As the season grows near for Aztecs football, it seems fitting to take a look at the 10 best returning players to the gridiron for the upcoming season. Without spring practices, or at least delayed activities, it may be difficult for the San Diego State coaching staff to truly identify the talent on their roster, but that does not matter for these athletes. These 10 players have almost all solidified their positions on the depth chart after last season and look to be ready to reload for next year.
For this list, positional value was not taken into account rather the athletes prior play and individual talent at their position will be ranked. So even though certain positions may provide more value than others, we are simply looking at the dominance of each athlete.
Without further ado, the top-10 returning players to SDSU for the 2020 season:
1. Tariq Thompson, CB/S
No shocker here, Thompson is SDSU’s best returning player on either side of the ball. He is listed as a cornerback on some sites and a safety on others, but he is simply a playmaker on the backend of the Aztecs secondary. He spends a majority of his snaps spent from the slot, while also playing deep safety when the defense requires it. His coverage skills and instincts are outstanding, snagging 11 interceptions and 31 pass deflections over the pass three seasons as a starter. Expect No. 14, for the fourth straight year, to be the thorn in opposing offenses and hear his name called sometime during the 2021 NFL Draft.
2. Cameron Thomas, DT
Taking a moment to discuss one of the big men upfront, Thomas started every game last season. He was solid against the run, filling gaps with his massive six foot and five inch frame, but was even better rushing the passer. He was just a redshirt sophomore but proved his worth in the trenches, generating 5.5 sacks, most by any Aztecs defender. Thomas missed some tackles periodically, but if he can tighten that aspect of his game up, he should be the most dominant Mountain West defensive lineman next season.
3. Dwayne Johnson Jr., S
Johnson is a hard-hitting safety, most comfortable closer to the line of scrimmage. Due to his physical nature he is tremendous against the run, reading blocks and meeting running backs as soon as they reach their hole. He is far from a one-trick pony however, as he provides stellar coverage ability from the box. Whether it is going man to man with tight ends or RBs running routes out of the backfield, Johnson has the size, fluidity and athleticism to stay right in their hip pocket. Much like Thompson, he should be hearing his name called in April next year if he is able to piece together yet another stellar season.
4. Darren Hall, CB
Hall is yet another secondary member and the fourth straight defense player to crack the list which is a testament to the defense Brady Hoke is inheriting in San Diego, California. He was outperformed expectations in 2019, flashing his decision making and coverage skills. According to the schools site, he forced 17 pass deflections, 12 more than the year prior, while also catching an interception and forcing two fumbles. If he can turn those deflections into more interceptions, he could go down as one of the best ball hawking corners in Mountain West, if not the entire nation.
5. Keshawn Banks, DE
The final defensive player to be highlighted, Banks flashed some serious talent as a true sophomore. In just his second season on the roster, he racked up 43 total tackles, 13.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks rushing the passer. He was no slouch when stopping the run either, but did miss quite a few tackles so he will need to work on wrapping up this offseason. He may be fifth here, but when we review the top players at the end of the season, I would not be surprised if he was in the top-3. Banks has the frame, athleticism, and now the experience to disrupt rivaling teams for at least another season if he decides to leave for the NFL draft.
6. Kobe Smith, WR
Both starting receivers from last season will be returning for the Aztecs, the first being Kobe Smith. It won’t be hard to miss the 6’2” 190-pounder as he wears the number 92, one of the only receivers you will see rocking a number over 89. He was QB Ryan Agnew’s favorite target in 2019, reeling in a team leading 58 receptions. Due to his high volume rate, he was able to lead the team in receiving yards (691) and touchdowns (4). He suffered quite a few drops last season but if can keep them to a minimum in 2020, he should be the next Aztecs QB’s favorite receiver once again.
7. William Dunkle, G
The offensive line is one of the most important units for San Diego State with how much they run the football. Due to this, they require massive maulers leading the way for their running backs. Dunkle is the epitome of what they want upfront. At 6’5” 350 pounds, he has no problem moving grown men against their will, although he sometimes over pursues and can miss assignments. He is also great in pass protection and should provide stability for an offense that will need to replace two starters on their line next season.
8. Jesse Matthews, WR
Matthews was a force to be reckoned with in the Aztecs passing attack last year. The former walk-on started opposite Kobe Smith and was able to post solid numbers despite SDSU’s run-heavy scheme. He corralled 48 receptions for 633 yards and two touchdowns. He did not drop a single pass while also picking up yards after the catch. At 6’0” and roughly 180 pounds (though the school’s site may be a bit dated) he is a little slight for the position but proved to be a crafty route runner in his first season as a collegiate athlete. Whoever starts at QB will have a trusty target in Matthews.
9. Zachary Thomas, OT
Thomas came off a torn ACL that he suffered in 2018 and played well as the starting right tackle last year. Being yet another season removed from the injury, it is safe to assume he will look even better in his redshirt senior season. He struggled a tad in the run game but was stellar in pass protection, allowing zero sacks or QB hits a year ago. He will lock down the right tackle position once again in 2020 and will serve to protect whichever quarterback is under center.
10. Chase Jasmin, RB
With how much SDSU loves to run the ball, it is necessary to have an RB who has the vision to find his holes and the speed and power to run through them. Jasmin possesses both and showed he can be productive on the ground and in the receiving game last year. Despite receiving the third highest amount of carries, he was the most efficient among all of SDSU’s running backs, averaging 4.8 yards and picking up yards after contact with ease. Expect Jasmin to be the lead back next season, although every running back on their roster should receive a healthy amount of work.
Honorable mentions: Daniel Bellinger, TE, Kyle Spalding, OT, and Jordan Byard, RB
Which returning SDSU player, does not have to be listed above, are you most excited about seeing on the football field next season? Drop your answer below!