1. Traylon Shead
The way I see it, there's no doubt here. With the departure of running back Zach Line, former Texas Longhorn Traylon Shead will be expected to come in and contribute immediately and he definitely has the talent to do it. Shead ran for 1,200 yards last season with Navarro JC and just didn't look like he belonged with the talent he was playing against. With his combination of size and speed, he should step in and fill the running back void nicely. This should allow Garret Gilbert to play comfortably instead of feeling like he has to put the team on his right shoulder. Shead has already arrived on the Hilltop and should get the opportunity to play with his new teammates this spring. I think this extra time will allow him to get familiar with the offensive playbook and form bonds with his teammates which will only serve him well as he will have some pretty big shoes to fill come Fall.
2. Zelt Minor
I could name a number of different reasons why Houston Lamar defensive end Zelt Minor could contribute in his very first year at SMU, but I will break it up into two very simple ones- talent and position. There is no doubt about the fact that Minor had an astonishing senior season. The guy was virtually unstoppable. He ravished opponent's quarterbacks and ball carriers and basically lived in the backfield regardless if he was lined up against the team's best offensive lineman or was battling against the double team. Minor's combination of size, strength, acceleration off the line of scrimmage and closing speed makes him very difficult to block and even when he isn't making sacks, notching tackles for loss or blocking punts (he had two in one game against Fort Bend Travis in the playoffs) he will still have an impact just by making other teams account for him. His skillset alone is developed enough to compete for at least a spot in the defensive line rotation. The second reason is because of the current status of the position. The defensive line will look completely different next year being that every starter graduated. Without the talent of Margus Hunt, Torlan Pittman, Spike Davis and J.G. Davis, the defensive line is in heavy influx. That isn't to say that there aren't some sleepers that could step up to the plate, but I just don't think there are any true pass-rushers who can step in and start dominating right away. Of course there is always a transition between high school and college that some athletes ease into smoother than others, but I think that Zelt could come in and be a stalwart on the line and push for a six sack season in his very first one. Call me crazy, but I think he's that good.
3. Jeremiah Gaines
Jeremiah Gaines has such an impressive package of size, speed, athleticism and soft hands that it would really surprise me if they decided to redshirt him. One could argue that the SMU wide receivers were the least acceptable group of players on the team last year. With the arrival of Garret Gilbert, people expected big things from the receiving core led by the duo of Johnson & Johnson. However, SMU fans were utterly disappointed. With this being taken into account I think Gaines can come in and instantly add another dimension to the group. There have been talks of him lining up in the slot opposite Johnson and there have also been talks about him possibly playing as the outside receiver opposite of Der'Rikk Thompson- a position that was incredibly unproductive last season. Some say that June may even add a couple of formations to the playbook just to better utilize Gaines' talent. I think the reason why he is so special is because he is a complete receiver. He blocks well, he runs routes well and probably most importantly he catches the ball well- something that SMU receivers had an unbelievable amount of trouble with last year. If Gaines comes in on a mission to earn a starting role on the team, it could most certainly happen. However if he doesn't get the starting slot, look for him to probably redshirt because we all know how June feels about rotating receivers.
4. Everett Dickerson
My thoughts are that at least one of these talented freshman wide receivers will see the field this year, the only question is; which one? Everett Dickerson played running back in high school and was a very solid player. His vision on the field is incredible and he runs with strength but yet smoothness. I think Dickerson could make an impact his first year because SMU is looking for someone to take over for Darius Johnson in the slot. I think that Dickerson would fit nicely there because of his ability to take one cut and get up field. June likes to throw those quick passes out to the slot so his receivers can make a move and find open space and I think that type of game would work for Dickerson's style of play. Now as I mentioned before, Dickerson did play running back in high school so it might take him a while to get into the groove of things as a wide receiver, but I think that he's smart enough and a good enough athlete to transition well. He's my sleeper pick to come in and make a little bit of noise at fall camp.
5. Cedric Lancaster
Lancaster would probably the long shot of the group to earn a starting job in his first year but there are a couple of legitimate factors that suggest otherwise. The first reason to consider the possibility of Lancaster making an impact is the offense/coaches. This offense is made to kill you with speed quickness and speed. Aldrick Robinson, Cole Beasley, Darius Johnson and Emmanuel Sanders are the receivers that have had the most production in the SMU offense since June Jones has been head coach. What do they have in common you ask? Well firstly, they all happen to be under 6-foot, and secondly they all have great speed. This offense is almost made for guys who can get down the field in a hurry. With that being said, Lancaster has two check marks so far: one for height (5-foot-9), and one for speed (4.4 40 time). Now, the other way that Lancaster could have an impact, which might be even more of a stretch than the first, is his ability to play special teams as a kick returner or punt returner. Now the first argument against this would be the return of kick return specialist J.R. Richardson who did a very fine job of returning kicks in his freshman year. However, Richardson will be fresh off tearing what has become the most dreaded three letters in sports today. Many people never fully return to their previous form after a torn ACL and because of this, it would be wise for SMU to be cautious in the way that they use Richardson. He will already be playing cornerback, a position that forces him to cut and put all kinds of pressure on his knee, so why add on another task that could possibly get him hurt again? The same goes for Horace Richardson who would have taken over the kick return duties last year had he not tore his ACL as well. Now because Horace is a backup cornerback and doesn't have an extended role it is feasible for him to assume the role of kick returner but that still leaves open the chance for Lancaster at punt return because I doubt they'll have the same guy doing both. Too risky. So if Lancaster can open some eyes with his speed, quickness and elusiveness he could very well make an impact for the Mustangs as well.
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