As the season grows near for Rams 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 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 CSU for the 2020 season:
1. Warren Jackson, WR
No real debate here, Jackson is CSU’s best returning player on either side of the ball, and one of the best in the entire Group of 5. In his first season as the true number one receiver, Jackson did not disappoint. He reeled in 77 receptions for 1,119 yards and 8 touchdowns. He showcased his strong hands with only a couple drops on the season and became quarterback Patrick O’Brien’s favorite target instantly.
He was arguably the best receiver in the conference last year and should only continue to dominate in his second season as the teams leading receiver.
2. Trey McBride, TE
The Rams offense is loaded with receiving talent, including the most productive tight end in the entire conference a year ago. In 2019, he recorded 560 yards and 4 touchdowns on 45 receptions, leading all Mountain West TEs in the process. McBride’s combination of route running, after the catch ability, and slot experience make him a matchup nightmare for defenses to deal with.
Much like Jackson, it is safe to assume McBride will only takes step forward in his 2020 campaign as last season was just his first with significant playing time.
3. Dante Wright, WR
As a true freshman, Wright proved to be a versatile option for his quarterback. The Rams rising star hauled in 57 catches for 807 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding another 214 yards and 2 scores on 17 attempts on the ground. Wright did most of his damage from the slot but is also a capable of going deep due to the sheer amount of speed he possesses. He dropped a few passses during the season but it was not enough to be concerned about.
Whether burning defenses over the top, running routes from the slot, or taking hand offs, Dante is threat to score whenever he has the ball in his hands.
4. Patrick O’Brien, QB
After transferring to Colorado State from Nebraska in 2018, O’Brien had to sit out his redshirt sophomore season due to NCAA regulations. After taking the year to accommodate to his new scenery, he was ready to take the reigns of the offense. Last season, Patrick completed 209 of 338 passes for 2,803 yards and 13 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Though his raw stats are not overly impressive, O’Brien did not start until Week 3 and still finished fourth in passing yards and 6th in completion percentage.
With a year of starting experience under his belt and a plethora of weapons at his disposal, there is no reason why O’Brien should not improve by leaps and bounds in 2020.
5. Emmanuel Jones, DE
Finally a defensive player to crack the list, Jones was a standout on the Rams defensive line. He received playing time at outside linebacker as a true freshman before being kicked inside his sophomore season. Outside of missing more tackles than you would like, he was stout against the run and solid as a pass-rusher. He had 5 sacks which was tied for second most on the team, but he pressured opposing quarterbacks far more than that.
He has missed at least two games each year since landing in Fort Collins, Colorado but has still produced at a high-level. If he is able to stay healthy the entire season, expect big things from Jones next season.
6. Barry Wesley, OT
The best offensive lineman on the roster is returning fresh off 24 consecutive starts for Colorado State. He saw time at every position across the line in 2018 and split time at left guard and right tackle last year. He developed in all facets of his game, even cutting the amount of penalties committed in half. Not only was he dominant as a run blocker, but he was fluid in pass protection and was able to provide much needed stability up front.
Wesley was quietly among the finest offensive linemen the Mountain West could offer last season and will likely finish 2020 top 5 in the conference.
7. Marshaun Cameron, CB
Only one member of the Rams secondary makes this top 10 list, the one being cornerback Marshaun Cameron. Before transferring to CSU, Marshaun spent four years at Northern Colorado. He redshirted his freshman season in 2015 and was required to rehab all 2018 due to injury. The two seasons in between with the Bears he was a tackling machine, totalling 137 tackles and 2 interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. In his first year as a Ram, he continued his success at wrapping up the opposition, missing a conference leading 0 tackles.
He is imposing as a run defender and a dependable at tackler, but he has not been a playmaker in coverage. If Colorado State’s defensive backfield can force turnovers, they can be one of the scariest defenses for offenses to face.
8. Ellison Hubbard, DT
Hubbard, and Emmanuel Jones before him, combine for a daunting pass rush duo that will make their teammates’ jobs easier. He was not all that formidable against the run, but what he lacks in run defense he makes up for in pass rushing ability. Hubbard’s 5.5 sacks in 2019 were the not only the most by a Colorado State’s defender, but tied for the seventh most in the entire conference. One aspect of his game that was a bit of an issue last year was his tackling mechanics. He missed more than a few tackles, though it was still an improvement over his 2018 campaign.
If he can improve as a tackler and run defender, Hubbard could see his name in the top defensive tackles in the Mountain West of 2020 conversations.
9. Nate Craig-Myers, WR
Yet another weapon in O’Brien’s arsenal, Craig-Myers is a perfect compliment to the trio of offensive playmakers before him. He spent two seasons at Auburn before transferring to CSU, having to sit out the first three games of last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Upon returning to the football field, he quickly cemented himself as a great addition to the receiving corps. He was able to pull in 23 receptions for 329 yards and 1 touchdown. Outside of his game against Utah State in Week 5, he did not drop a single pass and was a reliable option for his QB.
In what is most likely his final season, Craig-Myers looks to have his most fruitful season yet in an offense that loves to sling the football around.
10. Dequan Jackson, LB
Last but certainly not least we have one of, if not, the best tackling linebacker in the Mountain West Conference. He established himself as a defensive leader as a true sophomore, racking up 87 total tackles, 6.5 of which were for loss. Jackson was also able to generate 1.5 sacks and recover 2 fumbles. He was strong in coverage as well, not allowing many receptions and staying in the receivers hip pocket throughout the route.
With fellow linebackers Tron Folsom and Max McDonald graduating, it is likely that Jackson will see an increase in playing time next season and presumably an increase in production.
Honorable mentions: Cam’ron Carter, LB and Marcus McElroy, RB
Which returning Colorado 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!