With a total of 12 returning starters on offense and defense combined, Oklahoma State has a minimal number of holes in the boat to plug before it begins its Big 12 title race in 2017.
Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Justice Hill form a triple-threat on offense unlike we’ve seen since Weeden, Blackmon and Randle shared the same turf. And on defense, Chad Whitener and Justin Phillips anchor the middle of the unit that brings back plenty of talent and experience, particularly on the line with DeQuinton Osborne, Trey Carter, Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid.
Some of those holes will be plugged by returning players, like Calvin Bundage and Darrion Daniels likely to fill in at star linebacker and defensive tackle in prominent roles, respectively. But as is the case almost every year, a freshman or two (or three or more) will step up and show they’re ready for the big stage.
I’m already on record comparing King to Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, so I may as well ride this one out. I think King is going to be a star sooner rather than later.
King was one of the most prolific running backs in George High School history, rushing for 3,662 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons, and I think that production will translate quickly to his college game. He’s a power back listed at 5-foot-11, 205-pounds, but he’s also super explosive hitting the gaps and has had success catching passes out of the backfield. There’s a legitimate shot he can land the job as backup to Justice Hill if he can pick up where he left off at Fitzgerald High School.
Even with a wealth of talent at receiver, I think there might be a role for the former four-star receiver from Fort Worth. Tylan is tremendous in a phone booth, as Gundy says, and with a 40-yard dash that is likely to be under a 4.5, OSU would do well to find him a role.
Not only did Tylan finish 12th all-time in receiving yards in the great state of Texas, but he played defensive back, returned kicks, and played a big part in special teams. So breaking him into action as a freshman could be plugging him in on kick return or punt return team and letting the youngster go to work.
Even with the amount of depth in the secondary, freshman defensive back Thabo Mwaniki could be a rare early contributor. The young man out of Denton Guyer has turned heads in fall camp, and could provide valuable depth at the very least.
Mwaniki played a little receiver, defensive back and quarterback in high school, so he’s more adepth than most when it comes to football knowledge. That alone could earn him some early PT.
How often do you see a true freshman breaking through at defensive end? It’s one of the toughest positions to earn playing time at as a youngster, and yet Martin has all the physical tools to potentially do it. Martin finished his career at Oologah with 50 sacks and 400 tackles, and at 6-4, 235-pounds, he’s already at a decent playing weight.
Combine Martin’s talents with the overall lack of uncertainty at defensive end (Trey Carter has been moved to tackle, and will Brailford and Leveni be able to stay healthy?), and I think Martin could figure into a rotation spot in some capacity as a quality bench man.
With the lack of proven depth behind Justice Hill, the Canadian rocket will almost certainly be a factor in some capacity this season. He and King are the future at the position in the long-term as a potential 1-2 punch, but for now, Hubbard could be a change-of-pace back on third down.
If we’re talking about potential in the long-term, Hubbard’s may be higher than anyone on the team. But in the short-term, I think he may fall behind fellow freshman J.D. King and redshirt freshman Ja’Ron Wilson in the pecking order. But I still think there’s a chance he makes his way onto the field as a freshman.