Over the next few weeks, Danny and myself will be previewing the top ten players on the 2020 Boise State football team. Danny and I debated what criteria we would use to compile this list. We agreed that we would go with the players we think will have the biggest impact, not necessarily the best returning players. With that being said, here is our list:
I know I am going to get a lot of flack for putting Williams this low. The reigning Special Teams Player of the Year will continue to have an impact in the return game. However, he was a liability on defense and may not be able able to hold Markel Reed back for a starting position. However, Williams is a game changer on special teams and that is where his biggest contribution to this team will be.
The internal debate about what criteria to favor when making a list like this is difficult. How much projection is reasonable? I haven’t solved that mystery, but I am comfortable saying that JL Skinner will be among the top ten most important players for Boise State when football returns in 2020.
The 6’4, 220-pound Sophomore Safety may as well be a clone of George Iloka, and Boise State coaches and players have raved about him since he first stepped foot on The Blue. Now he is in line to be a full-time starter at a position that has consistently produced stars.
I have been super high on Bates since the moment he stepped foot on campus. He has grown a ton as a blocker and has the build of an NFL tight end. As I have gone back and watched games from last season, it was clear that Bates was far more effective when Bachmeier was the quarterback. If there is any player on the young 2020 squad that has a chance to get drafted next spring, I think Bates is the guy.
I really wanted to put Williams lower on the list. He is incredibly important on special teams, and a veteran presence in a young secondary room. Williams will make an impact for the Broncos in 2020.
The reason he falls to number nine is because his spot as the number two corner is anything but secure. It would not be incredibly surprising if Markel Reed emerges as the second CB as the 2020 season progresses. I hope this prediction makes me look silly, and the fan favorite Avery Williams has a dominating Senior season.
Boise State will have more depth at linebacker than they have had in recent seasons and that group will be led by an experienced senior in Riley Whimpey. Whimpey will be joined by Zeke Noa and grad transfer Brock Miller to form a vicious trio. Whimpey improved a ton after struggling as a sophomore. I think there is a good chance he will lead this team in tackles.
Riley Whimpey led the Broncos in tackles in 2019. He was also second on the team in pass break-ups. The Senior WLB is the frontrunner to lead the team in tackles again in 2020.
Whimpey might have been lower on this list, but the return of Ezekiel Noa at middle linebacker, and the addition of graduate transfer Brock Miller at weakside linebacker will strengthen the linebacker room overall, and Whimpey’s singular importance might not shine through as brightly.
Before you criticize this pick, I want you to go back and watch the last four games of Mountain West play. Outside of Curtis Weaver, there was no defensive player wreaking more havoc than Washington. Washington has been highly regarded by the coaches even during his time on the scout team. Washington may end up being the best player on this defense and he will be a first team all-conference selection when the season comes to a close.
Boise State has just one returning starter at the offensive line position. That man is 6’6, 300-pound John Ojukwu. Ojukwu had a good 2019 as the right tackle for the Broncos, and I expect him to take the leap to greatness in 2020. Whether he stays at right tackle or shifts over to protect Hank Bachmeier’s blindside, the Redshirt Junior will have to be an anchor for the relatively inexperienced offensive line.
As high-flying and scheme heavy as the college football game has become, games are still won and lost in the trenches. Ojukwu’s development and leadership will be key for a successful 2020 campaign for the Broncos.
I need to eat some crow on this one. I was skeptical about Walker, I did think that he would be a lock down corner, let alone a starter. He was great in 2019 and was almost always tasked with guarding the best receiver on the opposing teams. He had some struggles (San Jose State), but I think Walker will take the next step and finish his career with an all-conference performance.
This was the hardest selection for me. I wrote down and erased Shakir’s name at every spot from six to two. Ultimately, Shakir settled as the sixth most important returning player due to the overall depth and talent at the wide receiver position. Even still, Shakir is a star with the brightest of futures in football.
In 2019, Shakir had ten total touchdowns (six receiving, three rushing, and one passing), and I expect him to breakout even further in 2020. With John Hightower heading to Philadelphia, Shakir should be on the receiving end of more deep targets this season. If the Broncos weren’t absolutely loaded at the wide receiver position, Shakir would be much lower on my list.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order)
Zach: JL Skinner, Ben Dooley, Zeke Noa, CT Thomas, Octavius Evans, Jackson Cravens, Markel Reed.
I came really close to putting Skinner in over Williams. Skinner will end up being one of the biggest recruiting coups in Boise State history. He reminds me a lot of a bigger George Illoka. I also like Ben Dooley a lot, I think he can step in and play the right tackle position immediately. CT Thomas and Octavius Evans will be great compliments to Shakir at the wide receiver spots and are capable of putting up huge numbers. Also, keep an eye on Utah transfer Jackson Cravens, he could form a formidable tandem on the interior with Scale Igiehon.
CT Thomas, Octavius Evans, John Bates, Ezekiel Noa, Markel Reed, Stefan Cobbs
As noted when discussing Khalil Shakir, the wide receiver group is absolutely loaded. Leaving CT Thomas off the list feels almost criminal, especially considering Thomas had his most productive games with Bachmeier under center. I tossed around the idea of picking Noa over Whimpey, but with Noa returning from an ACL injury, Whimpey was the safer choice. John Bates is the omission that is most likely to make me look silly by the end of the 2020 season. When this write-up drops for the 2021 season, I would be shocked if Reed and Cobbs don’t make the cut.
Here is how our lists have shaped up to this point. Be sure to tune in next week, when we will look at the top five players on the 2020 Boise State football team.