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Revisiting the Boise State 2016 Class: Defensive Backs (Part 2)

The series concludes with the last 3 DBs.

NCAA Football: Boise State at San Jose State D. Ross Cameron-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.

Another group so large, it was split into two posts. This one looks at the players who were either surprises right before signing day or a walk-on turned scholarship player.

Jordan Happle

Casey

Expectations when he signed - I didn’t know much about Happle other than his father’s relationship with Mark Wahlberg.

2016 Season - Redshirt. Considering the depth at safety, this is not even remotely surprising.

2017 Season - Appeared in 13 games, registering 15 tackles and an interception. Again, considering the depth at the position, a solid contribution from an underclassman.

2018 Season - Appeared in 8 games, making 4 starts. Happle dealt with some injuries, but still contributed 24 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and a sack. Again, despite depth and missing games, he’s still making an impact.

2019 Season - Another injury hampered season, this time limited to 6 games and 5 starts. He still registered 22 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 2 pass break-ups.

Overall impact - Happle has met expectations. He’s had some injury issues, but all in all has met expectations.

Zach

Expectations when he signed: Happle was a signing day surprised. He was lightly recruited and not much was known about him other than his dad was friends with Mark Wahlberg.

2016 season- Redshirted

2017 season- Was a solid rotational/special teams player. Made a key interception in the Las Vegas Bowl.

2018 season- Happle dealt with some injuries over the course of the season and only played in eight games as a result. He did have 24 tackles.

2019 season- Happle was limited to six games because of injury but did make five starts and had 22 tackles.

Overall Impact- This really remains to be seen. With Nawahine and Pierce gone, Happle should have a chance to be a full time starter. With that being said, I had no clue who he was when he signed, so I am going to go with exceeded expectations.

Mike

Expectations when he signed - He was a close to signing day surprise. I’ll be honest, I thought he was some depth filler and figured he would become a special teams star due to his hard hitting abilities on film.

2016 Season - He redshirted.

2017 Season - He played in 13 games and made 15 tackles.

2018 Season - In 8 games (but 4 starts), Happle amassed 24 tackles, and 4 for a loss, including a sack. Pretty impressive for limited action.

2019 Season - Jordan continued the theme of maximum production in limited time on the field. He started 5 of the 6 games he played in, with the rest being missed due to an injury. During those games, he had 22 tackles, 1 for loss, and 2 PBUs.

Overall impact - Happle proved me wrong. He still has another year to produce and hopefully stay healthy. Not sure what his role will be but he can do well as a starter, backup, and special teams player. He has exceeded expectations.

Jalen Walker

Casey

Expectations when he signed - Similarly to Happle, there wasn’t a lot of information about him so I considered him a depth add.

2016 Season - Redshirt.

2017 Season - Appeared in 12 games, starting one, finishing the season with 8 tackles. Decent contribution.

2018 Season - Played in 10 games recording 19 tackles and 2 pass break-ups. Slowly climbing the ladder and proving he can be a valued contributor at cornerback.

2019 Season - Earned All-MW Second-Team after starting all 14 games and posting 53 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 10 passes defended and 1 interception for a touchdown. One could arguably say Walker was the best corner on the team.

Overall impact - Walker exceeded expectations. Coming in without a lot of info, Jalen just put in the work and continued to improve each season.

Zach

Expectations when he signed- Like Happle, Walker was a signing day surprise. I did not know much about him and his signing felt like a bit of a reach.

2016 season- redshirted

2017 season- Appeared in 12 games and started the Las Vegas Bowl because Tyler Horton was out with an injury. His solid performance surprised many, because Walker was not used much during the regular season.

2018 season- Walker started to see more action, especially in red zone situations. He became a reliable third corner.

2019 season- Walker replaced a departed Horton and became a solid corner. He was tasked with defending the best receiver on the opposing team. He did a really good job and seems poised to take the next step in 2020.

Overall impact- I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from Walker. But he has become a reliable starter and should be a lockdown corner in 2020. Walker has exceeded expectations.

Mike

Expectations when he signed - Similar to Happle, I remember Walker being a late commitment in this class, right before signing day. With all the other DBs coming in, I thought it was some insurance/depth/flier/project, whatever word you want to use. I thought he would be a backup if for no other reason than a numbers game.

2016 Season - He redshirted, and that was expected.

2017 Season - Walker was a backup for 11 of his 12 games, but started one. That one was the Las Vegas Bowl. Jalen was thrown into the fire and had a great game, with 6 tackles.

2018 Season - Jalen went back to a backup role, but played meaningful snaps, mainly when the defense was backed up into the redzone. His stats weren’t eye-popping, but he was reliable and steady.

2019 Season - Walker had a breakout season, starting all 14 games while becoming one of the better cover corners in the MWC. He had a great interception against Utah State, had a team high 9 PBUs, and 53 tackles. He was rewarded for this by being named 2nd team all-MWC.

Overall impact - Jalen has one year left and if he can duplicate his junior season, it should be a good one. He put in the work, bided his time, rose up the depth chart, and took advantage of his opportunities. Walker exceeded expectations.

Avery Williams

Casey

Expectations when he signed - Literally no expectations. Most of the time there aren’t a ton of expectations for walk-ons. I always want them to get their shot, but I don’t hold my breath.

2016 Season - Redshirt. Not out of the ordinary, especially as a walk-on.

2017 Season - Appeared in 14 games, starting 10. Talk about coming out of nowhere. He had 45 tackles, 8 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. In his collegiate debut, he took a punt return 81 yards for a touchdown. He took another punt return 53 yards for a touchdown against SDSU. He earned All-MW Second-Team and MW Special Teams Player of the Week twice.

2018 Season - Earned All-MW Honorable Mention after playing in 13 games and recording 49 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 11 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as well as a kick-off return for a touchdown versus Colorado State.

2019 Season - Voted Special Team Player of the Year and All-MW First-Team as a punt returner and All-MW Honorable Mention as a cornerback. After starting all 14 games, he recorded 39 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 4 pass break-ups, 2 blocked kicks and 2 more punts returned for touchdowns.

Overall impact - Avery Williams has absolutely exceeded expectations. While some have complained about his play at cornerback, he’s done well. On special teams, he might be one of the best, if not THE best, players to ever play on the Blue turf.

Zach

Expectations when he signed- Williams was a walk-on, we really did not know much about him until the punt return against Troy.

2016 season- Redshirted

2017 season- Was the starting punt returner and took his first return to the house in the season opener against Troy. Earned a starting role at corner a few games into the season and had two interceptions.

2018 season- Williams was the starting corner and continued to make an impact on special teams including a kickoff return for a touchdown.

2019 season- Williams was the Mountain West special teams player of the year and started all 14 games at corner. He did have some struggles against bigger receivers and lost some playing time with the emergence of true freshman Markel Reed.

Overall impact- Avery Williams is one of those great stories. He has earned every snap he has played and has been a key contributor to two championship teams. He has easily exceeded expectations.

Mike

Expectations when he signed - He was a walk-on and I don’t even remember hearing about him until after he was on the team.

2016 Season - He redshirted. I vaguely remember the coaches trying to figure out where to put him, I’m pretty sure he was a nickel at one time and possibly even on offense?

2017 Season - Avery burst on the scene immediately. With a punt return on his first college football touch in the opening game. He injected blood into a special teams unit that was lacking it the year before. He played 14 games and ended up starting 10 of them, injecting life into the defense as they hit their stride when they put him in the starting lineup. He has 2 punt returns, 45 tackles, 2 INTs, and 8 PBUs.

2018 Season - He maintained his starting position all season, although he was in a bit of a time-share. He returned a kickoff, had a TD off an interception, blocked a FG, forced a fumble or two, so pretty much a little bit of everything.

2019 Season - Williams was the Special Teams POY in the Mountain West, was the first team all-conference punt returner and an honorable mention as a CB. He had to punt returns for a touchdown. He also blocked two kicks. As a cornerback, he had 39 tackles, although he was exposed a bit more with his lack of size. Similar to the season before, he was at times subbed out for a taller backup, this one being true freshman Markel Reed.

Overall impact - Williams has been a walk-on turned dynamic player and it’s hard to believe he’s already a senior. While he hasn’t been able to sustain his play on defense over the years, and is probably best as a CB #3/slot corner, that’s still a lot of value from a former walk-on. Even before factoring in his value as one of the best returners in the nation. Avery easily exceeds expectations.

Running Totals:

Casey: 7 exceeded expectations, 7 met expectations, 15 failed to meet expectations.

Zach: 8 exceeded expectations, 7 met expectations, 14 failed to meet expectations

Mike: 8 exceeded expectations, 8 met expectations, 13 failed to meet expectations.

That’s a wrap on the 2016 Class. See you next year for 2017.