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Full Breakdown of K-State's Depth Chart vs. South Dakota
By Jared Sleppy
Copyright: MSC Sports

Kansas State’s depth chart has been released ahead of their season opener against South Dakota this Saturday. There are a few things that are a little surprising across the board, so we are here to break it all down for you to get you ready for this weekend.

Starting off with the quarterbacks, it’s no surprise that Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez wins the starting job after deciding to transfer to K-State this past winter. For those fortunate enough to have not watched any Nebraska football over the last four years, let me get you up to speed on K-State’s QB1. Martinez started 38 games for the Huskers and set 17(!) school records including career total offense with 10,792 yards and 670 completions. Martinez is one of only two active quarterbacks in the country with 8,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards. He’s also first in career rushing attempts among quarterbacks (508), and second in rushing touchdowns (35) and rushing yards (2,301). He was also listed as a dark horse candidate to win the Heisman by many members of the media just a calendar year ago.

At backup is where things start to get interesting. The Cats have quite a bit of depth at quarterback with six of them listed on the current roster. They bring in two freshmen from the Class of 2021 with Parker Kavanagh coming from Salina Central and Adryan Lara who was a standout at Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, AZ. Jaren Lewis returns for his junior season after making appearances in four games in 2021. During those games, he completed 12 of his 23 passes attempted while throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. Despite getting experience last year, he was never really a threat to win the backup job. Redshirt freshman Jake Rubley was a four-star recruit out of Colorado, but despite all the hype surrounding him during the recruiting process, he didn’t play a single down of football for K-State in 2021 despite Skylar Thompson missing multiple games. The rule surrounding burning a redshirt by the NCAA states that a player can participate up to four games and still maintain their redshirt status. However, Chris Klieman apparently didn’t think he was ready to see the playing field. This leaves Will Howard, a junior from Pennsylvania to be the backup again in 2022. In Howard’s 15 games that he has played, he has a completion percentage of 54%, 1,510 passing yards and 11 interceptions compared to his nine passing touchdowns with seven rushing touchdowns.

At running back, there wasn’t much competition for the lead back role with Round Rock, TX native Deuce Vaughn coming back for his junior season. After a breakout season in 2021, Vaughn returns as the star of the Wildcats’ offense. All he did last year was rack up 1,872 total yards and 22 touchdowns. Vaughn was one of just three players with a 1,000 rushing yard and 400 receiving yard season. He became the 11th Consensus All-American in school history for his efforts. Entering this season, he was given First Team All-America honors by the Associated Press. The secret is out on the 5-foot-6-inch back, and he is on many people’s radars to be a Heisman candidate if things go his way in 2022.

Just like the quarterback, the backup role is where things get murky. Among all the running backs currently on the roster, they combine for a total of 12 yards while wearing the purple and the white. All those yards come from junior Jordan Schippers who will likely get a decent amount of work but is more than likely going to be the third back in the backfield. Coach Klieman is turning to redshirt freshman D.J. Giddens from Junction City to be their backup running back. Giddens impressed in his senior year of high school for head coach Randall Zimmerman with 1,255 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2020. His rushing yard total was the fifth most in school history, and he earned first team all-state honors. They also have Modesto Junior College transfer Anthony Frias II who will be a sophomore this season.

The wide receiver position has been lack-luster on the individual level at K-State since Tyler Lockett graduated after the 2014 football season. However, senior Malik Knowles has a chance to change that and breakout in his fifth year at K-State. Knowles has totaled 1,142 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns (12 receiving, 3 returning, 1 rushing) in his tenure as a Wildcat with last year achieving career highs in receiving yards (441), receiving touchdowns (4), and receptions (29). Knowles is also tied for eighth in career receiving touchdowns (12), and 30th all-time in receiving yards. He will be alongside Phillip Brooks, who is most known for his punt returning abilities, and Kade Warner, who is the son of legendary Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. Brooks’ pass-catching abilities, though, do fly under the radar. He led the team in receiving yards in 2021 with 543. As for Warner, he was named one of K-State’s nine captains, so his leadership in that wide receiver room can’t go understated. The Cats are hoping some of their young guns, who have tremendous upside, can step up this season. Among those are Keenan Garber, a junior from Lawrence, and RJ Garcia, a redshirt freshman from Florida. Both players were on the team in 2021 but didn’t have much impact on the stat sheet. Garber played in 11 games, but only had 76 total yards and is still looking for his first touchdown as a Wildcat. Garcia played in three games and had less than ten yards in his true freshman season. Both have impressed this spring according to their coaches, so expect to see them on the field a lot. Seth Porter also returns for his senior season and has spent quite a bit of time on the field for the Cats throughout his career and will see a bunch of action in 2022 as well. They also bring in Jadon Jackson, a junior transfer from Ole Miss. Statistically, Jackson didn’t do much in his three years down south, but he does have some experience playing in big games against corners that are currently playing in the NFL. Redshirt freshman Xavier Loyd is also listed on the depth chart as well. Loyd earned all-conference and all-district honors in his senior year at Blue Springs High School in Blue Springs, MO. He tallied 556 yards and nine touchdowns under head coach David White.

One of the bigger surprises from the first depth chart of the year is at fullback. Well-versed and highly experienced senior fullback Jax Dineen is listed behind Christian Moore, a sophomore from Huntington Beach, CA. However, the chart does say “or”, so it’s likely they will get a similar number of snaps played to begin the season. Dineen has played in 33 total games at K-State and is known for his good hands, solid run-blocking, and good pass protection. He hasn’t gotten a ton of touches in the past, but he has been very efficient when he gets the ball. He has averaged 7.3 yards per touch which includes 5 carries and 14 receptions. As for Moore, he has yet to touch the ball at K-State, but he did play in four games as a reserve fullback and has seen the field on special teams.

Continuing with the big guys, the tight end position is wide open. Right now, senior Sammy Wheeler is listed as the starter, but we will also see plenty of action from the two guys behind him. Wheeler has accumulated 363 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 26 receptions in his time at K-State so far. Sophomore Ben Sinnott hopes to take a step up in his level of play after playing every game last year. He had two catches for 15 yards and three carries for 12 yards with a rushing touchdown. They will look for some depth with more playing time from sophomore Will Swanson. He played in four games as a blocking tight end with no touches.

Alright, so we have covered all the skill position players, so now we need to get to the guys that won’t be seen on the stat sheet on the Sunday paper. There aren’t very many surprises in terms of who will be starting on the offensive line. According to the depth chart, senior KT Leveston will be starting at left tackle, junior Cooper Beebe is their left guard, senior Hayden Gillum will be snapping the ball, junior Taylor Poitier starts at right guard, and senior Christian Duffie is at right tackle. The most notable player on the O-Line is Beebe who is on the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists as well as earning 2nd Team Preseason All-American honors by multiple outlets and is on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. There have been a lot of mock drafts from various members of the media that have Beebe being drafted in the 1st round of the 2023 NFL Draft as well. A couple of guys that could make a big impact early and often are Andrew Leingang, a redshirt freshman from Bismarck, ND, and Hadley Panzer who is a sophomore from Lakin, KS. Leingang is listed as the backup left tackle and Panzer could see some playing time at center or right guard.

Moving to the other side of the football, K-State’s defensive unit in 2021 was historically one of the best they have had in years. The “lynch mob”, as they are affectionately referred to, gave up just 21 points per game which is their best since the 2003 team that gave up just 16.3 points per game. They also allowed the fewest yards per game since 2009 (344.7), they made the most tackles for loss per game since 2006 (6.9) and had the most total turnovers gained since 2018 (18). From that defense, K-State returns seven starters, so Big 12 offenses beware.

The defensive line is led by junior defensive end standout Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The All-American is hoping to improve on a very impressive 2021 season in which he was named the Big 12 Defensive Line Player of the Year. King Felix is third in the country in career sacks per game among active players. He is on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award watch lists. He also made 2nd Team Preseason All-American honors by multiple media outlets and was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team. On the other side of him will be sophomore Nate Matlack and senior Jaylen Pickle. Both guys give the team options and it allows whoever is on the field to have fresh legs. Matlack had a standout freshman season in 2021 with 15 total tackles and five tackles for loss. He also had three sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass deflection. Pickle played in all 13 games last year and had 17 tackles and a tackle for loss. He also had a spectacular interception against Missouri State and a pass deflection as well. At nose tackle, K-State might have the best one in the Big 12 in senior Eli Huggins. He was an honorable mention All-Big 12 last season. He played all 13 games in 2021 and had 21 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks. Behind him is senior Robert Hentz II who is from Batesville, MS. Hentz provides some nice depth and experience with 21 games under his belt in his two years with K-State. Last year, he recorded six tackles and one for loss with a pass deflection.

As for the linebackers, sixth-senior Missouri-transfer Shawn Robinson or redshirt junior Khalid Duke will start at SAM. Robinson is a journeyman in college football playing at TCU in 2017 and 2018 and then playing at Missouri in 2019 through 2021. Last season, Robinson played in eight games and racked up 31 tackles with 3.5 TFL, a sack, an interception and a pass breakup at Mizzou. The Cats get Khalid Duke back after his season unexpectedly ended with an injury in their Week 3 game versus Nevada. Fortunately, he still had his redshirt saved, so he used it to remain a junior in 2022. Duke has yet to play a full 12-game season in his time at K-State. If he can stay healthy, he is a game-changer. At MIKE, senior Daniel Green returns for his senior season. He has played in every single game since he arrived in Manhattan with 36 games under his belt. Last year, he had a breakthrough year with 89 tackles, 16 TFL, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. He ranked 18th nationally in solo tackles per game and 8th in the conference in tackles per game which got him All-Big 12 honors. Behind him is senior Nick Allen. Allen has played in 34 of the 36 possible games in his three years with the Cats. He will be a sturdy option whenever Green needs some time to rest. Last year, he recorded 21 tackles, 0.5 TFL and a fumble recovery. The WILL position is arguably K-State’s weakest spot on the entire roster. It will be junior Austin Moore getting the starting role. He played every game in 2021 and finished with 18 tackles and three tackles for loss. The backups are true freshman Jake Clifton from Owasso, OK and Gavin Forsha who is JUCO transfer from Tyler Junior College in Texas who will be a sophomore this season. Clifton was a top-20 recruit in the state and was the co-defensive player of the year at Owasso High School. Forsha is a guy who could breakout if his stats at Tyler JC are any indicator. He had 45 tackles including 13.5 TFL and 11.5 sacks which led the conference and was fifth in the nation.

In the secondary, K-State is going into their second year with a 3-3-5 defense. If they are hoping to repeat the success they had last year, these guys need to step up again in a big way. At cornerback, they bring back seniors Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe who both played significant roles in 2021. Brents was an honorable mention All-Big 12 a season ago and he lands on the 2022 Preseason All-Big 12 list. He is a guy that will fly under people’s radars and could be one of the best corners in the league. Last year he had 49 tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception. On the other side of him is Boye-Doe who played in every game for the Cats last season. He finished 2021 with 22 tackles, two tackles for loss and two pass deflections. Other corners that might get some time on the field are redshirt freshman Omar Daniels from Moultrie, GA, junior Jordan Wright who transfers in from Fullerton College, and true freshman Jacob Parrish from Olathe, KS. At safety, K-State has a lot of options. The three listed as the starters are all new faces but they have plenty of experience playing college football at a high level. Junior transfer Kobe Savage from Tyler Junior College, senior Prairie View A&M transfer Drake Cheatum and senior Virginia transfer Josh Hayes all get the nod. Savage earned 2nd team JUCO All-America honors last season and 1st team all-conference honors. He was the 5th best JUCO safety available, according to ESPN’s rankings. Cheatum was named to the 2021 HBCU All-America team finishing with a team-high 86 tackles. He also led the SWAC in interceptions with five. Hayes is another journeyman of the game playing at North Dakota State under Chris Klieman in 2017 and 2018 and stayed there in 2019 and 2020, despite Klieman’s departure. When he announced his name would be in the portal, the Cats were after him during the 2021 offseason, but he decided to play at Virginia where he only played in three games. He now reunites with Klieman and will be a big piece on this defense. As for the backups, the hard-hitting sophomore TJ Smith returns. He played in every game last year and got 39 tackles, two interceptions, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Senior Cincere Mason got quite a few minutes in during the 2021 season and will likely see an even bigger role in 2022. Mason had 15 tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass breakup last season. True freshman V.J. Payne comes to Manhattan from Gainesville, GA and will likely see some time. It’s been said by coaches that they will see whether they want to redshirt him or not as the season progresses.

Last and certainly not least (especially for K-State) is special teams. Field goal kicker Chris Tennant comes back after a solid freshman season with the Cats. Tennant got the starting kicker role half-way through the season. He kicked for the team’s final six games of the season, and he was decent with flashes of greatness coming through including nailing a 51-yard field goal against Texas. However, the team will demand more accuracy from Tennant after finishing 5-for-8 (62.5%) on field goal tries. Senior punter Ty Zentner looks to improve on an impressive junior season. He is on the 2022 Ray Guy Award watch list and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2021. His punts traveled an average of 43.7 yards per boot. Zentner landed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line and had 12 punts go for 50+ yards. Malik Knowles has the ability to return any kickoff for a touchdown. He was named a Preseason All-American by many outlets for his kick-returning skills. He is fourth in school history in kickoff returns for touchdowns with three and is only behind Tyler Lockett, Brandon Banks and Morgan Burns. Phillip Brooks is just as dangerous at returning punts. Punters avoided Brooks in 2021, however, as he only was able to return eight punts last year. He took those punts for a total of 84 yards or 10.5 yards per return.

K-State takes on South Dakota this Saturday, September 3rd at 6:00 p.m. from Bill Snyder Family Stadium to kickoff the 2022 regular season. You can catch the game on KNZA 103.9 FM and KMZA 92.1 FM.

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