I sat down this evening intending to write the Position Preview for the cornerbacks, one of the best question marks on our team considering we graduated arguably our top 3 -- K.J. Morton, Joe Williams, and Demetri Goodson -- from last year's team. After metaphorically smashing my head against the wall for nearly an hour, however, I decided to put it off until tomorrow afternoon. Instead, I decided to tackle a piece I've been wanting to write for a while: the top 5 candidates for 2014's breakout Baylor player.
Before we get into this, I need to define what I see as a "breakout" player, mostly so we can separate it from other discussions about newcomers of the year, transfers of the year, or whatever else. I'm not talking about someone who just got here and predictably blew up -- *cough* K.D. Cannon. I'm talking about someone who has been here for a while, flying under the radar a bit before (hopefully) exploding onto the scene.
Knowing what we know now, Antwan Goodley has to be the perfect archetype for a true breakout player. Before last season, Goodley had caught 19 passes for 197 yards and 2 TDs in his entire Baylor career-- about a hundred yards less than Terrance Williams had against West Virginia in 2012. Last season, he more than quadrupled his career receptions and sixtupled his yardage and touchdowns. He went from backup to All-American; a little more than zero (stick with me) to hero. That's what I'm looking for again.
5. Devin Chafin -- SO -- #28 -- 6-0, 225 pounds
With Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk firmly entrenched at the RB position last season, Baylor fans didn't expect to see much of Devin Chafin in his redshirt freshman year. Two injuries and half a season later, he was throwing down an 11-100-2 game against Texas Tech, showing a tantalizing blend of size and sprinter's speed. This year, whether it's ahead, alongside, or in relief of fellow sophomore Rashodrick Linwood, we should get to see a lot more. Baylor has had a 1,000 yard rusher each of the last 4 years. Could this year's be Chafin?
4. LaQuan McGowan -- JR -- #60 -- 6-7, 385 pounds*
Don't laugh-- LaQuan may be high-risk to include here because of the chance that he doesn't even start, but if he does and plays well, the reward could be huge. People are going to be watching our offensive line, particularly our guards, to see how we respond to losing an All-American in Cyril Richardson. If LaQuan wins the starting job over Blake Muir, keeps it throughout the year, and proves himself the "freak" Art Briles constantly proclaims him to be, that's a breakout player in my book.
3. WR Corey Coleman -- SO -- #1 -- 5-10, 190 pounds
When I started putting this list together, Coleman quickly rose to the top of the list for reasons I think everyone understands. With the departure of WR Tevin Reese, Baylor has an immediate need for a field-stretching inside receiver, someone who can punish safeties for their intransigence and take advantage of our opponent's need to double Antwan Goodley. He's not #1, though, for a couple of reasons: 1) in 2013, he caught 35 passes for 527 yards and 2 TDs, so predicting that he doubles those numbers isn't that much of a stretch, and 2) it's too obvious. A breakout player has to be one people don't really expect, the perfect combination of opportunity and relatively low expectations.
2.TE Tre'von Armstead -- SO -- #41 -- 6-6, 265 pounds
Don't act surprised-- we both knew that he'd be here. I'm totally in the tank for Team Armstead. The only real problem here is that I don't expect him to catch a ton of passes, and that's traditionally the measure of performance for a tight end.
1. CB Xavien Howard -- SO -- #4 -- 6-2, 200 pounds
BOOM. Opportunity? Check. Relatively low expectations from those outside the program? Check. Tremendous, game-changing upside? DOUBLE CHECK. Call it wishful thinking, call it bias, call it whatever you want. Very few people know outside of Waco know who Xavien Howard is right now. By the end of this season, I'm betting that number is a lot bigger. Baylor has been looking for a lockdown corner for years. Xavien Howard is our best chance to have one.
Vote in the poll below, then tell me how wrong I am in the comments!