Now that we are on the verge of football pre-season once again, there aren’t too many weeks left for this offseason feature. With the time remaining, the roundtable will be concentrating more on which teams or players we think will stand out a bit from the rest.
So this week the question is: who do you think will be the offensive and defensive breakout player on the teams you cover? This will give us and readers a sneak peak into some new players to familiarize themselves with before the season.
Alex (Utah State): On offense I’ll go with RB Gerold Bright. He had outstanding numbers (888 rush yards, 10 rush TDs) even as the #2 behind Darwin Thompson last season. He’ll be the starting running back this year, granted it will be behind an offensive line that brings back just one starter from last years’ elite squad. Even with a less experienced OL, he’s a spry and speedy guy who can run with the best of them. He only needs a little opening and can get going for big plays. He’ll also be a feature in the passing game, as he had 232 receiving yards and three TD catches last season. He can do a little bit of everything quite well, so I think he’ll be the best offensive player behind QB Jordan Love.
On defense, I’m going with DE Tipa Galeai. He’s not underrated by any means, and he had a great year last year, but I think he takes the next step this year and becomes a nationally recognized pass rusher/play maker/wrecking machine. He’s a former TCU recruit who can get to the QB (10 sacks in ‘18), get up and deflect (3 passes deflected, 2 INTs, 1 INT TD in ‘18), and strip the ball (3 FF in ‘18). At year’s end, the Aggies could have two possible high-round draft picks on defense in both Galeai and LB David Woodward.
Bruce (San Jose State): For offense, I’ll go with QB Josh Love. Love is coming out his best statistical season in his college career at SJSU. He is ready to give out his last shot of being the leader on the offensive side after he completed 162 attempts out of 289, which includes 1,963 passing yards with 14 passing touchdowns. He also passed a personal single-game best 451 yards in a five-overtime loss to Hawaii. He will need a lot of help on his OL this coming season if Love wants to be the starter all season long. He started and played only just eight games last season. I think Love is ready to be the offensive break out player for the Spartans on his final shot in his senior year.
For defense, I’m going with S Jay Lenard. Last season, Lenard was one of the four players on the defense that played all 12 games, and posted 56 unassisted tackles. His best game was against UNLV when he has 11 solo tackles. He was ranked third in the Mountain West with 7.6 tackles per game. He is also one of the few non-Californian Spartans in the team. He was recruited from Beaumont, Texas. He brought that Texas style football mentality to San Jose. I think he’ll have something big coming into this coming season. He is the true leader of that defense.
Jacob McNeil (MWC at-large):
Xazavian Valladay, RB, Wyoming. First of all, what a name. It is a genuine shame that Wyoming doesn’t travel to Hawaii this year so that we could hear Robert Kekaula pronounce it. Life is full of little disappointments. Valladay, on the other hand, will not disappoint. Craig Bohl makes his living punishing opposing defenses with a physical brand of football, and Xazavian is just the next back in a line of succession that includes Nico Evans and Brian Hill. If he can stay healthy, I would expect at least 1,300 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from Valladay this year. Prayers up for the folks in each MWC program’s SID group as they put together previews for Wyoming this year and have their spell-check explode.
I’m going with Utah State’s DJ Williams, CB, for Defensive Breakout Player in the conference. Williams contributed immediately last year, as expected, when he transferred in from Independence CC of Last Chance U fame. This year, I think he will take the next step as a leader on defense for the Aggies and improve on his 4 interceptions and 11 pass break-ups from last year. If things go DJ’s way this year, he could be looking at some NFL Draft consideration in later rounds.
Offensive Runner-Up: Octavius Evans, WR, Boise State
Defensive Runner-Up: Alijah Halliburton, S, Wyoming
Zach Ballard (Boise State): While players like Khalil Shakir and Zeke Noa seem like the obvious choice. I don’t really consider them breakout stars because they have already shown what they are capable of and should have big seasons in 2019. I’m going to take a bit of a different approach. On offense, I am going to go with Octavius Evans and Robert Mahone in a tie. Evans was hurt most of the 2018 season, but the coaches gave him the #1 jersey for a reason. It wouldn’t shock me if he was Boise State’s leading receiver when it’s all said and done. Robert Mahone is a tricky pick. I think he is a prime candidate to get 8-10 carries a game and average around 50 yards. Boise State hasn’t been this deep at running back in nearly a decade, so it’s hard to see one guy putting up gaudy numbers.
On defense I am going to go with Chris Mitchell. I have been very outspoken about my concerns at cornerback. While I think Avery Williams and Jalen Walker are capable second or third options, the Broncos need a lockdown corner. I believe Mitchell can be that guy.
Honorable Mention: Chase Cord, Tyric LeBeauf, Brandon Hawkins, Tyneil Hopper
FatDuckUW (Wyoming): Really, Jacob has a couple of good selections for the Cowboys in Valladay & Halliburton. As long as both stay healthy and remain as starters throughout the season, you’ll see Halliburton make a lot of tackles and Valladay will get a lot of carries. That said, I’ll throw out a couple more names.
Offense - Sophomore QB, Sean Chambers. While Chambers flashed last season, he did not play enough to really have a breakout season. Chambers only played 2 full games and parts of two others before his season ended prematurely due to a broken leg. If Chambers can stay healthy this year, I think he’ll breakout as a truly dynamic player. Chambers could be that rare player to throw and rush for over 1,000 yards in a season as a QB. When Wyoming went to Chambers at QB, the running game really took off. I expect/hope for more of the same in 2019. If Chambers can lead the Cowboys to a bowl game in 2019, he’ll enter 2020 as one of the more well known names in the MWC for what would be his junior year.
Defense - Senior LB, Cassh Maluia. Cassh is not exactly a new name with having played in 37 career game. That said, Cassh will have the chance to emerge as more of a defensive leader this season. Gone are players such as Marcus Epps and Andrew Wingard that were responsible for making many tackles and plays. While I do think Halliburton will be picking up for much of the lost production at safety, I also believe a more experienced LB corps (Logan Wilson along with Cassh) will take on a much bigger load in 2019. Wilson is already pretty well known as he should be 1st or 2nd team for the MWC in the preseason. While Cassh won’t enter the season with similar accolades as his teammate at LB, don’t be surprised if Cassh has a big season and finishes the year on one of the all-conference teams.
Alex Wright (UNLV): UNLV find itself a bit thin the wide receiver position, so expect a receiver to make a splash amongst the new Rebel players. My pick is Randall Grimes, he is a Las Vegas native and went to high school at Desert Pines. Grimes spent his first two seasons at USC. While there, he did not get much playing time, some he decided to transfer. Originally, Grimes was set to go to Minnesota, but he changed his mind. After determining Minnesota would not be in his best interest, Grimes came back home and will play in his hometown with some of his former high school teammates. Grimes is an athletic 6-foot-4 receiver who will have three years of eligibility left with UNLV. His athleticism will stand out on the field, and will give the Rebels a deep ball threat down the field. Grimes will have something he didn’t at USC, an opportunity to showcase his talent, and the Rebels won’t be disappointed.
On the opposite side of the ball, newcomer Vic Viramontes will have an instant impact. Viramontes comes to the Rebels from Riverside Community College in California. Just his presence on the field alone will improve the play of the Rebels defense significantly. His experience and leadership will be felt in the field as the UNLV defense grows around him. Coach Sanchez has been impressed with his leadership and feels it can help the defense get better under second-year coordinator Tim Skipper. He will be an instant playmaker at the linebacker position, the 6-foot-2 junior has shown a strong work ethic on the practice field and in the weight room during the spring. There is a lot of hype surrounding Viramontes, who might be one of the biggest recruits the Rebels have gotten under Sanchez, if he can live up to it, the Rebel defense will be greatly improved. If both Grimes and Viramontes excel on the field, it could result in UNLV playing in a bowl game.
Alex Valle (SDSU): For the offense one player that would need to breakout for SDSU to have a more successful season than they did in 2018 would be senior running back Juwan Washington. He rushed for a career-high 999 yards last season and scored 10 times. Washington averaged five yards per attempt which has been his worst through his three years with the Aztecs. This is a bit of a concern considering his attempts went up from 127 to 199 for the 2018 season. If the Aztecs want to be competitive in the Mountain West and surpass seven wins I think it is reasonable to expect Washington to rush for at least 1,500 yards next season.
On defense for San Diego State I am going to pick junior cornerback Tayler Hawkins to be the breakout player. The secondary will be led by Tariq Thompson who has been outstanding and will be playing alongside Hawkins. The Aztecs have not been as effective in the secondary in recent years, but with a breakout year from Hawkins and the continuation of consistency from Thompson, the SDSU defense could be a problem for teams in the 2019 season.
Offense: Quarterback Josh Love showed potential last season for San Jose State with some big performances against Hawaii and UC Davis, but struggled with consistency and couldn’t seem to stay healthy. With a revamped offensive line, Love should have more time to throw, without worrying about being drilled every play. I think he’ll surprise people and have one of the best seasons by a QB in the conference this season. With a strong arm, he’ll have no trouble hitting his deep threats in Leki Nunn and Tre Walker. He’ll have a deep tight end group to work with, even despite the loss of Josh Oliver to the NFL. Don’t be shocked if Love puts together a terrific senior season for the Spartans.
Defense: Zamore Zigler endured a position change last spring, converting from running back to corner. It’s a tough transition, and thus he didn’t get much playing time. Now, with a full season under his belt on the defensive side of the ball, Zigler is ready to shine. He’s a speedy, athletic that has solid hands and playmaking ability. He can be dangerous with the ball in his hands, so if he can improve on his man-to-man coverage, he could be a force to be reckoned with for SJSU.
Mike (MWC at-large):
Offense: I’ve been singing some praises this summer for Wyoming QB Sean Chambers, so he’s my at-large pick. The move to start the true-freshman Chambers was what got the Cowboy’s offense rolling last season and they almost rode it all the way into a bowl berth. Unfortunately for last season, he got hurt and only played in four games. Fortunately for this season, he preserved his redshirt status by only playing in four games. This year, I think Chambers fully establishes himself as a top half of the conference QB and thrives in Bohl’s system.
Defense: Another one of my favorite players from last year was the JUCO DB transfer DJ Williams from Utah State. He kind of had a breakout in the 2018 season, his first in the Mountain West. However, I think this year he will take another step forward and finish his college career as one of the top defenders in the entire conference. Williams should go from a player every Utah State fan knows to a player every MWC fan is familiar with.
Your turn: Who are your picks for the breakout players on your team? Let us know in the comment section.