• Travis Tyler

Other 2020 players to watch

So far, I've covered the Power 5 conferences and the American Athletic Conference. While these conferences tend to draw the most attention, there are also more talented players in smaller conferences and at lower levels of the sport. Additionally, some team play as "independents," meaning they are not a part of any conference. Here are some notable players from those teams.


Quarterbacks


The main highlight of these quarterbacks is North Dakota State's Trey Lance. Lance had an incredibly impressive redshirt freshman season, complete with a myriad of awards, leading to a 16-0 record, national championship, and 28 TDs with ZERO interceptions. He is draft eligible after this season and is drawing high interest. Notre Dame's Ian Book is back for a 5th year. In 2019, he became the first QB in school history with over 2500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards, and 30 TD passes. The Mountain West Conference has some good quarterback talent. After the transfer of Collin Hill, Patrick O'Brien takes over at Colorado State. O'Brien threw for over 2800 yards in 11 games last year. Boise Sate gets back leading passer Hank Bachmeier. Air Force's Donald Hammond looks to build on a positive 2019, but he may not be able to play in 2020. In the MAC, Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Drew Plitt, returns to Ball State. MAC Freshman of the Year, Brett Gabbert, also returns to Miami (OH), and Dustin Crum returns to Kent State. In the Sunbelt, 3rd team All-Conference QB Zac Thomas is back for Appalachian State. Conference USA sees Chris Robison return to Florida Atlantic.


Running Backs


Jafar Armstrong is now the presumed starter for Notre Dame. The MAC's leader in rushing, Jaret Patterson, is back for Buffalo. He ran for nearly 1800 yards and 19 TDs last year. Second team All-MAC honorees Caleb Huntley (Ball State) and Bryant Koback (Toledo) also return for 2020. Louisiana's Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas are the ones to watch in the Sun Belt. Both players have multiple All-Sun Belt team selections. In Conference USA, UAB's career rushing leader, Spencer Brown, comes back, as do leading rushers Brenden Knox (Marshall) and Gaej Walker (Western Kentucky). Martell Pettaway is also one to watch after transferring from West Virginia to Middle Tennessee., while BJ Emmons will look to fulfill his potential for FAU. The Mountain West will have all 4 All-Conference backs from a year ago returning (Boise State's George Holani, Fresno State's Ronnie Rivers, UNLV's Charles Williams, and Wyoming's Xazavian Valladay). Fresno will also have Romello Harris.


Wide Receivers


TJ Chase transfers from Clemson to FAU and is expected to have an instant impact. The Mountain West will bring back 1st team All-Conference wideouts Warren Jackson (Colorado State) and Tre Walker (San Jose State). Keylon Geiger and Reggie Todd (Troy), Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton (App St), Cornelius McCoy (Georgia State), and Jonathan Adams (Arkanasas Stat) are the highlights of the Sun Belt. Braden Lenzy and Ben Skowronek will be relied on heavily at Notre Dame, with possible help coming from Kevin Austin. Receivers to watch in the MAC include Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan (Central Michigan), Skyy Moore (Western Michigan), Isaiah McKoy (Kent State), and Bryce Mitchell (Toledo).


Tight Ends


Colorado State brings back Trey McBride and Cameron Butler. McBride is more of a prototypical tight end, and Butler plays more of an H-Back role. BYU's Matt Bushman is one of the best in the country and has an NFL future. Louisiana Monroe's Josh Pederson earned 1st team All-Sun Belt in 2019 with over 500 yards receiving. Coastal Carolina's Isaiah Likely is another probable All-Conference player. Florida International's Sterling Palmer Jr is also primed for a big year. Notre Dame will turn to Brock Wright to replace Cole Kmet.


Offensive Line


The three offensive linemen to keep an eye on here are Notre Dame's Rob Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer, and Liam Eichenberg. Hainsey is coming off a season ending injury, but earned the team's Offensive Lineman of the Year Award and is a team captain. Kraemer has been an All-American selection and should be a candidate for the Outland Trophy. Eichenberg was the team's best grade offensive lineman last year and did not allow a sack.


Defensive Line


Notre Dame's Daelin Hayes had 3 solid seasons before being injured last year, making him a prime candidate to lead the Irish defense. Former Houston DE Isaiah Chambers is now at McNeese State. It's down a competiton level, but he was worth watching at the FBS level as well. Connecticut's Travis Jones has put together 2 good years and appears to be the Huskies' best defender. The same could possibly be said for BYU's Khyiris Tonga. Nevada's Dom Peterson was 1st team All-Mountain West and won the team's Most Outstanding Player award. He'll be a tough guy for opponents to deal with on the edge. All-MAC defensive linemen Malcolm Koonce (Buffalo), Jack Heflin (NIU), Ali Fayad (Western Michigan), and Kameron Butler (Miami OH) all return. Western Michigan's Ralph Holley joins them as leading All-MAC candidates.


Linebackers


Although Troy's Carlton Martial is a little undersized, he is a great football player. He has been recognized with awards by several football organizations like Pro Football Focus and Walter Camp All-America. Similarly, Western Kentucky DE/LB DeAngelo Malone has proven to be another great undersized defender. UAB pass-rushing linebacker Jordan Smith is coming off a 10 sack season, which is the 5th most in team history. Lousiana's Chauncey Manac has been useful in a similar role after transferring from Georgia. At the FCS level, Montana's Jace Lewis is a consistent All-Conference performer and All-America candidate. Montana State's Troy Andersen is also a good be for those honors.


Secondary


Notre Dame's secondary will be led by cornerback Shaun Crawford and safeties TaRiq Bracey and Isaiah Pryor. Crawford earned comeback player of the year after suffering an elbow injury. The injury gave him another year of eligibility for this season. Bracey is the team's biggest returning contributor in the secondary, and Pryor is a grad transfer from Ohio State. Boise State's Jalen Walker and Kekaula Kaniho return after All-Conference 2019 performances. Miami (OH)'s Mike Brown was named a Defensive Skill Player of the Year. In the FCS, Central Arkansas's Robert Rochell is gaining a lot of steam based on his athleticism.

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