Hidden in a 3-9 season was plenty of quality-to-elite talent. It's one man's list, but we've set off to rank Iowa State's best players, counting down from No. 50 all the way to No. 1. In this installment we rank players from Nos. 30 to 26 and getting us to the halfway point
Today we're counting off Iowa State's best players for 2014, Nos. 30 through 26. Below this list is an overview of what we're doing, including the rankings so far of Nos. 50-26.
To read Tuesday's initial ranking of players 50-41, click here.
For yesterday's ranking of Nos. 40-31, click here.
Tomorrow we begin going down the list one-by-one, at which point we'll begin to include further commentary, stats and projections and the content will become premium. We're having a lively discussion on the boards about the list and encourage you to join us.
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No. 30: T.J. Mutcherson, Safety, SO — Freak athlete, nasty hitter, whatever you want in a safety from a physical standpoint, Mutcherson's got it. After two seasons in the program, the staff is simply waiting for the light to come on for Mutcherson, who hasn't yet totally grasped what it takes — playbook, scheme, extra film study, little things — to be a starting Big 12 safety. The Cyclones signed two JUCO safeties in the 2014 class, Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, and we've ranked those two above Mutcherson because of their seasoning. But as Floyd doesn't arrive until June, Mutcherson has the chance this spring to make quite the impression on new defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist and create some momentum toward a starting spot come fall camp.
No. 29: Oni Omoile, Offensive Guard, JR — Forced into action because of injury, Omoile had a fine redshirt sophomore season, starting the final nine games of the season. He's not a huge player, which hampered him in Chris Klenakis' power-pulling offense, but a move to zone action could help Omoile. He'll be competing with Jamison Lalk and eventually Wendell Taiese for a starting job.
No. 28: Trent Taylor, Defensive End, JR — Taylor signed last Friday and it was announced Feb. 24. At Butler C.C., Taylor played opposite Gabe Luna at defensive end, racking up 32 tackles and three sacks. Coming out of high school in 2012, Taylor was listed as one of the nation's top-30 defensive ends before he signed with Tennessee. He's a rangy end with nice pass-rushing potential who could give ISU a kick in that department after the Cyclones finished last in the Big 12 in sacks in 2013.
No. 27: Sam E. Richardson, Cornerback, JR — It pains us to rail on Richardson, because he plays so damn hard and is an exceptional open-field tackler. So we won't rail. We'll just point out that given his size (5-foot-7), Richardson had a tough time adjusting to the ball last season and keeping up with the Big 12's myriad of great receivers, eventually leading to his benching. With Jansen Watson gone, that cornerback spot opens back up. Richardson is probably the favorite for it, as the Cyclones were unable to sign a JUCO cornerback, and he'll benefit from a fresh start under Mo Linguist. Richardson won't ever be able to do anything about his height, which is less than ideal for a cornerback, but if he can learn to better anticipate in-flight balls and use his hands, he can hold up. If it's not at cornerback, the Cyclones might experiment with Richardson at nickel, where he could line up against smaller slot receivers and his tackling ability would be a strength against the run closer to the box.
No. 26: Devlyn Cousin, Nose Tackle, SO — Iowa State's coaching staff was very pleased with Cousin's performance in limited appearances in 2013 and it's likely he would have started at nose tackle this fall, even if Brandon Jensen hadn't left the team. Given the nature of the position, it'll never be fair to evaluate Cousin with individual statistics, but he'll have done his job if the linebackers behind him are free to roam against the run and the defensive linemen next to him have an open gap or two to rush. At a squatty 6-foot-1, 295 pounds, Cousin does a good job staying low and is surprisingly quick off the snap. He did a nice job in 2013 occupying blockers. Cousin might be the key to the rest of ISU's front-seven success next season.
It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up.
50: Brian Peavy
49: Jevohn Miller
48: Pierre Aka
47: Joel Lanning
46: Kamari Syrie
45: Colin Downing
44: Kamari Cotton-Moya
43: Michael Warren
42: Kenneth Lynn
41: Justin Madison
40: Duaron Williams
39: Tad Ecby
38: Tyler Brown
37: Mitchell Meyers
36: Gabe Luna
35: Cole Netten
34: Rob Standard
33: Dondre Daley
32: Wendell Taiese
31: Jared Brackens
30: T.J. Mutcherson
29: Oni Omoile
28: Trent Taylor
27: Sam E. Richardson
26: Devlyn Cousin