Ranking Positions By Depth
This was not as easy as I thought it would be. I figured one quick look at the roster and I’d be certain of how I would rank the positions.
As it was, I struggled. How do you define depth when you haven’t seen so many guys play? A lot here is based on high school highlight tapes, scouting reports and general chatter coming from coaches and players. I’ve only determined this for sure (I think): we have more depth on offense than defense for the primary reason that we lost the vast majority of last year’s defense to the NFL.
That doesn’t tell the whole story but it was a starting point. That said, let’s jump in and go from deepest to shallowest.
Deep Like the Mind of Farrakhan
1. Quarterback – If you have 2-3 viable options and a freshman stud in waiting you are as deep as this position gets. I feel pretty confident putting this group at 1. But…
2. Wide receiver – With 6 guys returning that will have a shot at PT and the fab four freshman (assuming Brad Hawkins is a S) coming in with only three spots to fill plus back-ups, we have choices and tons of competition with high level athletes. You could make an argument for this being the deepest position group.
3. Running back – Like I said, lots of offensive depth. We have 4 great options who will all likely see touches and a couple freshmen that will wait for their turn or totally surprise. We’d have to have 2 major injuries here before I’d be concerned. We also have 2 returning FBs and a new guy in Ben Mason that Harbaugh said might be his favorite player on the team.
4. Tight end – Even with the loss of Butt and Asiasi this is a deep group, it would be #1 in my book if Asiasi stayed. Still, I count 5 guys who have gotten playing time or enough hype that I’d be pretty comfortable with any of them on the field. We can put at least 2 on the field at once and have guys with talent to back them up.
Deeper than the Holler
5. Linebacker – Our starters are probably going to be great, but after that we don’t know much. The big thing here is inexperience; even with the starters, this will be a step up for Khaleke Hudson and to a lesser extent Devin Bush, and there are lots of young guys behind them.
I think this group has the potential to be remembered for a long time, and we have a lot of young talent that probably won’t see the field behind the starters. But I need to see something to indicate that the many bodies on the roster are good, helpful options and not just bench warmers.
6. Defensive line – Our starting front four is fearsome and could be the best in the country. But behind them what do we have? A lot of talent, for sure. But a lot of inexperienced talent and many unknowns. The freshman class is loaded, but are they ready?
7. Offensive line – We know RT isn’t set, but it looks like we have 4 starters in place. However, if you don’t already know that you have 5 starters at this point it means the line could be in flux. Cole, thankfully, has the ability to move pretty much wherever which could shore up a hole but likely leaves one where he left. Looks like we’ve got 6-7 guys that can rotate in total but certainly not confident enough to say we go 2 deep at each spot.
8. Safety – I think our projected starting two are good (Kinnell, Metellus), but there is no one behind them we’ve seen produce on the college stage. I debated putting this group a bit higher because I really like J’Marick Woods and Jaylen Kelly-Powell, but they are definite unknowns here. Like the LBs, if you switch Hudson to this group the group jumps up the rankings a couple spots.
9. Cornerback – We still don’t know what to expect here for sure. The 2 outside guys and a nickel seem to be some combination of only 4, maybe 5 guys but through spring chatter and interviews with coaches, this is wide open. The tendency by onlookers has been to assume that Lavert Hill and David Long are the guys to beat but lots of talk about Keith Washington had bounced around, until he decided to transfer. This leaves even more questions about this group.
It’s worrisome that we seemingly don’t have two guys that have grabbed a hold of a spot. Don’t get me wrong, this is a talented group, but the guys with the most experience here have 25 tackles combined. Brandon Watson has 20 of those, FWIW.
10. Special teams – New kickers, punter and return men. You really only need one at each kicking spot but they are unknown thus the last place finish in the rankings.
Quinn Nordin has a huge leg but we have no idea about accuracy and what will happen when the pressure is on. Will Hart and #1 ranked freshman punter Brad Robbins will battle for the punting duties. Garrett Moores aka Holder of the Year provides stability.
As for returners we lost a great one in Peppers (and Lewis) so we really haven’t seen anyone else. We have lots of speedy guys and many have been mentioned by coaches. 4 different guys got return shots in the spring. It’s hard to replace a guy as sure handed and athletic as Peppers but it can be done.