Young as a future star, and will provide the Bears with some very good depth.
Starter grade: B. Baylor has a good group here, but Hager will be missed.
Depth grade: C+. I’m not so sure about Levels at the nickel back spot, but it’s still an above average group.
Position grade: B-. The linebackers should be decent, but if this defense has a weakness, here it is.
At corner, Baylor could have its first real star in Xavien Howard, who is long, fast, and athletic. This year he has a chance to earn a spot among the nation’s elite defensive backs, rare ground for a Baylor Bear in recent times. Ryan Reid retains the other starting position, and he showed enough promise last year to convince me that he will have a good season. Overall he was fairly average n 2014, but his prolonged competition with Tion Wright has likely pushed him to improve. Wright should be ok in backup duty, but I’m personally glad that Reid held on to the starting spot: I don’t think Wright looks good outside of his speed. Two redshirt freshman fill out the depth chart, Jourdan Blake and Verkedric Vaughns, but neither looks very reliable at this early stage of their career. The Bears are in great shape at safety. Terrell Burt has played his whole career out of position: his skill set makes him a more natural corner than a safety, and at times he has struggled for it. However, he should have a great season in his final chance to play for Baylor. He has great speed on the back end and has steadily improved his coverage. Orion Stewart is the real elite member of the secondary, and will perhaps end up better than Ahmad Dixon. He is certainly better in coverage, and is starting to play the run just as well. Terrence Singleton has moved to safety, where hopefully he can finally see the field for the Bears. I’ve been hoping he could grab a corner spot for a while, and I think he makes a very good second team player right now. He will make a strong candidate to replace Burt next season, when Baylor could really have an elite secondary (how weird/good is that?). Alfred Pullom and Taion Sells will both make fine backups, giving the safety position some depth, but I am less certain about Chance Waz at this point.
Starter grade: A+. This secondary looks great. Howard and Stewart are as good as anyone in the Big 12, I’m not worried about Burt, and Reid is poised for a big step forward from average to good.
Depth grade: C. Safety has some good depth, but the Bears are a little thin at corner.
Position grade: B+. Despite the opinions of many, Baylor will have a very good secondary this season.
Baylor’s defense will be very good, and anyone who says it won’t be just because its Baylor isn’t paying attention. There are future NFL draft picks all over this unit and every position group. There are some very real depth concerns, so staying healthy is very important for this side of the ball.
Special Teams: C+.
If we get second half Chris Callahan kicking field goals, I’ll be happy, but if first half of the season Callahan shows up, the kicking game could struggle. True freshman Drew Galitz will punt for the Bears, and he will be very good one day. Corey Coleman will be very dangerous returning punts, but I’m not sure how I see Johnny Jefferson as a kick returner.
If this team stays healthy on defense, they will be a true title contender, but injuries there could really derail the season quickly. This season holds as much promise as any that Baylor has ever gone into, and every unit on both sides of the ball has at least one player that I believe will eventually be drafted.
Players that could be drafted in 2016:
Shock Linwood: mid-late rounds
Corey Coleman: late rounds
Spencer Drango: early rounds
Kyle Fuller: middle rounds
Shawn Oakman: first round
Andrew Billings: early rounds
Xavien Howard: late rounds
Orion Stewart: late rounds
Let me know what you think about the Baylor Bears upcoming season!