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Revisiting the 2016 Boise State Class: Defensive Line (Part 1)

Looking at the interior DL players.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a fun off-season series that Casey (of OBNUG), Zach, and Mike (both of MWCConnection) are rolling out for your viewing enjoyment (hopefully). Back in February, excitement was at an all time high for fans and coaches alike as the 2020 class was officially signed. Like every year, fans often tout a class as potentially one of the best on paper. However, once players get on campus and actually on the field, the true story begins to reveal itself. It can often take years for a class to truly be judged as the impact of many players won’t be seen for a few seasons. That being said, this series will aim to revisit and evaluate Boise State’s 2016 class. There has now been enough time that many members of the class have either left or are entering their final seasons, which means players are able to be looked at for their production (or lack thereof) rather than projection and hype.

Anyway, each week, Casey, Zach, and Mike will look at a different position group from the class. While we will contribute one posts each week for the next ten weeks, the location of the post will change (one week on one site, the next week on the other) so readers of both sites can follow along. Each post will have all of us weighing in on the same talking points for each season: our expectations of the player from when they signed, the production they gave each season on the team, and their overall impact, which we will fit into one of 3 categories (exceeded expectations, met expectations, or below expectations). We will each keep a running tally of our totals and then at the end we can each determine the over impact the 2016 class had. It should be a fun and interesting study to see what kind of careers each player had and revisit some names that may have been forgotten.

This was the class that dubbed themselves “Dream Team 16” and was the first Boise State class to begin bonding on social media as well as a private group messaging app (which backfired when two flipped to Missouri as seemingly a package deal). It was the class that endured three coaching departures in the off-season, and nabbed a few late commitments at key positions.

This group was so big, we split it into two. In case it was forgotten, a huge emphasis was placed on the D-line in this class. This one focuses more on the interior players, and we threw in one who was initially a walk-on for fun.

Emmanuel Fesili


Expectations when he signed - I was pretty stoked. I didn’t know a ton about Fesili, but he was massive and I could see him requiring double teams to contain.

2016 Season - Played right away as a true freshman, but appeared in just 2 games.

2017 Season - Played in all 13 games, starting one and making 5 tackles. Nothing eye-popping, but some progress from the previous season. Though, I think most expected a bigger impact from a player who played as a true freshman.

2018 Season - Appeared in 9 games, starting 2, making 9 total tackles and .5 tackles for loss. Again, progress, but not quite what was expected.

2019 Season - Appeared in 5 games making 5 tackles and .5 tackles for loss.

Overall Impact - He played his role, despite being passed by some other players. I have a huge appreciation for players who stick it out despite things maybe not going to plan. Having said that, Fesili failed to meet expectations.


Expectations when he signed: I was really excited. Fesilil had the build to play right away and came from a great high school.

2016 Season: Burned his redshirt while playing in only two games. It was an interesting decision to say the least.

2017 Season: Played in 13 games, but snaps were limited.

2018 Season: Appeared in 9 games, but once again snaps were limited.

2019 Season: Played in only five games

Overall Impact: I will never understand why Fesili did not redshirt. The emergence of walk-on Sonatane Lui led to Fesilil being a career backup. For that reason, he failed to meet expectations.


Expectations when he signed: I had pretty big expectations for Fesili. He was a well-regarded recruit out of Long Beach Poly and had talent at a spot that needed someone to play right away. I thought he would develop into a two or three year starter with potential to be an all-conference performer.

2016 Season: He stepped into an on the field role right away. However, it was only two games. While it initially seemed to make sense to have him play given the state of the depth chart, his use never warranted it.

2017 Season: Even after a lackluster first season, it would have made sense for him to make a bit of a jump after getting experience. He played 13 games and made one start. His stats were pretty light, 5 tackles with one for a loss.

2018 Season: At worst a step back at best no progress. His junior campaign saw him start two games out of nine, but only had nine tackles and a single tackle for loss, that was shared with another player.

2019 Season: By this time, he was a forgotten and passed over player, only appearing in five games. Only five total tackles and again shared his sole one that went for a loss.

Overall Impact: Fesili had a lot of promise coming in, but he wasn’t quite ready when he was thrown in and he got passed up almost immediately by a player on this list we will feature a bit later. Who knows if the coaches or Emmanuel himself didn’t want him to redshirt mid-way through his career. Regardless, he easily failed to meet expectations.

Danielson Auelua


Expectations when he signed - I was glad to land him. I think JC players are vital, especially when working to rebuild a line with young players.

2016 Season: Played in all 13 games, making 9 tackles.

2017 Season: Appeared in 8 games, making 1 tackle.

2018 Season: N/A

2019 Season: N/A

Overall Impact - Daniel played the role he was brought in for well. He didn’t necessarily blow anyone away, but he played well and didn’t make mistakes. I’d say he met expectations.


Expectations when he signed: Auelua was a junior college transfer. Not much was known about him before he came to Boise State. My expectations were that he would become a reliable backup.

2016 Season: Appeared in all 13 games, making nine tackles in a reserve role

2017 Season: Played in a reserve role, had five tackles against Colorado State

2018 Season: No longer with the program

2019 Season: No longer with the program

Overall Impact: This is a tough one. Auelua became a reliable backup, but did not play a significant amount of snaps. But as a junior college transfer on a deep defensive line, he met expectations.


Expectations when he signed: He was signed as a JUCO player at a position of need. He wasn’t highly rated or recruited, so I figured he would earn a spot on the two-deep and fill a role admirably.

2016 Season: He played in every game in the exact role mentioned above. He made nine tackles.

2017 Season: More of the same. Backup role, no big games but was not a liability.

2018 Season: N/A

2019 Season: N/A

Overall Impact: He had an unmemorable career but did what he was brought in to do. Met expectations.

Jabari Watson


Expectations when he signed - Jabari passed on a P5 school to be a Bronco, which is always great. I was pretty excited to land Jabari as he had the size to play right away and his tape was solid.

2016 Season - Redshirt season. Not a surprise, though was hoping he might see the field.

2017 Season - Appeared in 4 games and made one tackle. Not quite what I expected.

2018 Season - Played in 12 games, making 8 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Better progress, though played in a backup role.

2019 Season - Played in 7 games, making 6 total tackles and .5 tackles for loss.

Overall Impact - I really want Jabari to meet expectations, and I feel like he’s close. With the graduation of Chase Hatada and Curtis Weaver Jabari would have had an opportunity to make an impact on the line, but due to a late season injury in 2019, decided to medically retire. Unfortunately, Jabari failed to meet expectations.


Expectations when he signed: I had very high expectations for Watson. He was a highly sought after recruit with a lot of great offers.

2016 Season: Redshirted

2017 Season: Appeared in four games in a reserve role.

2018 Season: Played limited snaps in a reserve role.

2019 Season: Watson started to see the field a bit more. But a late season injury resulted in him medically retiring from football.

Overall Impact: I think 2020 was going to be a breakout season for Watson. He started to emerge late in 2019, but ultimately injuries have led to him not meeting expectations.


Expectations when he signed: Watson was one of the bigger gets at this position on the high side of things. I thought he would become a solid starter for the team at some point in his career.

2016 Season: He redshirted. Although not unexpected, it did yield expectations a bit.

2017 Season: He played in a handful of games and made just one tackle.

2018 Season: He took a step forward in production, tallying two sacks and eight tackles in six games.

2019 Season: Watson only played in eight games and I believe had one game with a pretty big role due to injuries. However, he suffered an injury himself before the end of the year and decided to medically retire.

Overall Impact: Jabari ended up being the odd man out in this big DL class. I believe he showed up a good deal smaller than his listed height and weight in high school and then got lost in the shuffle with some of the other high school players. Still, he stuck with it and kept working until he couldn’t anymore. Although he still failed to meet expectations.

Sonatane Lui (initially a walk-on)


Expectations when he signed - Honestly I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for Lui. You like to see walk-ons get a shot, but more often than not it doesn’t usually work out.

2016 Season - Out of nowhere, Lui plays 12 games and makes 10 tackles with a sack. Considering the rest of the players on the line, that’s impressive.

2017 Season - Played in 13 games, starting 12 of them as a true sophomore. He made 18 tackles and 2.5 tackle for loss, cementing his place on the line as an underclassman.

2018 Season - Played in 10 games, starting all of them, making 26 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

2019 Season - Started in 13 games, earning All-MW Honorable Mention and MW Championship Defensive MVP after posting 49 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

Overall Impact - Lui was a monster for the Broncos, improving every season and playing through injuries. Lui absolutely exceeded expectations. He medically retired from football this year.


Expectations when he signed: I had no idea who he was. I had zero expectations.

2016 Season: The guy I had never heard of played a ton as a true freshman. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised.

2017 Season: Started 12 of 13 games and made 18.5 tackles. Was a key member of an emerging defensive line.

2018 Season: Started all ten games he played in. He was a run stopping force making 26.5 tackles.

2019 Season: Lui took another step and became a capable pass rusher and was the defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship game.

Overall Impact: A former walk-on becomes a key contributor for four year. Lui easily exceeded expectations and had a very solid career.


Expectations when he signed: He appeared out of nowhere so there were no expectations. A walk-on returning from an LDS mission who got put on scholarship (can’t remember if it was before or after his first season) is a nice story but I wasn’t expecting the player he would become.

2016 Season: Being out of football for two years and walking on the team, I didn’t think he would play at all. However, Lui was able to notch 10 tackles in 12 games right out of the gate.

2017 Season: Lui stepped into the starting nose tackle role his second year, and outside of games he was injured, he never let it go. He was a stout presence who ate up blockers.

2018 Season: Injuries caused him to miss a few games but Lui still anchored the line and had 26 tackles on the year.

2019 Season: He was again formidable as a senior. 49 tackles, 4.5 sacks as a nose tackle and became an All-MWC Honorable Mention.

Overall Impact: Lui came out of nowhere to have a solid four-year career with the Broncos. Although he fell to the injury bug a bit, he was as reliable as they come. Thrown in that he was an unknown walk-on and he easily exceeded expectations.

Running Totals:

Casey: 4 exceeded expectations, 4 met expectations, 8 failed to meet expectations.

Zach: 4 exceeded expectations, 4 met expectations, 8 failed to meet expectations

Mike: 4 exceeded expectations, 5 met expectations, 7 failed to meet expectations.