Back-to-back linebackers in the middle of the list, as today's entry follows up South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts.
Both guys figure to have important roles on this year's defense, where they will be asked not only to replace fifth-round NFL draft pick Ben Heeney, but also would-be senior Jake Love, who stepped away from football with one year of eligibility remaining due to medical issues.
Heeney and Love provided the Jayhawks with that classic linebacker mentality and a ton of toughness and play-making ability.
Is there another Jayhawk waiting in the wings who can do the same?
Here's a look at No. 16:
The Dallas native has spent most of his KU career under the radar but that's about to change.
Arguably the most talented and productive returning player at a very thin position, Arnick's importance to this year's team cannot be overlooked. He might not be the kind of guy who can step in by himself and replace the production of departed middle linebacker Ben Heeney, but don't tell him that. Arnick is an incredibly confident guy who has gotten better each year and just now seems to be figuring out how to use his strengths to his advantage.
Perhaps his biggest strength is his speed. Toward the end of the 2014 season Arnick consistently flew to the football and used his wheels to make plays or help clean up tackles started by other guys.
At just a touch over 200 pounds, he's never going to be a guy who knocks running backs on their butts or lowers a boom heard 'round the world. But that doesn't stop him from being productive and it also does not mean he's afraid to hit.
Last season, Arnick finished sixth on the team with 45 tackles — 34 solo — and added four tackles for loss and a sack. He got better as the season moved on — as his 10-tackle performance in the second-to-last game of the season at OU showed — and started five games while playing in all 12.
At this point, Arnick seems a little like one of those guys from whom the Jayhawks know what they're going to get. But that does not make his role any less vital. The KU roster has a handful of bodies to choose from when the coaches go to fill out their linebacker rotation this season. But the unit is going to need a lead dog and it could be Arnick's turn to slide into that spot, both statistically speaking and as a leader.
In talking to him, it seems as if he's up for the challenge. Now he just has to show it.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
With so many offensive play makers leaving the team for one reason or another this offseason, one of the biggest questions surrounding this year's KU football team centers around how it will rack up yards and put up points.
That's why you'll see a bunch of offensive players on the rest of this list, starting with today's entry, a tall, lean, athletic wide receiver from Texas who has an incredibly bright future.
Whether that light shines immediately or takes some time to surface is not yet known, but No. 18 on the list may be one of the most exciting Jayhawks to track in the coming weeks and years.
The story goes like this: Just about every player who caught a pass on last year's team left during the offseason, leaving the door wide open for any number of new pass catchers to storm through it.
The question, however, is which guys will be ready and which guys won't?
It's hard to say that a true freshman fresh out of high school would be a guy that could be tossed into the ready category, but Harrell's early graduation and arrival in time for spring practices gave him the jump he needed on the competition.
KU coach David Beaty said the spring was enormous for Harrell, who matured a great deal in the seven months since graduating from high school, as a receiver, a student and a man.
Blessed with a fantastic frame and some terrific raw skills, Harrell will be given every opportunity to prove he's ready to make an immediate impact. Because this offense figures to utilize upwards of eight or nine receivers each game, it seems highly likely that Harrell will have some kind of role this season, if for no other reason than his size and skills. How significant that role will be and what kind of noise he makes on Saturdays remains to be seen, but Beaty already has heaped some heavy praise on the young man from Huffman, Texas, comparing him to former Texas A&M receiver and eventual first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Mike Evans.
Beaty said Harrell was ahead of where Evans was as a true freshman — largely because Evans came to A&M as a basketball player transitioning to football — and continues to say the sky is the limit for arguably the most intriguing receiver on the entire roster.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
With the current state of Kansas football leaving more than a little to be desired by the KU fan base, it's often easier to think back about the good days than it is to focus on the present or even forecast the future.
Whether that brings memories of Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier in the snow, the Orange Bowl title in 2008 or a stretch of three bowl appearances in four seasons, the fond memories are there and they did not take place too long ago.
One such memory, or at least a memorable Jayhawk, that just now seems to be gaining serious steam is the four-year career of cornerback Chris Harris. Harris, currently a starter for the Denver Broncos who is widely regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, has gone a long way toward bringing positive vibes to the KU program to fans of professional football.
If you're a regular visitor of this site, you've probably seen and read plenty about Harris. But there's even more to his story than the current success and memorable milestones he's racking up by the day.
The Broncos official web site recently did a fantastic job with Harris' story, in a three-part series known as The Underdog.
Here you get a very candid and entertaining look at Harris' beginning and everything that went into making him the player — and person — he is today.
It's worth a watch for anyone, but will be especially meaningful for KU fans who remember No. 16 making his mark during that magical Orange Bowl season in 2007.
Check it out…
Don't be surprised if Miller plays a big role on this KU defense pretty quickly.
The Jayhawks are in big time need of some cornerbacks who can play and Miller, who comes to KU from Saline High in Ann Arbor, Michigan, poised beyond his years and ready to play a physical and aggressive style of football, might wind up being one of the better gets in the 2015 recruiting class.
Originally committed to Central Michigan, Miller got on board with the idea of challenging himself in the Big 12 when fellow Michigan native and KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell got involved in his recruitment.
Mitchell has a fantastic track record of landing top talent and Miller said Mitchell's persistence along with the vision for the future laid out by head coach David Beaty was enough to convince him that Kansas was the place to be.
A self-described “physical, in-your-face cornerback,” Miller drew early interest from in-state power programs Michigan and Michigan State, but lost touch with the Wolverines when the school turned over its coaching staff and was forced to look elsewhere when MSU filled up its class.
That development turned out to be KU's gain and even though there are a half dozen other cornerbacks on the roster who could challenge Miller for playing time and even a starting spot, his experience in man-to-man coverages and all-around athleticism and versatility make him a strong candidate to hold down one of the starting cornerback spots, with juco transfer Brandon Stewart most likely being the other starter entering the 2015 season.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Everyone knows that having a strong offensive line — especially in a pass-happy conference like the Big 12 — is paramount to a team's success. And there are a handful of guys on the Kansas University football roster who give the Jayhawks a chance to trot a line with a little bit of experience and some talent onto the field this fall.
The latest entry in our ongoing series of the most crucial Jayhawks for the KU football team this fall is one of those guys.
Here's a look:
Visinia is coming off of a solid freshman season in which he played in all 12 games and started three at right guard.
The biggest question for the Grandview, Missouri, native heading into his second season with the Jayhawks will not be focused on what he did during the offseason to make himself stronger.
Ability is not the issue here. Visinia has a solid understanding of how to play the position, is versatile enough to handle run blocking and pass blocking and has possibly the best feet of the bunch, especially when you consider his size. But there were times last season — as there are with all freshmen — when Visinia was simply overmatched from a strength perspective. And if he did not do enough in the offseason to address that then the likelihood of him making a significant jump during Year 2 drops.
Having said that, it sounds like new strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson and crew have worked these guys hard over the summer and are seeing great results both in terms of improved power and stamina.
The experience Visinia picked up last season as a true freshman just trying to figure it all out should go a long way toward making him comfortable from the get-go this season. And his presence as an anchor at right guard should be something KU can count on.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Throughout each KU men's basketball season, our sports editor, Tom Keegan, does a thing after every game where he rates the players of the game in his Keegan Ratings.
This is not that.
It is, however, a ranking that illustrates which KU players the Jayhawks' 8-0 run to the World University Games gold medal helped the most in South Korea.
So let's get to it. As Keegan does in his ratings, we'll go with scholarship players only and not worry about the guys who play at other schools.
1. Wayne Selden – By far KU's best player throughout the touranment, Selden emerged as a go-to option and really showed well as a leader. He looks more determined than ever and his confidence should be sky high come October when the Jayhawks get going for real.
2. Hunter Mickelson – Throughout most of the second half of last season, KU fans everywhere wondered why Mickelson did not get more of an opportunity to play. I don't think anyone will have to worry about that any more. The transfer from Arkansas played quality minutes and put up surprising numbers throughout the tournament, even working his way into a starting role. That kind of lift to his confidence should only make him continue to work harder and harder throughout the rest of the season.
3. Carlton Bragg – Bragg's numbers were not exactly amazing but the thing the long freshman gained that should benefit him the most is his ability to play through adversity. After breaking his nose before things even got going, Bragg played tough and looked unfazed by the injury throughout the tournament. That kind of toughness and sacrifice goes a long way with KU coach Bill Self and you can bet Bragg will get plenty of positive feedback about it. That should only make him more comfortable when the season rolls around.
4. Frank Mason – Mason played exactly the way KU fans would have expected him to play heading into the tournament, so I'm not sure the bulldog point guard gained a whole lot in terms of learning anything new about his game. Still, he was fantastic in leading the offense, set up more plays and buckets than he even got credit for and played a ton of minutes while running the show the whole time.
5. Landen Lucas – There were up and down moments for Lucas, who still lacks some of the skills necessary to be a force down low. But the man can rebound. And he did that pretty well in Korea. With the addition of Bragg and Cheick Diallo and the emergence of Mickelson, Lucas might not get a ton of minutes this winter. But it now seems like a safe bet to say that when he's in there he can have a real impact on the glass.
6. Lagerald Vick – Vick's a long shot to play this season, but it won't be because he doesn't believe he can. The young guard was out there during some pretty crucial moments throughout the tournament and he looked pretty salty at times, especially as a scorer. A loaded roster ahead of him and his inexperience and limited defensive skills will likely keep him off the court this winter. But this experience will no doubt help his development and help him be in a better position to push the guys ahead of him in practices.
7. Perry Ellis – Ellis was good at times and average at others in South Korea but didn't really stand out. The good news for KU was that he didn't need to. He can save that for the college season and what figures to be a big senior year. That said, he looked healthy, moved well, shot the ball with confidence and, like Mason, performed pretty much exactly the way people expected him. That's by no means a knock on him, but I'm not sure the tournament helped him a whole lot.
8. Jamari Traylor – Traylor's minutes were down and Lucas and Mickelson played much bigger roles. For a guy who already is quick to get down on himself, that probably didn't help. Still, Traylor's a good teammate and I noticed him genuinely fired up on the bench late in the gold-medal game when it became clear that KU was going to win. That's a good sign that even though he didn't set the world on fire with his play, he stayed in it for his teammates.
9. Devonte Graham – Graham did not get to play because of injury, but you have to think that just being there helped him a little bit. He saw how his teammates competed in various settings. He was able to observe how Nic Moore and Frank Mason handled things on the floor. And he no doubt did all he could as a vocal leader from the bench. Plus, can a player ever be around too much winning? Even though he didn't play a minute, just feeling that feeling can be something that sticks with Graham, too.
Be sure to make your vote count in our KUsports.com poll about which player the trip to Korea helped the most.
Yesterday, we unveiled No. 25 in our countdown of the most crucial KU football players for this fall. Today, it's on to No. 24, where we flip from offense to defense.
Here's a look.
After spending one season at Hartnell College, the friendly dude with the funky name arrived on campus prior to the 2014 season poised and ready to play Division I football.
A big reason for that was Fish's upbringing, when he left his native Baltimore to live with his brother, Shaky, in Utah while Shaky starred for the Utes football program. Being tossed into an environment like that forced Fish to mature more quickly than most guys his age and the up-close-and-personal look at college football at a young age allowed him to pick up little things that later would help him make the transition.
In a back-up role to Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, Fish played in all 12 games last season and finished as KU's fifth-leading tackler.
With those guys out of the picture and the completely remade secondary desperate for leadership and a veteran presence, Fish should have a chance to emerge not only as more of a play-maker but also as one of the generals on defense for the Jayhawks.
Not blessed with any one spectacular skill, Fish is incredibly solid in several areas. He's a lot like Sendish in that way and he is not afraid to stick his nose in there to make a tackle.
The Jayhawks have a bunch of defensive backs on the roster and many of them possess terrific speed, athletic ability and upside. But few of them have the kind of game experience — and production — that Fish brings to the table and that puts the junior in position to be one of the more important pieces on the team, both in terms of delivering on the field and helping bring the young guys along.
Here's a look at the list so far…
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
I've spent more than my fair share of time being critical of Wayne Selden's game during his first couple of seasons with the Kansas University men's basketball team.
And I stand by everything I've said in the past. But the good thing about the past is that it's always behind you. The present is what matters most, and Selden's present sure looks like a gift for the Jayhawks.
If you've been paying attention at all to what's going on in Korea — whether you've watched the games yourself or read and viewed the fantastic coverage from our own Bobby Nightengale and Mike Yoder — you know that Selden has been tearing it up.
He's averaging 20 points per game, has led the Jayhawks in scoring in three of the four games they've played — all victories — led the team in minutes per game all four times and has looked much more explosive, confident and determined than I ever remember seeing him.
His averages through four games: 1 victory, 20 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 36 minutes.
I still question whether the Selden we're seeing in July will be the same guy we see this winter, mostly because I can't help but think that the competition — and, particularly, the type of athletes he'll see in opposing uniforms — will be drastically different than what he's facing today. But still, just like a team that benefits from playing an easy schedule, all a guy can do is attack the guys who are trying to guard him and Selden has been doing just that.
One of the biggest improvements Selden has made has been near the bucket. He's still not making everything, but he is finishing in close a lot better than he did during last season's colossal struggle and a big reason for that is his aggressive nature. He's not just floating and hoping any more. He's going all the way to the rim and either finishing or drawing the foul. For a guy that size, that's always the right move. And it's often easier said than done. But props to Selden for doing it over and over overseas.
Beyond that, his outside shot — his biggest weapon thus far — has continued to look smooth and put points on the board when the Jayhawks needed them most.
It's not just the numbers that have impressed me. It's the mindset Selden has displayed. My biggest criticism of the guy throughout his career is that he always seemed, to me, to be a more worried about how he looked out there on the court than how he produced. I haven't seen an ounce of that in Korea.
Selden looks tough, is always in attack mode, is carrying himself like a true leader — something KU lacked big time the past two years — and has that presence about him that seems to indicate that he knows nobody can stop him.
So far, he's been correct. And following his lead, the Jayhawks/Team USA are in a real position to challenge for a gold medal that I'm not sure anybody thought was in reach.
Don't look now, but July has arrived and, like it or not, before we know it, it's going to feel an awful lot like football season around here.
For now, the KU men's basketball team's run at the World University Games in South Korea is keeping much of the focus away from KU football, as is the fan base's absence of much hope for the upcoming season. Both are valid reasons to keep football on the back burner, but seeing how football is the reason they pay me, I'm not quite as able to turn my attention away from it. Nor do I want to.
This season likely will be rough. But I continue to be impressed by this coaching staff, the direction the program is ultimately headed and, most of all, the incredible effort being put forth by the players this summer. This KU team might lack depth and it might even lack Big 12 talent, but you'd never know it from the way these guys are working.
I know it sounds like you've heard that before, and you probably have. But if it's true, you can't just ignore it. Does that mean the work they're putting in now will lead to wins this fall? That's probably not very likely. But it does mean that they already have bought in to this new staff and are not wasting any time putting in the first bricks in what they hope someday will be a strong house.
Enough about all of that, though. Let's jump into some interesting tidbits that won't make or break the season but might be interesting enough to get you to that next KU hoops game....
• During my weekly viewing of the official KU football roster (always have to make sure I'm aware of any updates that might have taken place) I noticed that senior defensive lineman Ben Goodman is no longer going to wear No. 93, which he has worn since he arrived on campus four years ago. Goodman, instead, will be wearing No. 10 this fall. We haven't had the chance to talk to these guys in quite a while but I'll definitely be interested to hear why Goodman decided to make the change.
• Speaking of numbers, everyone loves quarterbacks and it's probably not too early to start scouting which KU QBs will wear what numbers this fall. Montell Cozart, who seems like a virtual lock to start the season opener on Sept. 5, will still be wearing No. 2. Newcomers Carter Stanley (No. 9) and Ryan Willis (No. 13) are also worth noting. The most recent QB to wear No. 9 at Kansas was 2013 starter Jake Heaps, who, by the way, caught on with the New York Jets and is one of five quarterbacks to sign with the Jets heading into camp. He's still a long shot to make the final roster, but I always love when good dudes get a fair shot and Heaps is getting his. I can't find or recall the last KU QB to wear No. 13. Anyone?
• A couple of other interesting players will wear one of the most dynamic numbers in KU football history this fall. Freshman wide receiver Chase Harrell (6-4, 200) and freshman defensive end Dorance Armstrong (6-4, 225) will suit up in the No. 3 jersey made available by the departure of speed demon Tony Pierson. Of course, Pierson was merely the latest ultra-talented Jayhawk to wear No. 3, following in the footsteps of two-way threats Aqib Talib and Charles Gordon. In more recent years, and before Pierson got the number, former running back Darrian Miller, who had a monster freshman year, also wore No. 3. Of course, just because the number has been so good to those guys — or is it the other way around? — does not mean it's a guarantee that Harrell and Armstrong are in for big things. I happen to think both are, but back in 2008 it was none other than the infamous Jocques Crawford who wore No. 3, so take it with a grain of salt.
• I always love watching what happens to old numbers of superstars after they leave and this year will be no exception. For example, I remember thinking it was hilarious when Greg Brown (5) and Corrigan Powell (10) wore the numbers of Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier following their final seasons in crimson and blue. This year, the number that jumps out the most in that department is 31, worn for four years by Ben Heeney. Suiting up in Heeney's old number will be the only linebacker in the 2015 recruiting class, Osaze Ogbebor. It's far too early to know how well Ogbebor will rep the number, but here's guessing he'll get a chance to show it this season and won't be quite as much of a wild man.
• One other guy who joined Goodman in moving to a new number for the 2015 season was sophomore cornerback Matthew Boateng, who, last season as a true freshman, wore No. 1 and now will be wearing No. 33.
By now, if you've been a longtime reader of KUsports.com, you know that every once in a while we post various odds that are sent to us from the folks at Bovada.lv, an online betting service that dabbles in all kinds of college and professional sports propositions.
If that sounds famililar at all, you're probably recalling blogs about KU's odds of winning a national championship, Andrew Wiggins' chances of becoming national player of the year or even KU football's low over/under win total.
All of those, and more, have been sent to us and posted on the site during recent years.
Tuesday, I received an email from Bovada outlining the odds for the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year. Given that the draft just happened and that KU's Kelly Oubre was the highest and only Jayhawk selected, I opened it wondering if his name would be on there and how good or bad his odds might be.
It wasn't. Oubre, who has been touting himself as the greatest player in the draft of late, was nowhere to be found and, obviously, neither was undrafted former Jayhawk Cliff Alexander.
Oubre's omission was not that big of a surprise, but the list remained relevant to KU fans for one other reason. Joel Embiid.
Embiid, the third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is listed as a 10-1 pick to be named rookie of the year next season. Those aren't terrible odds, provided Embiid is healthy.
The 7-foot center from Cameroon, of course, missed all of his true rookie season nursing back and foot injuries and, therefore, would qualify for the award if he plays this season and plays well enough to outdo all other candidates. Both are longshots at this point, which is why the 10-1 number was a little surprising.
Here's a quick look at the rest of the list, with Embiid's new teammate, No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor leading the way.
Jahlil Okafor 7/2
D'Angelo Russell 4/1
Karl-Anthony Towns 7/1
Emmanuel Mudiay 7/1
Justise Winslow 9/1
Joel Embiid 10/1
Mario Hezonja 16/1
Willie Cauley-Stein 22/1
Jerian Grant 22/1
Myles Turner 25/1
Sam Dekker 25/1
Frank Kaminsky 25/1
Kristaps Porzingis 25/1
Stanley Johnson 33/1
Cameron Payne 33/1
Trey Lyles 33/1
Devin Booker 33/1
Bobby Portis 33/1