1. QB Ben Hicks
This one is pretty easy. I think Hicks was the most important and biggest signee for SMU. He will challenge for the starting quarterback job right away, especially with Neal Burcham out. Hicks has great mechanics on his throws; his hip drive looks similar to one you see baseball players do when they swing a bat. He also has a quick and firm release, underrated mobility and a good football IQ. Hicks is already enrolled at SMU, so he will have the spring to get his first taste of college football. That way, he will enter the summer feeling like a veteran and ready to compete. I think Matt Davis enters training camp as the starter, but Hicks will give him a great battle, and I won’t be surprised if he wins it.
2. RB Braeden West
At 5-foot-10 and 166 pounds, West is not ready to be a three-down back or handle a heavy workload. But he is the home-run threat that SMU has not seen in some time, and SMU needs guys like that on the field right away. West can line up all over the formation and is a steady receiver out of the backfield. His elusiveness in the open field and his vision make him a threat to score every time he has the ball in space. West’s cuts are so smooth and quick, and he never loses any momentum while cutting. Look for West to be a complimentary but essential piece out of the backfield next season.
3. DE Michael Scott
Scott isn’t a finished product either: He needs to add more weight to his 230-pound frame so stronger offensive tackles won’t push him back on power-rush moves. I think Scott has a solid bull rush, but his speed off the edge and speed rush abilities will put him on the field right away as a situational pass-rusher. He is arguably already the best speed rusher and fastest defensive lineman on the team. For his size, he also does a good job of keeping his pad level low. He will be a nice compliment to SMU’s strength-based defensive ends while he works in the weight room.
4. LB Jordon Williams
Williams was recruited specifically to play the “star” linebacker position (a linebacker/safety hybrid) in Van Malone’s 4-2-5 defense. His skills in space, both against the run and the pass, will be put to the test right away. Williams might not start his freshman year, but he will see significant snaps at the star position, especially on running downs. Sometimes he tends to overrun plays, but he will still be an active presence in the box with a nose for the football.
5. K Josh Williams
I could have put plenty of other guys here who will probably contribute right away, but I just felt the kicker was the most important (kickers are people too!) because of SMU’s issues at the position over the last couple years. The Mustangs have not had a reliable kicker from long distance, and Williams, a Semper Fi bowl alum, comes to SMU with 50-yard range. A lack of kicking consistency killed SMU last year, so Williams should be the starter right away.