As the season grows near for Aggies football, it seems fitting to take a look at the 10 finest returning players to the gridiron for the upcoming season. Without spring practices, or at least delayed activities, it may be difficult for the 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 USU for the 2020 season:
1. Troy Lefeged Jr., S
If it were not for San Diego State, the Aggies would boast the best returning safety duo in the Mountain West. The first of which is Lefeged Jr. who spent two seasons in the JUCO system before joining the Aggies in 2019. He led all safeties in the conference with 109 total tackles while also adding 3 forced fumbles, 4 pass breakups, and even 2 sacks.
Troy is stout against the run and formidable when patrolling the secondary in coverage. He is also Utah State’s form of a Swiss Army knife as he lined up in the box, at deep safety, and even in the slot. With a year of D1-level experience and another offseason to master the defensive scheme, Lefeged Jr. is a prime candidate to breakout in 2020.
2. Shaq Bond, S
Bond is the perfect compliment to Lefeged Jr. as he is the lightning to his thunder. Troy is versatile and hard-hitting, while Shaq is primarily the deep roaming free safety who has a knack for getting his hands on the football. Before attending Utah State in 2018, he spent his freshman year at Southwestern Junior College where he recorded 36 tackles, 8 interceptions, 5 pass breakups, and 3 blocked kicks.
In 2019, Bond notched 83 tackles, a team leading 3 interceptions, 8 deflected passes and 1 forced fumble. He missed more tackles than you would like and was not nearly as dominant against the run as Lefeged, but he was superior in coverage. He is entering his third season with the Aggies in 2020 and will look to have his best year yet.
3. Karter Shaw, OG
After redshirting his freshman year in 2018, Shaw started all 13 games at right guard for the Aggies. Not only was he the teams best run-blocker last season, but he was outstanding in pass protection, allowing just one sack all year long. Karter proved to be well disciplined, being penalized on just a few occasions a year ago. He is listed at 6’4” and 305 pounds, but has even more room to build on his frame entering his redshirt sophomore season.
Although his first campaign as starter was already impressive, I have no doubt he will be one of the top offensive linemen in the conference upon the conclusion of the 2020 season.
4. Jaylen Warren, RB
Warren joined Utah State in 2019 after being a star on the junior college stage for two years. Last season, he was second on the depth chart behind starter Gerold Bright but was still able to produce at a high level. Warren ran for 569 yards and 5 touchdowns on 112 attempts, while also adding 182 yards on 15 receptions through the air. He is not the most elusive back but is capable of bouncing off defenders thanks to his compact 5’8” 215-pound frame.
With Bright taking his talents to the NFL, Warren is now the leading man in the backfield and if his previous success is any indicator, he will be an extremely productive running back for the Aggies in 2020.
5. Heneli Bloomfield, OG
Alongside Shaw and a soon to be named center, Bloomfield offered tremendous play as a pass-blocker and was solid in the running game. Outside of Shaw, Bloomfield would be the team’s strongest mauler up front, creating holes for his running backs. Even though he was above-average leading his RBs, Heneli was elite in pass protection as he did not allow a single sack in 2019.
He will be a redshirt sophomore next season, meaning he has even more room for growth in his game. Expect Bloomfield to not only improve in 2020 but to finish the year among the conference’s top offensive linemen.
6. Demytrick Ali’ifua, C
The final offensive lineman to crack the top 10 returning Aggies, Ali’ifua started every game at center after bouncing around as a rotational guard the two years prior. He was not strong in the running game but excelled as a pass-blocker, allowing 0 sacks and provided much-needed protection for his quarterback. He was penalized more than a handful of times in 2019 but should be able to reduce that next season.
With Jordan Love off to the NFL, the next starting quarterback will need Ali’ifua and the rest of the o-line to afford him as much time to throw as possible.
7. Andre Grayson, CB
Following a redshirt true freshman season and seeing sparse playing time in 2018, Grayson latched on to a starting cornerback role a year ago and did not look back. At five feet six inches and just 170 pounds, Andre was pigeonholed into the slot but that did not stop him from making plays for the Aggies defense. He forced totaled 47 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. He has the athleticism and instincts to thrive as a slot corner but did miss quite a few tackles which resulted in some chunk plays occurring in his coverage.
In his second season as a starter, Grayson should reduce the amount of missed tackles while maintaining his ability to make plays for the defense.
8. Kevin Meitzenheimer, LB
Meitzenheimer started every game for USU in 2019 and presented stability in the linebacking corps, even when David Woodyard went down with an injury and Eric Munoz was thrust into the starting lineup. It was Kevin’s first year running with the first team and he immediately became one of the leaders of the defense. He racked up 89 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, and 2 QB sacks.
Meitzenheimer played nearly every snap for Utah State and demonstrated his ability as a sure tackler. He is capable in coverage and wraps up running backs before they can do serious damage. With Woodyard and Munoz leaving Utah State, he will have every opportunity to make an impact in 2020.
9. Deven Thompkins, WR
The only receiving option to make my top 10, Thompkins was stellar for the Aggies in 2019. He hauled in 40 receptions for 536 and 4 touchdowns while also carrying the rock 6 times for another 77 yards and 1 score. Not only does he have experience lining up out wide, in the slot, and in the backfield, Deven has seen time as a kick returner and scored on his only punt return last season.
His numbers accumulated are already impressive, but what makes them stand out more is the fact that he was just a 5’7” 160-pound true sophomore a year ago. Tight end Caleb Repp and receiver Siaosi Mariner are gone which leaves a large number of targets on the table, many of which should be going to Deven in 2020.
10. Jason Shelley, QB
I am cheating a bit here as Shelley is not technically a returning Aggies player but he will be on the roster entering the 2020 season. Jason is transferring in from Utah and is the expected starter with Henry Colombi entering his name into the transfer portal.
The former Utes QB is entering his redshirt junior season but has not seen significant playing time in his career outside 2018. That year, he started the final five games for Utah, completing 98 of 169 attempts for 1,162 yards, 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also carried the ball 63 times, picking up 192 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Although his stats are not all that impressive, Shelley was 247Sports’ 12th highest-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school and has the physical tools to do damage in the Mountain West.
Honorable mentions: Cam Lampkin, CB, Nick Heninger, DE and Alfred Edwards, OT
Which returning Utah State player, does not have to be listed above, are you most excited about seeing on the football field next season? Drop your answer below!