Monday, August 11, 2014

Marshall Football Skill Player Rankings

With week one of Marshall football’s fall camp officially in the books, several players await what the future may hold for their 2014 season. After two days of full-pad practices, several players have separated from the pack, while others are sliding the wrong direction on the depth chart.

This will be my first full ranking of all skill positions. Keep in mind, my projections and a dollar may get you something from the dollar menu at your favorite local restaurant. But unless there is something I am completely missing, I would expect my projections to be in the ballpark.


Rakeem Cato
1.       Rakeem Cato: 6-0 176 Senior Miami, FL- For the first time since Byron Leftwich graced the Joan; Marshall football finally has a quarterback in the Heisman Trophy race. Not only is Cato on the prestigious award watch list, his pre-season accolades are as impressive as some may collect over an entire career. Cato is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. His biggest challenge is he is just the same as a quarterback who plays on the west coast; most of the nation will never get a chance to see him. Cato has been nothing less than spectacular thus far in practice with pinpoint accurate throws, superb reads and lightning fast decision making that puts a coach on the field for the Herd. Cato has spent time in every practice coaching players up and even helped out defensive coach Chuck Heater when a rookie defensive end did not hold his position which allowed Cato to make a positive gain on a play that should have resulted in a loss. Cato appears to have more weapons this season than he’s ever had at Marshall, including a 243 pound tailback in Devon Johnson who can run, catch and block. Cato is poised to break every Marshall passing record this season and is currently chasing current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for the NCAA record of consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass (38). Should Cato successful break the record, he would tie Wilson in the homecoming game against Middle Tennessee and would break it the following week against FIU—which would be in his hometown of Miami. This could be a special year for the senior and a trip to New York in December is likely.

Gunnar Holcombe
2.       Gunnar Holcombe: 6-3 202 RS-Sophomore Fort Lauderdale, FL- Holcombe appears to have settled in as the back-up to Cato for this season after former back-up Blake Frohnapfel bolted to UMASS in the off-season. However, should Holcombe see the field this season, do not expect any resemblance to that of Frohnapfel—at least not yet. Holcombe has yet to show any consistency in camp. He will hit a streaking receiver for a big gain on one pass and toss a ball at the receiver’s feet on the next. Holcombe’s saving grace for this season, Cole Garvin is not much better. Holcombe’s biggest challenge that awaits him will come next season when James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong should compete for the starting role vacated by Cato. But for now, Holcombe will be number 2.

Cole Garvin
3.       Cole Garvin: 6-1 212 Freshman Tyrone, GA- Garvin has a long way to go to work himself ahead of Holcombe. His biggest issue thus far in camp, consistency. Garvin has missed as many passes as he’s thrown, including throwing three interceptions—two back-to-back—in one offensive series rotation. His arm strength continues to be a problem as receivers often pull up on a deep route rather than catching the pass in stride. Garvin seems to be big-eyed much of the time when on the field and the speed of the game often consumes him. Garvin will have the benefit of sitting and watching this season which will help him develop into a potential candidate for the starting quarterback next season.


Tommy Shuler
1.       Tommy Shuler: 5-7  188  Senior Miami, FL.- Coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons, Shuler is poised to do what has never been done by a NCAA receiver, catch 100 passes in back-to-back-to-back seasons. Shuler in camp has looked spectacular and the defensive backs have just been trying to contain him and not give up a big gain. Defenses will use the famous Stewart Scott line when trying to lock down the kid from Miami Central, “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” Expect plenty of Rakeem Cato to Shuler calls this season as this will be the last hoorah for the tandem who have been playing together since they were kids. Another quality Shuler has shown thus far in camp, leadership. Shuler has spent endless time with the receivers in practice giving them pointers and advice of the best way to run the routes.
8/11 Update: Shuler continues to shine and has become a coach and leader on the field. Shuler looks to benefit by a talented group of receivers around him that will take advantage of teams who decide to bracket Shuler. Shuler could in line for his best season ever.

Davonte Allen
2.       Davonte Allen: 6-2 200 RS-Junior Belle Glade, FL.- Allen is in a unique situation this season. This is finally his time to shine. With Devon “Moo Moo” Smith playing out his senior season last year, Cato needs a legitimate deep threat he can go to. While Allen had a great spring and has shown signs of being a consistent target for Cato to work to, there is a big difference of catching a pass in camp and catching it on Saturdays when the big lights are on. Allen can use his big body to out muscle smaller corners
and his height gives him a 2-3 inch advantage over the typical secondary players. If Allen can be that consistent deep threat the Herd is desperately looking for, he could have a break-out season. However, if Allen’s lights don’t go on when its game time, Coach Holliday has plenty of young guns standing in the wings chomping at the bit for a chance to shine.
8/11 Update: Allen continues to make good progress in the fall after having a good spring showing. Allen’s biggest area of concern is consistency. Coach Furrey said Allen has all the potential but it’s time for production rather than potential to take over. Allen has made several nice catches through the first week and could be the deep threat Cato is looking for.

Deandre Reaves
3.       Deandre Reaves: 5-10 173 Sterling, VA.- Reaves returns this season looking to be more than by a kick return like most of his 2013 season. While being the primary kick returner last season, he averaged 25-yard per return including an 81-yarder. Reaves however, wasn’t much in the mix of the offensive game plan, catching only six passes for 42 yards in 14 games. This poses to be the special team’s specialist break-out season. Reaves routes have been solid resulting in several deep hook-ups with Cato. With the Herd having such a deep receiver class this season, Reaves will keep himself on the field with consistent play and doing his job when called up.
8/11 Update: Reaves looks to return kickoffs once again this season but his speed gives Cato a great target to hit on the underneath routes. Reaves has been a solid target and could work as an inside receiver that works in the opposite of direction as everyone else. Reaves becomes the most dangerous when he has the ball in hands and open field or blockers in front. Reaves can work the quick slant, quick hitch or bubble screen and let his speed take over. Reaves will be a serious threat this season.

Josh Knight
4.       Josh Knight: 6-0 186 Sophomore Fort Pierce, FL.- Knight is my 4b but could be the biggest intangible of this returning group of receivers. Knight did not catch a pass last season but he has already shown signs in camp that he is here to fight for a spot on the field. Knight’s routes have been crisp and his cuts sharp allowing whatever quarterback is throwing the ball to rely on 84 being where he is supposed to be. He works through contact and is not easily pushed off his routes. He has also stepped up as a mentor to the incoming freshman, something the Coach Holliday complimented him on earlier this week. Holliday said it doesn’t take a senior to lead but rather a person willing to step up and accept responsibility. Knight seems to be that guy.
8/11 Update: Knight has been a pleasant surprise in this talented group of receivers. He has worked well with all the quarterbacks and has been a deep threat all week. Knight can play behind Allen on the outside or on the opposite side of him in a “twins” set providing a dual deep threat.

Angelo Jean-Louis
5.       Angelo Jean-Louis: 6-0 175 RS-Freshman Wellington, FL. - This kid has some of the seasoned vets sweating. Jean-Louis (Pronounced Jean-Lewis) has spent his practice in the afternoon sessions, aka with the ones and twos. He has not looked out of place. Jean-Louis could work himself into a back-up role as an outside threat. As Doc said it best earlier this week, competition is a great thing amongst players. Jean-Louis brings that element to practice as he could vault himself into the 2-deep rather quickly with a stellar
performance once full-pad practices begin Friday.
8/11 Update: With high expectations for Jean-Louis, the time is now for him to step up. He has worked well with the quarterbacks and could be the #2 outside receiver behind Davonte Allen with a chance to push some seasoned vets down the depth chart. Just like every receiver on the roster, it all comes down to consistency.

Justin Hunt
6.       Justin Hunt: 6-2 193 Sophomore Memphis, TN.- Hunt, much like Knight, is another cog in this wheel of receivers the Herd has to offer this season. Last season he played in 13 games but only caught two passes, one of which was a touchdown. Hunt’s biggest issue has been with all the shining stars budding around him; so far, he was been in their shadows. This doesn’t mean he can’t change things around. Doc said earlier this week that this is the best group of receivers he’s seen since being at Marshall. The good side of that, more fresh and ample bodies for Cato to throw to late in the games under Marshall’s blistering paced offense. Expect to hear Hunt’s name this season, but to what capacity has still yet to be determined.
8/11 Update: Justin has continued to fall farther down the chart as the drops continue to rise. As a true sophomore this season, Hunt was looking to improve on his two-catch season from last year. Unfortunately his inconsistent hands could cost him significant time on the field. With such a deep group of talented receivers this season, a receiver with a case of the drops has no chance of seeing the field. Hunt needs an answer and now.

7.       Donquell “Gator” Green: 5-8 160 Freshman Waynesboro, GA. – The newest “Gator” has arrived at Marshall but in a much smaller package. Green has been nothing less than spectacular thus far in practice. His speed is explosive and has juked a few defenders out of their cleats, turning a quick slant into a monster gain. He plays through contact and does not get pushed out of his routes easily. Green looks like a combination of Shuler and Moo Moo which is scary to picture. Green has also been working with the special teams returning punts and looks to be a natural. Green played as a quarterback at Burke County High School but has made the transition to a slot receiver extremely well. So well some have already said the future of life after Shuler is in good hands. But let’s see what the youngster can do when he has some of the top corners in CUSA lined up against him and Cato firing the ball his direction.
Donquell 'Gator' Green

8/11 Update: Gator is going to be a unique animal for the Herd coaching staff to decide on. Without a doubt the kid has a tremendous amount of talent. However, he has Tommy Shuler playing in front of him. He has explosive speed and is a shifty player. However, his consistency has been a problem with a few drops and not properly running routes. Even with that, there is a place NOW on the field for this kid. The question is where and to what capacity. I would not be surprised to see Green take a redshirt this season rather than play behind Shuler and work as a returner on special teams. However, Green looks like a natural returner and could provide a solid 1-2 punch with Deandre Reaves. With no more Moo-Moo working the return game, it appears a mirror image is standing in the wings. The only question is, will it be this year.

Hyleck Foster
8.       Hyleck Foster: 5-11 186 Freshman Gaffney, SC.- Foster is a mirror image of Green on the field. His hands are dynamic and some of the catches he’s made during practice has been nothing less than amazing. He shifts his body well, making the needed adjustments for help bail out a poorly thrown pass by the quarterback that looks destined for the turf. Foster’s only visible flaw that I’ve seen in practice, he is easily pushed off his routes by the more physical players—especially linebackers as he streaks over the middle. However, should a speed mismatch present itself to him at the line of scrimmage, a completed pass could be an easy 6.
8/11 Update: Foster is in the same boat as Green. He has the potential and skill set to contribute to the Herd NOW. However, inconsistency from Foster in the form of drops and “hearing footsteps” may keep him off the field this year. Foster has great speed, but struggles with the more physical player in coverage, especially linebackers. While he can go on a jet-route if he gets lined up in a speed mismatch, when he cuts in front of a linebacker, he is easily pushed off his route. He has worked with the special teams but due to the talent level waiting in front of him, may be redshirted this season. Take nothing away from him, any other year; this kid would probably make the two-deep without any consideration.

9.       Emanuel Beal: 6-1 200 Freshman Powder Springs, GA.- Beal is a member of an elite group of incoming freshman that stands a chance to fight for a spot on the field if the chips fall his way. He works the field well and has hauled in several nice passes from both Cato and Holcombe. Beal, much like several others in camp stands to take time away from some of the crafty veterans. He could be a red-shirt candidate due to the hefty numbers of receivers in this year’s class.
Emanuel Beal
8/11 Update: Beal is a coin-flip of whether he redshirts this season or plays. With his size, he certainly looks the part he is playing. Much like several of the other guys on this roster, the talent level is off the charts and Beal is trying to find a place to land. If it comes down to a choice between either Green and Foster or Beal, I expect Beal to be the odd man out simply because of the special teams element Green and Foster present. Beal will be a player for Marshall, it just probably won’t be this year.  However, whoever is the quarterback for the Herd next season is going to have a big target in Beal.

Demetrius Evans
10.   Demetrius Evans: 5-11 197 RS-Senior Belle Glade, FL.- Evans enters the 2014 season after a disappointing 2013 campaign where he caught 19 passes in 14 games, 5 of which he started. The biggest issue with Evans, being able to make a catch under heavy pressure. Evans has seen his time on the field reduced tremendously and much of it going to the player who’s from his own home town (D. Allen). Throughout camp, Evans has been much of the same player as last year. He’s had trouble getting separation and struggles playing through the physicality of the Herd’s secondary. That being said, Evans still has a role on this team but to what extent that is has yet to be determined.
8/11 Update: Not much has changed with Evans since my last report. Evans still lacks the ability to separate from the defense and be a consistent receiver for a quarterback who makes everyone around him better. He will contribute, but it will be in games that are well decided and as a backup role.

Craig Wilkins
11.   Craig Wilkins: 6-0 180 Senior Haileah, FL.- Wilkins entered camp fresh off a solid 2013 season. Wilkins hauled in 32 catches in 13 games—which was fourth best on the team—including two grabs that went for scores. However, Wilkins has been overshadowed throughout camp and suddenly finds himself as the odd man out. His biggest struggle thus far; a bad case of the drops. Wilkins continues to work during the drills but if he doesn’t find a cure quick, he could fall past a couple of the freshmen who arguably have a shot at seeing playing time if they don’t take a redshirt.
8/11 Update:  Wilkins may be a member of the ones simply because he’s a senior come game one. But if his production from camp carries over to games, his decent will be rapid. He has frequently dropped catchable passes and appears to run routes poorly. With the standards of Coach Furrey, Wilkins needs to up the ante fast.

Rodney Allen
12.   Rodney Allen: 5-10 154 RS-Freshman Dallas, TX.- Allen looks to have a season of watch and learn with the class of receivers he is in. Unless he impresses once the pads go on and game-time contact is introduced, Allen spends much of this season watching on the sideline.
8/11 Update: No changes to report on Allen after working in pads for three days. The drops are too frequent and he will be on the bottom of the totem pole when the season begins.

Tight Ends

Eric Frohnapfel
1.       Eric Frohnapfel: 6-6 229 Senior Stafford, VA.- I will call this 4a as I think Frohnapfel and Josh Knight are pretty even on the field. Froh has some huge shoes to fill after the departure of Gator Hoskins at TE. Frohnapfel must fill the void of one of Cato’s red-zone targets this season as Hoskins led the team with 15 TD’s last year and was almost money anytime the Herd entered the red-zone. Last year, Frohnapfel played in all 14 games but only had seven catches for 95 yards and two TD’s—one thrown by Cato and the other by his brother Blake who transferred in the off-season to UMASS. Needless to say, Frohnapfel must step up in a big way to allow Cato to maintain his red-zone attack. Thus far in camp, Frohnapfel has made several nice grabs from Cato including releasing on a blown defensive coverage and pulling in a wide-open touchdown grab. He has the soft hands like Hoskins but not nearly the speed. However, his 6-6 frame is a nightmare for defensive coordinators to answer. Frohnapfel will out-muscle most players in the secondary. The question is can he be faster than a linebacker forced to pick him up in coverage—like Hoskins was last season—which then turns the Herd’s TE position into an instant scoring. Frohnapfel is a smart guy and he understands the expectations, but with Devon Johnson’s move to running back, the time is now to step up and perform.
8/11 Update: Frohnapfel has been impressive and Cato continues to feed him the rock on post routes. We have yet to see the tandem work in a red-zone situation but when Cato surveys the middle of the field, he is looking for 83. Frohnapfel has worked out of the back field as the H-back with Johnson opposite him and the tandem has been difficult to cover. This could be a breakout season for the senior.

Deon-Tay McManus
2.       Deon-Tay McManus: 6-2 227 RS-Freshman Baltimore, MD.- McManus could be working behind Frohnapfel this season in the TE position, but presents himself as more of a red-zone target much like Hoskins. He has a low center of gravity, soft hands and good feet. He gets in and out of his cuts crisply and has the speed to punish a defense that forces a linebacker to cover him in space.
8/11 Update: McManus has worked well when taking first team reps and gives Cato another big body with soft hands from the tight-end position. McManus has been solid after 3 days in full pads but received a ball-separating hit from AJ Leggett during practice this morning that was one of the best hits of the day. McManus will be a tough matchup for a linebacker to cover as he has excellent speed for his size. Expect several TD possibilities this season for him.

Joe Woodrum
3.       Joe Woodrum: 6-6 254 RS-Junior Bluefield, WV- Woodrum returns this season after catching only one pass last year although he saw action in all 14 games. Woodrum has struggled with consistently catching the ball through the first week of camp and with the potential of Frohnapfel and McManus as this position, playing time will be limited.
8/11 Update: Woodrum finds himself in a tough predicament with the quality of players who looks to see the field in front of him. Woodrum will see playing time this season, but how many targets he gets could be another story.

Ryan Yurachek
4.       Ryan Yurachek: 6-3 235 Freshman Myrtle Beach, SC- While the freshman certainly looks the part of a tight-end, his hands have yet to figure that out. Although he has made some nice grabs in the first week, he has struggled mightily at times. I expect him to take a redshirt this season and compete for playing time next season after Frohnapfel graduates.
8/11 Update:  No change since last report for Yurachek. He looks the part but outside of intermittent catches, his drop rate is too high to see playing time over the guys in front of him. Coach Holliday likes what he brings to the table but I still expect him to take a redshirt and compete for playing time next season.

Running Backs

Devon 'Rockhead' Johnson
1.       Devon Johnson: 6-1 243 Junior Richlands, VA- Johnson was a nice surprise addition to the back field. Coach Holliday said he needed a guy he can trust in the back field and Johnson appears to be that guy. He can run, catch and block. Johnson will punish undersized defenders on the edges and his massive frame opens would be holes for him to bust through. Johnson caught 12 passes last season including a 52-yard touchdown against East Carolina. Even more importantly, Johnson has protected Cato from blitzes. Johnson may not rush for 1000 yards, but his ability to hold up blitzing linebackers and defensive backs, allows Cato to easily make up for it in the end.

Remi Watson
2.       Remi Watson: 5-11 190 RS-Junior Lakeland, FL- Watson is coming off a disappointing 2013 in which he carried the ball only 30 times for 120 yards in nine games.  Working with a new running backs coach in Chris Barclay, Watson’s style of running has taken a 180-degree shift. Known for running east and west so many times while at Marshall has changed to a more explosive north and south guy. With Johnson appearing to be the starting back this season, Watson’s style of running offers a nice 1-2 punch for defenses to have to plan for. If Watson will stay the course of running north-south, this could his best season yet.

Steward Butler
3.       Steward Butler: 5-9 185 RS-Junior Lakeland FL- Stew had a phenomenal season last year He tallied 777 yards while averaging nearly nine yards per carry which was in the top 10 in the nation. Stew’s biggest issue is he seemingly lives in Doc’s doghouse. While he can run like a deer, his blocking is nothing to write home about. Of the top 3 backs in a linebacker blocking drill, he was the worst at achieving his assignment. He has worked as the third and fourth team back through camp and unless things drastically change, he will have limited carries behind Johnson and Watson this season with a pair of RS-freshman that will be breathing down his neck for playing time as well. There’s no doubt Butler has the skill, but does he have the mentality that is required as well.

Tony Pittman

4.       Tony Pittman: 5-10 204 RS-Freshman Hampton, VA- Pittman enters this season with a lot of poise and passion. He also has a lot to learn. While the young man has the frame and speed, there’s so much more of the game he still has to learn. He has shown he can shoot a gap or cut up field off the edge, but he has also put the ball on the turf which Coach Barclay has zero tolerance for. Pittman could be a future star back for the Herd, but he has to let the game slow down before he can speed up.

5.       Brandon Byrd: 6-0 197 RS-Freshman Gibsonton, FL- After entering camp with high aspirations for the staff, Byrd suffered a major setback in his bid to earn playing time this season. Byrd has a devastating collision with linebacker Cortez Carter last week in practice and has yet been cleared to return to practice duties. Byrd, much like Pittman, has the potential to be something special, but will he be able to embrace the game and eliminate the little mistakes that are sure to keep him on the sideline.

No comments:

Post a Comment