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The initial depth chart for the 2020 zombie season has a few surprises on offense.
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and with the news yesterday that kickoff was moved to the coveted 11 a.m. booze for breakfast time slot, we’re 2 1⁄2 days away from kicking off a season that wasn’t guaranteed, and will be different than anything we’ve seen in terms of college football.
The initial depth chart for the first game generally gives you an idea about how things shook out in camp. This, and subsequent depth charts, may only give us an idea of who is available to play in the coming week. Even with that caveat, there are a few surprises from Coach Klieman and Messingham’s initial depth chart offering on offense.
#10 Skylar Thompson – 6’2, 223 – Sr.
#15 Will Howard – 6’4, 230 – Fr.
#17 Nick Ast – 6’5, 219 – Jr
This is Skylar’s team, and even though he’s listed as a senior, it may be his team for an additional season, depending on what he wants to do and how this season plays out. The obvious point of interest is Will Howard making an “or” appearance with Nick Ast on his first possible depth chart.
It shouldn’t be that surprising if you’ve listened to the coaching staff talk about Howard during fall camp. Physically, he may be the most complete incoming quarterback since Josh Freeman. He can make all the throws and based on this depth chart, has a firm enough grasp of the offense to merit a chance to play as a true freshman.
I think you’ll see Howard more than Ast, but Ast is the starter if Skylar isn’t available (for whatever reason) because he has more time the system and allows Messingham to utilize a larger portion of the playbook.
#2 Harry Trotter – 5’11, 202 – Sr
#33 Tyler Burns – 6’0 217 – Sr
#22 Deuce Vaughn – 5’5, 168 – Fr
Out of all the positions on roster, running back is the biggest Covid-19 “what if” spot. I’d be interested to see what this position looks like if the Wildcats full compliment of running backs were available. Based on the official game notes roster, Joe Ervin and Thomas Grayson are not available (I assume for the season), meaning they opted out. Ervin, in particular, would be in the mix after getting his feet wet last season.
Jacardia Wright is another back everyone expected on the depth chart, and who knows why he’s not listed this week. It’s possible Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns beat him out in practice. It’s possible he’s not available for this game. It’s possible he missed a bunch of time in camp. Point being, this is one spot I wouldn’t read too much into at the moment. We’ll have a better idea of the actual running back depth chart by week 3.
I’ve talked a good bit about who isn’t on the depth chart, but who is on the Arkansas State depth chart is more relevant for this Saturday. Trotter is a solid option to lead the running back room. The former walk-on and Louisville transfer provided the Wildcats with solid work last season, and his straight ahead, power running style works with the Messingham attack. He’s not the most explosive back on the roster, but he’s the most tested and reliable.
Tyler Burns’s college football odyssey takes another turn as the member of the 2015 recruiting class, turned retired college football player, turned un-retired college football player makes his first appearance on a depth chart. Like Trotter, Burns is a solid between the tackles option for a team that needs a between the tackles runner to make things work.
That brings us to one of the biggest surprises on the depth chart. Deuce Vaughn is tiny, not just by college football standards, but by real world standards as well. He’s also possess next level acceleration and is an adept receiver in the screen game. In high school he did an excellent job of hiding behind his offensive line until a crease opened and then hitting the gas before the defense could find him. His offensive line this season dwarfs his high school line, making him all the more deadly. He offers to different look than Trotter and Burns. Similar to my thoughts on Howard, I don’t think Vaughn will be the lead back this season, regardless of what happens in front of him, but I think you’ll see him in every game.
When Vaughn gets the ball, hold on to your seats, because something exciting, one way or another, is about to go down.
#4 Malik Knowles – 6’2, 200 – So
#13 Chabastin Taylor – 6’4, 223 – Jr
#21 Wykeen Gill – 5’10, 184 – Sr
#23 Joshua Youngblood – 5’10, 181 – So
The names on the list aren’t surprising, but they need a some parsing because of the unique way K-State puts out a depth chart. Most schools skip the formality of listing a fullback and list 3 starting wide receivers, the Wildcat’s aren’t one of those schools.
That said, you’ll see plenty of 3 wide receiver sets this season, and when that happens, I anticipate Taylor as the boundary receiver, Knowles as the Field receiver, and either Gill or Youngblood in the slot.
Malik is the headliner of the group. He has speed to burn, soft hands, good size, and is elusive in the open field. The only thing holding him back from getting attention on the national stage is injuries. If he can stay on the field, Kansas State has the potential to have one of the more explosive wide receiver groups in the Big12.
I saw Taylor work out in the off season on a few occasions and he is impressive. I’ll reference Clemson again, and say that Taylor would look right at home coming off the Tiger’s bus with Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross. He’s a physical specimen. If he can put it all together, he has NFL potential. We’ve yet to see him put it together consistently, but hope springs eternal. He’ll have plenty of opportunities in the zombie season.
Gill and Youngblood listed as co-starters is an interesting turn. Most people (including myself) are eager to see the progress Josh has made as a receiver. He’s an elite, NFL caliber, athlete and according to everything I’ve read has the work effort to become and elite wide receiver.
Josh is the freak athlete of the group, but don’t discount the crafty Gill. He has excellent quickness in and out of breaks and is adept at find soft spots in zone defense. If you’re looking for a guy to run an option route on 3rd and 6 and shake open for an 8 yard gain to keep a drive alive, Gill is your guy. Youngblood is the home run hitter, but sometimes you need a singles hitter like Wykeen to keep an inning alive.
Even though they’re not listed, I’m going to assume, based on last season, that Phillip Brooks and Landry Weber are the 5th and 6th wide receivers on the roster. A couple other players to keep in eye on this season are Keenan Garber and Jaelon Travis. Garber is a red shirt freshman who profiles as a slot receiver and Travis is a true freshman that looks more like a field receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either, or both, on occasion.
#87 Nick Lenners – 6’5, 252 – Jr.
#0 Briley Moore – 6’4, 250 – Sr.
This position shook out as expected. Lenners is a do everything, jack-of-all-trades, that thrives in the Klieman/Messingham system. He can line up at tight end and block like an additional lineman, can motion into the backfield and play take on a linebacker in the hole as a fullback, or can sneak out provide a solid receiving option. He’ll be on the field, doing the overlooked dirty work that most fans don’t notice and coaches love.
Moore, on the hand, will be hard not to notice. If you’ve ever wondered, “What if the Kansas State offense, but with an elite pass catching tight end?” your questions will be answered this season.
In the modern world of college football transfers, Moore, a grad transfer from FCS Northern Iowa was overlooked in the off season transfer hype machine, but he won’t be overlooked for long once the season starts. In 2018 he pulled in 39 receptions for 536 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Panthers. To put that in perspective, last season the combination of Lenners, Wheeler, and Gammon pulled in 21 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.
You received a taste of the Messingham offense with a pass catching tight end last season when Wheeler made two crucial catches for first downs in the Oklahoma upset and then promptly blew his knee against Kansas in the next game. Moore is a significantly more polished receiver than Wheeler, a former quarterback. Throw in the fact that he’s childhood friends with Skylar Thompson (both from Blue Springs/Independence Missouri area) and you’ve got the recipe for break out year at tight end.
Outside the Lenner/Moore combination, I expect to see Sammy Wheeler at some point, as long as his knee is fully healed. He showed solid potential last season in his first year at tight end and brings a different look than either Lenners or Moore at 6’4, 226. Wheeler is essentially a big wide receiver that lines up at tight end and is occasionally asked to chip a defensive end.
#36 Mason Barta – 6’1, 239 – Jr
#29 Jax Dineen – 5’10, 241 – So
Barta, a former linebacker, is the perfect human battering ram for the Messingham offense. His job is to seek and destroy linebackers or safeties that venture too close to his running back’s chosen path. I’ve never met Mason, but based on the way he plays on the field, he leads my “most likely to headbutt a locker” to get pumped up list.
Dineen is also a capable blocker, but brings a more versatility in the passing game. He has the potential to play the Winston Dimel role in the offense and I expect to see him on the field the season. I love the idea of Jax sneaking out of the backfield on short/middle range downs or on the goal line for easy touchdowns.
#70 Kaitori Leveston – 6’4, 345 – So
#71 Logan Long – 6’4, 315 – Jr.
Leveston is a massive human being. Last season, he played sparingly in four games, and I swear each time he hit the field, I noticed him. In a world of big dudes, Leveston stands out. He should give the Wildcats more in the running back than Scott Frantz, but it will be hard to match Frantz’s overall game. If Kaitori proves his ability to handle the speed rush, I anticipate him securing the starting job.
Even though I’m talking up Leveston, don’t discount Logan Long. The former high school tight end has quicker feet than Leveston. If teams start eating Katori up with smaller speed rushers, Coach Riley won’t hesitate to go with Long in his stead. He played in every game last season and I expect him to see even more action this year. Look for him on the occasional tackle eligible “trick” play on the goal line or in short yardage situations. Last season he pulled down three catches for 10 yards. His ability to catch the ball gives defensive coordinators one more thing to worry about.
#76 Josh Rivas – 6’6, 335 – Jr
#62 Dawson Delforge – 6’6, 318 – Jr
Wow, Leveston lined up next to Rivas gives the Wildcats an enormous left side of the offensive line. If you remember above, I mentioned Deuce Vaughn is good at hiding behind his offensive linemen….I suggest that he runs left because I’m 6’3, 215 and could easily hide behind Katori and Josh. Rivas isn’t just a big, brawler though. He has surprisingly good feet for a man of his size and can pull when the Wildcats run power. Imagine the feeling a linebacker has the moment he realizes Josh Rivas is about to clean him out of hole.
Delforge is an interesting addition to the 2 deep. He’s a local kid (Wamego) that went the JuCo route out of high school, made the most of it, and landed back home with the Wildcats. He’s a big, strong kid who should be able to provide Rivas with an occasional break.
#69 Noah Johnson – 6’1, 287 – Sr
Hayden Gillum – 6’3, 296 – So
When you have two enormous guards like Josh Rivas and (spoiler alert) Ben Adler you can afford to have a smaller, more athletic center like Johnson. A former JuCo product, Noah, has impressed the coaching staff with his overall athletic abilities. He gives Coach Messingham/Riley another pulling option on their power player. Most centers aren’t athletic enough to snap the ball and then pull around and lead a power play, but Johnson isn’t most centers. My only concern is a defense putting a giant nose tackle over him and trying to push him back into the quarterback on every snap, having Rivas and Adler next to him somewhat fixes that issue.
I don’t know anything about Gillium, but based on the fact that led his high school team in tackles….all 4 years of his career…speaks to his athletic ability. I’m not sure if he gets the nod if something happens to Johnson long term, but making the offensive line 2 deeps as a walk-on sophomore is impressive.
#63 Ben Adler – 6’4, 332 – Jr
#52 Taylor Poitier – 6’2, 290 – Fr
Adler is a classic Kansas State offensive lineman. Take a redshirt as freshman year, play a few snaps in mop up duty as a redshirt freshman, play a few more snaps as a redshirt sophomore, start as a redshirt junior. Coach Dickey helped perfect this system and Coach Riley carries on this proud tradition. Guys like Ben Adler that put in work for three years and see the payoff in their 4th year, keeps the Kansas State line well stocked with physically developed players.
Poitier is a little different than the other three guards on the depth chart. He’s a smaller (it’s hard to call a 6’2, 290 behemoth small), quicker option at guard. I don’t think he’s at his ideal playing weight just yet, but I don’t think he’s going to be a 330 pound mauler like Rivas or Adler. I think he’s a year away, but his appearance in the depth chart should give you confidence in the future of the offensive line.
#73 Christian Duffie – 6’5, 303 – So
#50 Cooper Beebe – 6’3, 326 – Fr
This is the offensive line position battle I was most interested in this off season. Cooper Beebe has received rave reviews from the coaching staff, but Duffie managed to hold him off for the initial starting job. Logan Long could also factor into the right tackle position.
Duffie, interestingly enough, is built more like a traditional left tackle and Leveston is built more like a right tackle, but I’m not sure it matters as much in Kansas State’s power running and play action scheme. While Katori needs to prove he can hold up against the speed rush, Duffie has to prove he can play with solid pad level in the run game, because his strength is pass protection.
Cooper Beebe, on the other hand, is a straight up mauler who lined up at nose guard in high school. His ability in pass protection is the question for the red shirt freshman because according to report from camp, he’s one of the strongest players on the team and plays with a mean streak.
While I think the other four offensive line spots are sewn up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach Riley play more than one player at right tackle this season until he settles on his consistent starter. Duffie gets the first bite of the apple and it’s up to him take the position over from the first snap.
Be on the look out for my breakdown of the defensive depth chart. Honestly, I was planning on writing that today as well, but I got way too excited about the offense and spent about an hour longer than I anticipated on this article.
Y’all stay safe.
Football is almost here.