Sophomore to Junior Class is Always a Critical Transition at Air Force
We started this series focusing on the 2020 Air Force roster by evaluating the Seniors to be. As documented, the senior class is not void of talent, and the team can expect to have a lot of critical contributors out of that year-four group of cadets. If you missed this piece, you can read it here.
In today’s edition we are going to focus in on this seasons juniors. The jump from sophomore to junior is typically where you will see the largest migration of reserve players starting to populate the depth chart. With so many holes left on the 2020 depth chart, look for a lot of the recruits from the 2018 class to start showing up. There are also some familiar faces that saw the field last year, looking to take on bigger roles this fall.
Returning on the Two-Deep
Of the incoming junior class, there is one name that stands above all others as an impact player, and that has to be Timothy (Duval) Jackson at Fullback. Jackson brings back over 700 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games. These are impressive numbers considering he missed games with injury, and when healthy he shared carries regularly with three other ball carriers. Look for big things from Duval in 2020.
Even though Brandon Lewis and David Cormier would be the odds on favorites to have an immediate impact, not just at receiver, but as juniors, I’m reluctant to dive too far down that rabbit hole until ‘official’ word on their standing as players is made by the Academy. That communication may not come until much closer to fall camp, but it doesn’t change the fact that Brandon Lewis has been seen cutting through the secondary.
Of the remaining junior-to-be contributors, Christopher Herrera on the defensive line brings the most game experience, starting the final five games of last season, including the bowl game. Nakoa Pauole is another name that could surface on the defensive line, bringing experience from five games last season, one of which he got the start.
Corvan Taylor is another defender to keep an eye out for on the depth chart. While he didn’t start any games last year, he saw plenty of action as a depth player, and with a completely depleted secondary, especially at safety, he very well could earn a starting spot.
Taking the Next Step
Vince Sanford, Isaac Cochran and Jake Speiwak all showed up on the stat sheet at one point or another last season, getting credit for field action. They were also listed on the three-deep in the final depth chart for the Falcon’s Bowl Game against Washington State.
Offensively, players like Omar Fattah, Deandre Hughes and Jacob Miller could all surface on the depth chart with strong showings at Spring and Fall camps. Fattah in particular should get a lot of opportunities to contribute, considering the depth required at the fullback position in their triple-option offense, and the need to fortify that stable.
Speaking of needed depth, the QB room is empty of backup experience, so enter Warren Bryan and Chance Stevenson. Bryan did take a couple of snaps in cleanup duty last year, and Stevenson is moving back under center after a soiree at running back in 2019.
It should be noted that the only player besides Donald Hammond with a completed pass on the roster is Stevenson, and he did so as a running back. This is an important stat considering the well documented history of depth at this position being tested. Last year saw three different quarterbacks again, play significant minutes of consequence.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are not only places of depth to be had, but starting positions up for grab. Linebacker is an area in particular that could see some new faces, and players like T.D. Blackmon, Brandon Gooding and Noah Bush could all be in the mix for a spot on the inside or outside.
There is probably no position more wide open than on special teams. Air Force doesn’t return a kicker or a punter, and the only player on the roster who has recorded an extra-point is Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl.
From the Recruiting Class of 2018
There are a lot of names that we covered in this junior class, and there will inevitably be others that rise to the challenge. And while recruiting prospect ratings aren’t a right to passage for success or even playing time at Air Force, it doesn’t mean they are to be ignored.
The most highly rated player from the 2018 recruiting class according to 247sports was David Eure, earning a 3-star prospect rating. With the well documented vacancies throughout the Falcon secondary, it stands to reason that Mr. Eure could secure a spot. Even though he didn’t record a start early in his Air Force career, he has seen the field.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tight End Chris Kane was the most highly rated recruit according to 247sports, also as a 3-star prospect. Much like Eure, Chris Kane is also in a position group which saw much of its depth depart to graduation, and leaves very little experience on the roster. In spite of his prospect rating, Kane hasn’t played for Air Force beyond the prep squad. That doesn’t mean his time won’t come, but with vacancies atop the depth chart, one would think now is the time to showcase his talent.
I am really intrigued by both of these players as part of a really interesting junior class. There is a little bit of experience and plenty of opportunity in front of this group, and Saturday’s spring game should help lend some clarity as to where these guys fit on the roster.
Next time we will look at what sophomores could make a name for themselves in 2020.