Quarterback D.J. Gillins
Ben Hicks will enter the spring and summer as the starter, but there is no reason to believe with a good showing or some Hicks inconsistency that Gillins can’t take hold of the quarterback job. It is going to be a stiff competition between Gillins, Peavey, Hicks and even Matt Davis if he is granted a sixth year of eligiblity. Hicks certainly performed well at times last season, but if he is not able to take that next step, the former Wisconsin Badger and heavily recruited high school quarterback is waiting in the wings to take his spot. He is coming off an ACL tear in September, so his status for the spring is unknown.
Offensive tackle Alan Ali
Traditionally, SMU has opted to redshirt their freshman offensive lineman, but if there is one of the three skilled tackles SMU signed that has the best chance of playing, it is likely Ali. He is strong enough to play right now and help beef up SMU’s line. With Chad Pursley coming back and a couple of lineman coming off redshirts from last year, he could start as a redshirt. If he redshirts, he could still travel with the team and get occasional practice reps with the staters in case SMU wants to pull the redshirt off him later in the year if SMU’s depth is tested. The biggest key for Ali will be improving his quickness a little more to make strides in the passing game.
Linebacker Shaine Hailey
This is an underrated signing, but also someone who may be able to come in and play early. There is still not a ton of depth and one encouraging thing for Hailey is the way he’s able to drop back in coverage and make plays. Some of the linebackers SMU has employed have lacked the speed and decisiveness to be effective on the field and it’s been a position that has been exposed at times. If SMU doesn’t like what they see early on, Hailey could well jump in and see some early playing time as SMU continues to search for answers.
Cornerback Ar'mani Johnson
SMU’s secondary is coming off a very good season, but has to replace Horace Richardson who had by far his best season on the Hilltop. This provides the opportunity for Johnson to come in and compete for playing time early despite some good depth already on campus. Though the area to watch for him to play is special teams. SMU's were not good in 2016 and a big goal this offseason is to improve their special teams next season. Johnson is a quite a sure tackler and with good speed, SMU might look to get him on the field early here and see if he can contribute to a turnaround in this phase of the game.
Safety Elijah McQueen
McQueen has the advantage of coming in a semester early and having the chance to go through spring practice at the college level. He's the only safety in the class after SMU took three last year. Certainly SMU already has some good options for the position including Mikial Onu, Rodney Clemons (a starter for most of 2016), Kevin Johnson and Michael Clark, but it is certainly not out of the question McQueen can earn some time on defense or at the very least on special teams if he impresses right away in the spring and gets stronger during the summer. McQueen's ability to come up and make plays in the backfield and in the running game from a safety spot won't be overlooked either.