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Tale of the Tait

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 7 - OL D’Andre Banks

Back-to-back entries for the offensive line on our list of the Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016, with senior D'Andre Banks following up Thursday's No. 8 player on the list, sophomore Clyde McCauley.

From the left side of the line yesterday to the right today, KU's tackle positions now are manned by players with legitimate game experience and an extra year's worth of work in the weight room.

That's not to say they automatically will keep all comers away from KU's quarterbacks, but their experience, strength and consistency should give the Jayhawks a shot to be much improved up front during the 2016 season.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

7. D’Andre Banks, Sr. Offensive Lineman

One of the most consistent and well-liked players on KU’s offensive line, former junior college transfer D’Andre Banks, in about a year, transformed himself from a nice player who added depth and reliability to KU’s offensive line into the kind of player the coaching staff believed it could put wherever it needed without worrying about whether he was up for or could handle the challenge.

That’s high praise for any player but particularly high praise for a player entering just his second season in the program.

After starting nine games at right guard during his rookie season with the Jayhawks, Banks has been moved from the inside to the outside, where he will open preseason camp as the favorite to start the season at right tackle.

Banks will be the first to tell you that he does not put too much stock in tracking his status on the depth chart or where he stands with the coaches. His philosophy is simple: Go out and work every day and the rest takes care of itself.

That mentality, however natural it may be, has, by default, put Banks into a bit of a leadership role on the KU O-Line. He’ll never be the guy who yells and screams at a teammate or grabs someone’s face mask, but he will show others what he believes should be done play in, play out, day in and day out. Whether that’s playing hard through the end of the whistle or playing smart before the ball is even snapped, Banks believes it all contributes greatly to both how well the offensive line executes its job and, in turn, how confident that group is when going about it.

Because so many of those bodies up front are in a similar position to Banks — no longer in their first year and no longer as overwhelmed by the newness of everything — Banks believes this could be a big year not only for himself but for the entire crew.

“It definitely feels a lot more comfortable than last (year) and I’m just ready to go,” Banks said this spring. “All of us got bigger, faster, stronger and I’m so excited to see what this new O-Line can do.”

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

As we continue to climb toward the top spot in this year's Most Crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 college football season, we run into the fourth offensive lineman on our list so far at No. 8.

KU's offensive line, which OL coach Zach Yenser said back in June was starting to play with that mean streak that all good offensive lines need to have, will be under the microscope again for this young offense in 2016.

Regardless of who's taking the snaps, running the ball or catching the passes, the offense figures only to go as far as the offensive line will take it. That's why so many linemen have shown up on this list already and that's why entry No. 8 figures to have an important role no matter where he plays or how often.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas linemen Clyde McCauley III (74) and D'Andre Banks run through drills during practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linemen Clyde McCauley III (74) and D'Andre Banks run through drills during practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

8. Clyde McCauley, Soph. Offensive Tackle

Whether he wins the job at left tackle, where he is battling returning starter Jordan Shelley-Smith, or is beaten out, the second-year Jayhawk will have a huge role on this team in 2016 — and beyond.

Last season McCauley made three starts along the O-Line and played in six games as a true freshman, giving him the valuable experience that sometimes does not arrive until a player’s second or third year on campus.

Not all of McCauley’s time on the field was memorable or even mentionable, but he held up well enough to keep trotting back out there.

There’s no doubt that what he experienced while facing some of the bigger, stronger pass rushers in the conference, along with what was taught to him by his coaches and teammates helped McCauley make it through his first season of college football, and he almost certainly used that information this offseason to better prepare himself for Year 2.

KU coach David Beaty recently said that McCauley and Shelley-Smith were in a too-close-to-call type of battle for that starting spot. But, with preseason camp yet to begin, it’s what they will do in the next few weeks that will determine who starts and who does not.

Even if he does not get the nod, McCauley will have value on this team as a swing tackle, joining Larry Hughes in providing depth behind Shelley-Smith and new right tackle D’Andre Banks.

If McCauley, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, is like most of his teammates and transformed that freshman frame into a leaner and meaner version in the offseason, both his footwork and stamina should be improved, giving him a chance to be more explosive both in the run game and pass protection.

The Jayhawks absolutely need their offensive line to hold up this season if they hope to be competitive or push for a couple of victories. And while McCauley’s most exciting days might still be down the road, he will be given every opportunity to be a part of that line again in 2016, a year older and wiser than he was during his first try.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

Reply 2 comments from Brett McCabe Dirk Medema

When They Were Gold: Today marks 1-year anniversary of KU’s World University Games triumph

Fans shout and reach out to Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. after Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory over Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea. Selden scored 22 points in the win.

Fans shout and reach out to Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. after Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory over Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea. Selden scored 22 points in the win. by Mike Yoder

In a lot of ways, it seems like much longer than one year ago that the Kansas men’s basketball players were standing on a podium in South Korea with USA splashed across their chests awaiting the presentation of their gold medals.

So much happened between now and then, from KU turning in a fabulous 33-5 2015-16 season and reaching the Elite Eight to the fight for Cheick Diallo’s eligibility, the NBA Draft and, of course, the departure of stars like Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden and the arrival of their successors Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike, that it hardly seems possible that the World University Games wrapped up just one year ago.

Such is life at the highest level of college basketball in today’s world, where things change quickly and only a few elements of each program remain consistent from year to year — coaching staffs, venues, fan base, etc.

Adding support to that point, Kansas returns just five members from that gold-medal squad at the 2015 Games to its 2016-17 roster: Frank Mason, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick and Tyler Self.

Ellis, Diallo, Selden and Brannen Greene all entered the NBA Draft following the 2015-16 season. Jamari Traylor, Hunter Mickelson and Evan Manning graduated. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was ineligible because he was born outside of the United States. Devonte’ Graham did not play because he was injured. And SMU’s Nic Moore and Florida Gulf Coast’s Julian DeBose returned to their programs after the trip to Korea.

While many, including KU coach Bill Self, expected the Jayhawks to go over to Korea and suffer at least a couple of losses playing against grown men with international experience, the Jayhawks themselves never did. KU’s experienced and talented roster talked before it went about going over there with one thing in mind and that was winning a gold medal. Even those who believed that was possible did not envision a scenario in which KU would win eight games in 10 days without taking a loss.

That stretch included a double-overtime victory over Germany in the Gold Medal Game that ended early in the morning, Kansas time, and led to a day-long celebration by the team in Korea and KU fans back in Lawrence.

Devonte Graham, left, joins other Team USA players as they pile on Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. to celebrate their double-overtime win against Germany Monday, July 13, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Devonte Graham, left, joins other Team USA players as they pile on Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. to celebrate their double-overtime win against Germany Monday, July 13, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

KU won its eight games overseas by an average of 20 points per game, with three of the eight victories coming by nine points, the closest being a one-point win over Serbia that put KU into the quarterfinals and the biggest blowout coming by way of a 65-point drubbing of Chile.

The Journal-World’s Bobby Nightengale and Mike Yoder were the only Kansas media members who made the trip to Korea and they chronicled every aspect of the Jayahwks’ experience, from the wins and stats on the court to the discovery of Korean culture and a little down time off the court.

For those KU fans feeling particularly nostalgic on this one-year anniversary of one of the more memorable summers in Kansas hoops history, be sure to check out our KU in Korea page which provides links and chronicles all of Mike and Bobby’s coverage from KU's quest to bring home the gold.

Team USA players bite on their gold medals after a win against Germany Monday, July 13, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Team USA players bite on their gold medals after a win against Germany Monday, July 13, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

Reply 3 comments from Harlan Hobbs Koolkeithfreeze Brett McCabe

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

It's on to No. 9 on our countdown of the Most Crucial Jayhawks of the 2016 season and that's where we find everyone's favorite KU quarterback from recent years.

No Kansas player has taken as much criticism and, at the same time, been given as many different opportunities in the past few seasons as Montell Cozart, a fourth-year junior who started — and even won a Big 12 game — as a true freshman and has been delivering a mixed bag of successes and failures ever since.

Cozart was the opening week starter in both 2014 and 2015 but was replaced each year either because of injury or ineffectiveness. It remains to be seen what becomes of Cozart this season, but there are all kinds of options still on the table as the Jayhawks prepare to kick off preseason camp in just a few weeks.

Here's a look at a few of those options and why Cozart remains an important part of this football team.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

9. Montell Cozart, Jr. Quarterback

If you haven’t by now (and I’m sure many of you have), you might want to brace yourself for the possibility that Montell Cozart could be under center for the Jayhawks again for his third consecutive Week 1 start.

Yes, Ryan Willis showed some promise last season, and, more to the point, showed some ability in some of the areas that Cozart is lacking. But, Willis also injured himself playing basketball this spring and was forced to sit out of most of the physical activity during spring practices.

That gave Cozart the opportunity to take most of the reps as KU’s No. 1 quarterback and that, at least momentarily, gave him a slight lead over Willis in the race for the starting job. That fact is magnified by KU coach David Beaty’s desire to tweak the offense and go to more of a true Air Raid look, which Cozart now has much more experience running and repping than Willis.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenario exists that ends with Willis starting Week 1 and possibly even starting the entire season.

But even if he does, Cozart ranks high on this list because he will remain a crucial part of this team. And that’s for a number of reasons. Here’s a quick rundown:

• First and foremost, Cozart has developed into a terrific leader and is someone everybody on that roster — and on the coaching staff — has a great deal of respect for. Even if he doesn’t play a snap at any position (which is highly unlikely), he still would impact that locker room in a positive way.

• Beyond that, KU’s back-up QBs have been pressed into action a lot during recent seasons and having a guy like Cozart sitting in that role would give KU some depth and stability behind Willis, who will be playing behind a still-developing offensive line.

• There’s a chance that Willis could be the guy but Beaty and company could scheme up some kind of package that best utilizes Cozart’s strengths and keeps opposing defenses off balance. That could be in Wildcat or red zone type of packages or even in the middle of the field.

• Finally, there’s the chance that someone else could emerge as a viable back-up QB and the coaching staff could switch Cozart to wide receiver or punt returner to take advantage of his athleticism and ability to run. Beaty has gone on record multiple times saying that Cozart is too good of an athlete to stand next to him on Saturday and I believe he means that.

With all of those scenarios — and perhaps even one or two that we aren’t even thinking about — it’s easy to see how Cozart’s versatility and experience provide so much potential value and importance for this team.

The race between Cozart and Willis should be interesting and could easily come down to the wire. Don’t be surprised by either outcome and don’t count out the runner-up just because a Week 1 starter is named.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

Reply 15 comments from Matt Schierlman RXDOC Dirk Medema Chris DeWeese Michael Maris Matt Tait Randy Maxwell Ryan Woods Brett McCabe

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

As we jump into the Top 10, it's offense that's up first.

In fact, 7 of the final 10 in this summer's list of the Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2016 come from the offensive side of the ball, lending support to the claim that it's the KU offense that has the most room to improve and needs to elevate its production to something that more closely coincides with the rest of the Big 12.

In David Beaty's Air Raid offense, there are plenty of ways to get that done, but few are as important as through the air. The Jayhawks have a deep and talented — but still green in a lot of ways — group of receivers and one of those with the greatest potential comes in at No. 10.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Jeremiah Booker (88) is wrapped up by Texas Tech defensive back Nigel Bethel (1) and defensive back J.J. Gaines (3) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Jeremiah Booker (88) is wrapped up by Texas Tech defensive back Nigel Bethel (1) and defensive back J.J. Gaines (3) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

10. Jeremiah Booker, Soph. Wide Receiver

An injury that kept him out for most of camp and a good chunk of the 2015 season severely limited Booker’s productivity, but there’s no denying the impact he made when he was on the field.

The long, tall, big target who showed up for fellow-freshman Ryan Willis down the field made in some tight spots made a few tough catches and finished his freshman season fourth on the team with 23 receptions and 228 yards in just six starts.

Imagine, then, what Booker could have done had he never been injured and been able to (a) compete at a high level immediately and (b) develop a better rapport with KU’s QBs more quickly instead of having to wait until the midway point of the season to get his legs under him.

It seems safe to say that his numbers easily could have doubled, which would have produced one of the better years by a KU wide receiver in recent years.

Fast forward to 2016, when you find a healthy, leaner and stronger Booker who no longer seems like a freshman trying to figure things out. Even though he looks slightly smaller, Booker said he dropped all of his bad weight this offseason and was moving better than ever. He worked hard this offseason on his route running and footwork and figuring out how to maneuver at his new playing weight.

If that translates into being a little faster — whether that’s straight-line speed or just perceived speed because he’s in and out of breaks quicker — then Booker could be poised for a big sophomore season and could be in line to give the Jayhawks the much-needed second or third weapon in the passing game to ensure that opponents can’t just key on junior transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez game in and game out.

Whether the results come remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that Booker will put in the work. He’s a great young man and a great teammate who puts the good of the program above any personal goals and, according to teammates, is easy and fun to be around. Because he is so polite and kind, he often comes across as quiet upon first meeting, but teammates and coaches say he’s one of the funniest guys on the roster and can really get people going when he’s on.

All KU fans need is for Booker to be “on” on Saturdays this fall. If he is, it will go a long way toward helping this offense climb out of the rut it has been in during the past six seasons.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

Today's entry on the Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016 list is a name that's both wildly familiar to KU fans and wildly unusual in the dictionary of baby names.

It also belongs to one of KU's top returning players from 2015 and likely falls a little lower on the list than many people expect simply because we now know what this player is capable of and the standard for his season is higher than the one for most KU players, old and new.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas University safety Anthony Smithson? No, the junior-college transfer prefers to be called ‘Fish,’ a nickname given to Smithson by his grandmother when he was an infant.

Kansas University safety Anthony Smithson? No, the junior-college transfer prefers to be called ‘Fish,’ a nickname given to Smithson by his grandmother when he was an infant. by Mike Yoder

12. Fish Smithson, Sr. Safety

They don’t make ’em much more consistent than KU safety Fish Smithson, but, according to Fish himself, they do make ’em better.

That’s why the senior returning for his third season in the program who led the Big 12 in tackles (111) and the nation in solo tackles per game (7.9) in 2015 spent the entire offseason working as if he had yet to accomplish a thing.

Named to the all-Big 12 second team following a strong junior season, Smithson returns as not only the most accomplished player on KU’s defense but also one of its anchors.

He’ll have more help and experience around him this season, which should give him a better opportunity to make more plays. But he does not figure to stray too far from the traits that made him one of the more sure tacklers in the Big 12 a season ago — toughness, intelligence, effort and pride.

Like many players on the KU roster, Smithson leaned up and got stronger this offseason. That, he believes, will make him a better all-around player. He also emphasized becoming a better leader and more polished in coverage and said after the 2015 season that he would like to be known as more than just a solid tackler.

No matter how much they appear to have improved in 2016 — if at all — the Jayhawks are going to need Smithson to continue to clean up the back end of their defense. But if he can capitalize on the work he put in on the other aspects of his game and add it to what people already know he’s capable of, Smithson can take that step forward that he wants to take.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

Reply 3 comments from Randy Maxwell Dirk Medema Jim Stauffer

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

We've reached the end of another week and the beginning of July. That means, the next time the calendar turns it will be football season, with the Jayhawks slated to report to campus Aug. 3, begin preseason camp Aug. 4 and kickoff this year's annual media day on Aug. 6.

With that in mind, it's more O-Line flavor for today's entry of the most crucial Jayhawks of 2016, as one of the Jayhawks' most steady linemen from a year ago is adjusting to yet another new role that could wind up being crucial this season for a number of reasons.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith (79) makes his way off the field as the Jackrabbits celebrate their 41-38 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith (79) makes his way off the field as the Jackrabbits celebrate their 41-38 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

16. Jordan Shelley-Smith, Sr. Offensive Lineman

After fully making the transition from tight end to left tackle, senior Jordan Shelley-Smith has become one of the more important pieces along KU’s offensive line.

A starter at left tackle in nine of the 12 games during KU’s winless season in 2015, Shelley-Smith showed quickly the ability to add size and strength while maintaining the agility and athleticism that made him a three-star prospect out of Waco, Texas, in the 2012 recruiting class.

During the transition, which Shelley-Smith embraced whole-heartedly and with great pride, the KU veteran endured some growing pains and bumps and bruises but persevered. After missing a good chunk of spring practice this season because of injury, Shelley-Smith has returned to action and is in a battle with Clyde McCaulley at the right tackle spot.

Regardless of which players wins the starting job, both will play and both will be counted on to provide depth. Shelley-Smith, with a year at left tackle under his belt, can provide depth at both spots and, one of the best things about his role on the team is his attitude. Even if Shelley-Smith is beaten out or plays a limited role, he’s the kind of teammate who will remain engaged and supportive of those around him.

You can’t have too many players like that and it’s often guys like that who tend to have good things happen to them. Assuming that’s the case here, Shelley-Smith will recover fully from his injury and provide the kind of steady influence along the O-Line that this young-but-improving group needs to compete week in and week out.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

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Change of plans should benefit Malik Newman big time

What started as a sure-fire one-and-done college career will now likely extend to at least three seasons.

And that might wind up being an absolute blessing for the young man involved.

Malik Newman, the former McDonald’s All-American who played his freshman season at Mississippi State, is transferring to Kansas after leaving the Bulldogs following his lone season in Starkville, Miss.

The narrative on Newman the minute he committed to MSU was that he was a one-and-done player, a likely lottery pick, who would not be at Mississippi State past the 2015-16 season. As it turns out, those claims were right but not for the reason many believed.

Now, after announcing his decision to come to Kansas on Friday, Newman will sit out the 2016-17 season, during which he will practice with the Jayhawks and learn Bill Self’s system, before becoming eligible again in 2017-18. At that point, he’ll be a third-year sophomore, approaching 21 years old and headed down a much different path than he and others ever thought he would take.

Given the wild success enjoyed by so many seniors and upperclassmen during the 2015-16 college basketball season, Newman should thank his lucky stars for this unpredictable, unintentional road block.

This spring, Newman was invited to the NBA Combine and still considered to be a possible late first or second round pick. As the combine went on and Newman’s status as a potential first-rounder slipped all the way to a late second round status on most mock drafts, the 6-foot-3 combo guard elected to withdraw from the draft and seek a transfer.

Sure, landing in the first round and getting guaranteed money and a jumpstart on an NBA career would have been nice, but I’m willing to bet that one day, who knows how long from now, Newman will greatly appreciate that he was forced to audible because doing so will give him the best chance to (a) develop as a basketball player and (b) become truly ready for a long NBA career.

That’s because he’ll now spend two years learning under Self, a man who knows a thing or two about developing talent and putting players in the NBA, and two years practicing against top-tier talent and playing against it on KU’s always-treacherous non-conference and Big 12 schedule.

Think about the athletes Newman will battle with just in the coming year — Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson every day in practice. And he’ll do so without Self having to worry about working him into the regular rotation, meaning that Newman will not only be able to improve his own game but he also exclusively will be able to push those guys to their limit day in and day out. Talk about a win-win for both the player and the program.

After that, who knows what kind of talented athletes will be in the Big 12, but think Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma’s Christian James, Texas’ Kerwin Roach or Eric Davis Jr., and whatever other talented players the top-tier coaches can bring in by then.

As we’ve seen plenty of times — especially recently — just because a player was a McDonald’s All-American or wildly hyped/highly rated coming out of high school does not mean he’ll be a star at the college level. But Newman, after getting a taste at MSU — and averaging 11.3 points per game last season — and a red-shirt year at Kansas, should be poised to deliver all people were expecting and then some by the time he finally is eligible again.

It's worth pointing out that Newman could red-shirt the upcoming season and then elect to enter the 2017 NBA draft before ever playing at Kansas. But the guess here is that after putting in the kind of work he surely will during his off season, the guy will want to get the reward of actually playing for the Jayhawks and inside Allen Fieldhouse for a season before moving on.

Newman’s college career may not play out the way anybody expected it to when he arrived at Mississippi State. But, when it’s all said and done, I doubt you’ll ever hear an ounce of complaining about it from him.

--- For more discussion about KU's latest pick up, check out our latest Spodcasters episode.

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The need for speed: Who are the fastest players on the KU football roster?

Ever since Tony Pierson left after the 2014 season, fans of KU football have had a difficult time pinpointing exactly who the fastest player on the team has been.

Pierson, a former four-star speed demon out of East St. Louis, who enjoyed a solid but injury-plagued four-year career with the Jayhawks, was one of the fastest players ever to play at Kansas and, year after year, no matter who challenged him, the speed back held the title with little trouble.

The past two years have been different, though, with no clear cut answer and a few unknowns surrounding the question: Who is the fastest player on the KU football team?

Earlier this week, in our latest installment of the Workout Warrior of the Week, Tom Keegan wrote about wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who told him that sophomore running back Taylor Martin currently held the title of the fastest player on the field. Personally, I would have guessed it to be Gonzalez, who actually ranks second, so I did a little digging and found out the 9 other players joining Martin and Gonzalez in the top tier.

There are a couple of surprises in here, but, for the most part, they’re players you would expect to see.

1. RB Taylor Martin - Hasn’t played enough to fully show what he’s capable of, and I suspect that his speed is more of the straight-line, 40-yard dash speed than it is the kind that comes while making cuts at full throttle. If he can add more of the latter to the former, he could become a sneaky weapon for the KU offense.

2. WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez – Quiv is the kind of player who seems faster than lightning because of the way he plays. Don’t get me wrong, he’s plenty fast in a straight foot race, but the way he works in space and gets in and out of breaks and gets vertical after making a catch or a move makes him look like one of the fastest dudes on the planet.

3. RB Ke’aun Kinner – This might be the best news of the bunch because of the role Kinner plays on this team. We know he has good vision and can handle a heavy workload, but to know that, when healthy (which he is now), he can run away from defenders once he gets through the line of scrimmage is great news for an offense that needs a big season from its top returning back to keep defenses honest.

4. WR Bobby Hartzog – One of about a dozen intriguing wide receivers on this roster, Hartzog’s 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame might lead some to believe he’s more of a bruiser than a sprinter, but when he gets all of that momentum heading north and south, the guy can fly.

5. CB Kyle Mayberry – Along with his confidence, this is one of the biggest reasons that “Money” Mayberry will have a legitimate chance to compete for a starting spot as a true freshman. There are plenty of factors that go into making a good cornerback — especially in the Big 12 — but few of them, if any, are as important as raw speed.

6. CB Brandon Stewart – To me, Stewart seems to be one of those Jayhawks who could make the biggest leap this season compared to the way he played a year ago. More comfortable in the defense and at the Division I level, Stewart this year should more resemble the lead cornerback this team needs him to be and his speed and ability to now use it and trust it should be a huge part of the reason for that.

7. CB Colin Spencer – This is really no surprise, given that Spencer, who came to KU as a wide receiver, was one of those freak athletes who tested so well coming out of high school. The junior from Dallas has not played a ton, but he could use that speed as a weapon on special teams and also has been around long enough to provide some deep depth in the KU secondary.

8. RB Khalil Herbert – Another running back on the list, Herbert’s wheels, along with a lack of bodies at the running back position, give him a shot to see meaningful snaps immediately. I’ve only seen his film so far, but can remember watching him run away from defenders on a regular basis throughout his prep career.

9. CB Marnez Ogletree – Ogletree spent so much of last season using his brain and mind to make sure he was in the right spot, lined up properly, using the correct technique and all of those other details that go into playing corner. That, for the most part, hampered his ability to just let it go and run, which he can do. That was one of the biggest reasons KU recruited him out of Fullerton College, where he also returned kicks.

10. S Fish Smithson – The way I see it, most people would not think of Fish when they think of speed. He seems — and in a lot of ways is — the kind of player who uses his intelligence and technique to be in the perfect position as often as possible and you don’t really picture him running players down. But, you also don’t lead the Big 12 in tackles per game without being able to run a little bit, so this probably should not be that much of a surprise.

11. LB Joe Dineen – This one might be the biggest surprise on the list, but it shouldn’t be. Dineen worked his butt of this offseason to improve his speed, and like Ben Heeney before him, can move much better than people give him credit for. Like Heeney, he’s never going to qualify as a burner, but his heart, desire and effort give him that extra gear that allows him play faster than most expect.

• Quick note: There’s no doubt in mind that quarterback Montell Cozart would crack the Top 10 on this team, but because he has still been returning from injury, he has not been asked to display his top-end speed throughout the offseason.

• A couple of names of guys who I thought might appear in the top tier but did not included: Red-shirt freshman receiver Chase Harrell, whose name got thrown around a lot when this question was asked a season ago; sophomore receiver Steven Sims, Jr., who may seem faster than he truly is because of his ability as a threat down the field; junior cornerback Derrick Neal, who, like Sims and Gonzalez probably looks a lot faster because of how shifty he is; and sophomore safety Tyron Miller. Harrell, Neal and Sims all landed in the second tier and Miller was in the third tier.

• One final note: Return man/running back Ryan Schadler's name almost certainly would appear on this list, as well — he was a sprinter at Wichita State before coming to KU — but was not on any of the tiers I saw, leading me to believe that Schadler, who probably is at his fastest in the 100-yard dash as opposed to the 40, also might have been nursing some kind of injury when the latest speed testing was done. If I had to bet, I'd put him in the Top 5, when fully healthy.

Reply 1 comment from Jim Stauffer

Kansas football enjoying a terrific time for the tight end

It’s been a while since the Kansas University football program had a tight end that put fear into opponents and made plays all over the field.

Jimmay Mundine, who last played in 2014, certainly had his moments and improved a great deal from the beginning of his career to the end. But Mundine battled through some tough times in the middle of his career, some of it his fault and some of it the fault of the KU quarterbacks and offensive line.

It’s possible, however, that the Jayhawks could be entering a terrific time for the tight end. And that’s because of the presence of junior-to-be Ben Johnson (6-5, 245) and red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger (6-4, 236).

Though slightly different in terms of individual strengths and weaknesses, these two tight ends are exactly the same in one key area — toughness.

In Johnson, KU has a bona fide weapon that seems to be quietly bursting at the seams while waiting to break out. From the day he stepped on campus to today, Johnson showed flashes of big time ability, running crisp routes, catching most everything thrown near him and playing with poise and confidence down in and down out. The thing holding him back thus far has been opportunity and injuries.

Though none of Johnson’s injuries — including the one he dealt with this spring — have been major, they have been nagging enough to keep him from planting himself firmly at the top of the depth chart. As for the opportunity, playing behind Mundine and alongside former Florida transfer Kent Taylor put Johnson in the role of young player learning the ropes instead of lead dog chasing the stats.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter. by Nick Krug

But he never flinched and took every opportunity to learn from both players while working on both his body and his game the entire time.

Some within the program have talked about Johnson as one of KU’s most legitimate pro prospects, though he certainly will have to have his best and most productive years in 2016 and 2017 to make that dream a reality.

As for Sternberger, he’s the kind of player who appears to be ready for a massive leap, as well.

While red-shirting last season, Sternberger added significant size and strength to his 6-foot-4 frame and, as a result, should have a significant role in this year’s offense.

Throughout spring practies and scrimmages, Sternberger never strayed far from David Beaty’s side and was used in a variety of ways in Beaty’s new offense, both as a pass catcher and a blocker.

He's big, physical, runs like a horse and is as competitive as any player on the team. Beyond that, he's hungry. After sitting out last season and getting to do nothing but practice, the Kingfisher, Oklahoma, native who also played defensive end in high school appears poised for a real role and has proven to be a player who can be counted on to deliver. Now, we just have to see if those traits transfer to Saturdays.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. by Richard Gwin

Both Johnson and Sternberger are sort of hybrid, modern day tight ends that can do a variety of things offensively and can find and create some mismatches issues in opposing secondaries.

By NFL comparisons, think Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker instead of Antonio Gates and Jason Witten.

The key for the continued development and Saturday showcasing of these tight ends — as with everything KU football related right now — will be how well the offensive line holds up so that Johnson, Sternberger, the KU wideouts and the KU QB can actually take advantage of some of these strengths and skills and start making other teams pay.

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