It is no secret that the transfer portal has not been kind to the Kansas football program this past year. But the exact damage wasn’t known until Wednesday.
Bill Connelly, who is a writer for ESPN, posted a tweet on Wednesday that listed out the teams who lost the most players via the transfer portal over the last year. By his unofficial count, the Jayhawks have lost 27 players to the transfer portal.
Only the Tennessee football program, which has seen 37 athletes leave the team, has lost more players to the transfer portal over the last year.
Both KU and Tennessee are dealing with coaching turnover this year, which probably explains why each school is higher up on this list.
Lance Leipold, who was previously at the helm at Buffalo, arrived in Lawrence after the conclusion of spring practices. Josh Heupel, a former Oklahoma quarterback who led his team to a national title, became the 27th head coach of the Volunteers in late January.
Memphis was not far behind both teams, coming in at third with 25 players lost to the transfer portal. TCU, Western Kentucky and Washington State University have all lost 23 players. Auburn, Mississippi State and West Virginia have all seen 22 athletes leave their respective programs.
In a follow-up tweet, Connelly noted that the average Big 12 teams lost 16.1 players this past year to the transfer portal. First-year coaches experienced an average of 15.9 athletes who entered the transfer portal.
In a landscape dominated by the portal, Air Force, Army and Wyoming appeared to be unscathed. They had the fewest departures in college football, as two players from each program tested the transfer market.
Of note, both Baylor and Iowa State were among the teams with the fewest players lost this past offseason. The Bears and Cyclones each had seven players enter the transfer portal, per Connelly’s unofficial numbers.
For Kansas, it wasn’t just about the total number of players who chose to leave through the transfer portal. It was more about the particular standouts who decided to leave the team after promising seasons during a winless 2020 campaign.
The Jayhawks lost three key members — Karon Prunty, Da’Jon Terry and Marcus Harris — of their defensive unit, all of whom will be competing in the SEC this fall.
Terry (nose tackle) and Harris (defensive end) are big departures along a defensive line that showed a lot of potential. Terry transferred to Tennessee after recording 14 tackles last year, while Harris headed to Auburn following a 27-tackle season.
Prunty, a lockdown cornerback, took his talents to South Carolina after a phenomenal freshman season. Prunty was named to 247 Sports’ True Freshman All-American team last year after he broke up 10 passes, tying him for first among all FBS freshmen in that category.
Connelly’s numbers don’t seem to factor in how many players a school gained via the transfer portal, as KU did its best to replace these particular players with a collection of transfers from Buffalo after Leipold took over the program.
But it is clear that the Jayhawks are dealing with plenty of turnover — along the roster and coaching staff — entering the 2021 season.
Vegas certainly isn’t expecting a miracle in Year 1 of the Lance Leipold era.
With the college football season just around the corner, Superbook recently released conference title odds for those able to place a bet in either Nevada or Colorado. The odds were shared via Twitter on Monday by Brett McMurphy, who is a college football insider for the Stadium Network.
Unsurprisingly, the Kansas football team is a long shot to win the Big 12 crown. The Jayhawks, who haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2009, enter this year with 2,000/1 odds to win the league.
KU having the longest odds to win the Big 12 should be expected. Kansas is coming off a 0-9 campaign, and has finished in last place in the conference standings for six consecutive seasons.
The Jayhawks are also dealing with drastic coaching change, as Leipold didn't take over the program until after spring ball had been completed. But it is significant how much longer KU’s odds are compared to the rest of the Big 12 teams.
Vegas is expecting a rematch in the championship game, with Oklahoma having 4/5 odds to win the title and Iowa State coming in at 12/5 odds. In last year’s title game, Oklahoma secured a 27-21 win over Iowa State for its sixth consecutive crown.
In its 2021 college football preview magazine, Pro Football Focus gives the Sooners a 60% chance of winning the Big 12 conference again. PFF projects that the Cyclones have a 11% of finishing atop the league standings this fall.
Texas, meanwhile, has the third-best odds after being priced at 10/1 to win it all during Steve Sarkisian’s first season at the helm. Per PFF, the Longhorns have a 10% chance of winning the league. They were also picked to finish third in the Big 12 preseason poll.
TCU (14/1), Oklahoma State, (25/1) and West Virginia (30/1) are the only remaining squads with odds of 30/1 or better. PFF likes Oklahoma State the best of those three teams, giving the Cowboys a 9% chance at winning the conference. TCU has a 3% chance to win the league via PFF, while West Virginia comes in at 2%.
Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech are all in the same tier with 80/1 odds to win the league on Superbook.
It seems foolish to put money on someone other than the Sooners, but either Texas or Oklahoma State would probably be the best bets given what prognosticators expect from both squads.
If I had to pick one, I might actually take Texas even though the starting quarterback competition is uncertain. The Longhorns should take a leap with one of the best offensive playcallers in college football as their head coach, and running back Bijan Robinson is one of the better offensive players in the league.
As for Kansas, I would never recommend betting on the Jayhawks — no matter the price — given the circumstances. That said, KU won’t have to wait long to potentially prove that the number shouldn’t have been as long entering the year.
Kansas opens league play with a home contest against Baylor on Sept. 18.
Superbook odds to win Big 12
Oklahoma — 4/5
Iowa State — 12/5
Texas — 10/1
TCU — 14/1
Oklahoma State — 25/1
West Virginia — 30/1
Baylor — 80/1
Kansas State — 80/1
Texas Tech — 80/1
Kansas — 2,000/1
As the unquestioned leader of the defense, it makes sense that junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. was picked to be one of the two representatives of the Kansas football team at Big 12 media days this week.
Logan emerged as one of the top producers on the team last year, playing in all nine games and leading the Jayhawks in tackles with 58 on the year. He produced 40 solo stops to go along with three pass breakups and two interceptions.
According to NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus, Logan logged 444 total snaps in 2020 after only 53 total plays in 2019. He posted a coverage grade of 61.8 and a tackling grade of 61.5 last fall, but even those numbers don’t explain what all he did on the football field.
Before Logan talks to reporters on Thursday about the upcoming season, I took a closer look at what he accomplished as a sophomore via PFF’s premium stats. Here are three things that stood out:
Strong finish to sophomore season
As a safety, Logan isn’t targeted that often in any particular game. Kansas State attacked him the most in 2020, connecting on all three passes thrown in his direction for 63 total yards during a 55-14 lopsided affair on Oct. 24.
Logan had a nice response after one of his worst games in pass coverage, however. After that, Logan only gave up two total receptions over the final four games during a stretch against Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech. He surrendered a total of 36 yards over that span.
For the season, Logan gave up nine receptions on 16 targets for a reception rate of 56.3% in nine games. He allowed 138 total yards, which included 33 combined yards after the catch.
If that stretch over the final month of the season was a sign of Logan getting more comfortable, it could mean that the talented safety is in for an even bigger year in 2021.
Best utilized as free safety in zone
Logan was versatile last year for KU’s defense. He lined up as a free safety on 179 snaps, while moving up into the box on 190 snaps. Logan was even used in the slot on 64 total plays last year.
But it was clear that Logan was at his best while playing free safety. Per PFF’s college football preview magazine, Logan ranked second in the Big 12 in coverage grade at free safety while that mark dropped down to 18th among 24 qualified safeties when he lined up in the box.
That would suggest that Logan is more comfortable when he can keep the action in front of him, which makes sense given his usage in pass coverage. Per PFF, Logan played zone defense on 77.5% of his coverage snaps.
It will be interesting to see whether or not the new coaching staff leans into Logan’s strengths as a player.
Ranked among the best in Big 12 as kick returner
Logan landed on the All-Big 12 honorable mention team as a returner, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he graded out well by PFF in that facet of the game.
Among Big 12 players with at least 10 kickoff returns in 2020, Logan ranked fifth in the league with a kick return grade of 69.3. He turned 14 kickoff returns into 352 yards by PFF’s numbers, which included the 104-yard touchdown against Iowa State.
Right behind Logan was KU receiver Jamahl Horne, who has been involved as a kick returner in each of the past two seasons. Horne posted a kick return grade of 67.9 in 2020, accumulating 339 total yards on 15 such opportunities.
Both Logan and Horne should continue to be integral parts of KU’s return game this fall.
Kansas receiver Kwamie Lassiter II will be one of two representatives for the Kansas football program at Big 12 media days this week, and it is hard to think of someone more deserving than Lassiter.
Lassiter has climbed up the ranks during his career at Kansas, going from walk-on to leading receiver on the team. Lassiter hauled in a team-high 43 receptions last season for 458 yards and two touchdowns on his way to becoming an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection.
Because of the COVID-19 year, Lassiter will get one last season with the Jayhawks in 2021. The super senior will serve as the leader of an inexperienced wide receiver unit while KU deals with the transition of coaching change.
That is ultimately why Lassiter is an excellent choice to answer questions about the program while in Arlington, Texas on Thursday. Before then, let’s take a closer look at Lassiter’s strong season in 2020 using NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus.
Here are three things that stood out about Lassiter’s first senior season:
More snaps out wide in 2020
Given his 6-foot, 171-pound frame, Lassiter seems like an ideal fit in the slot. And that was where he usually lined up at first, running 85% or more of his snaps from the slot in each of his first three seasons with KU.
Lassiter still logged 237 snaps in the slot last year, but his slot percentage was actually down to 64.2%. He started out wide on 132 snaps in 2020, which was good for a 35.8% usage rate at wide receiver.
For comparison, Lassiter lined up out wide on 14.4% of his snaps in 2019 and 2.7% of his plays in 2018.
This level of versatility can only be a good thing. While it might lead to more difficult matchups at times, Lassiter is now able to be on the field more often for KU.
Effective in contested-catch situations
Lassiter has actually proved to be quite successful in contested-catch situations over the course of his career. Of course, 2020 was his best season yet in that aspect.
According to PFF, Lassiter came down with eight receptions on 12 targets in contested-catch opportunities. That contested-catch rate of 66.7% led all Big 12 wide receivers with seven or more such opportunities last fall.
But it doesn’t appear to be a noisy single-season sample size either. Lassiter caught five of his 11 targets in contested-catch situations over the previous two years at KU. That is really a testament to Lassiter’s strength and body control in these scenarios.
Had most success while running slants
Per PFF’s 2021 college football preview magazine, Lassiter’s route tree has been limited while at KU. Lassiter likely wasn’t used as much on deep routes because of the combination of quarterback and offensive line play, both of which were underwhelming.
In terms of production, Lassiter’s top-three routes last fall were a slant, hitch or an out. He grabbed 27 receptions on one of those three route combinations alone.
Lassiter actually caught all 10 of his targets while running a slant. He turned those 10 receptions into 114 total yards.
It will be interesting to see if Lassiter is able to expand his route tree during his final season, assuming KU can make strides along the offensive line and at quarterback.
After an offseason that featured plenty of change to the roster and the coaching staff, the Kansas football program will be below the national average in terms of returning production ahead of the 2021 season.
Bill Connelly of ESPN released his updated returning production rankings via his personal Twitter account on July 6. The list should provide a better understanding of where all 127 Division I rosters stand in regards to what they are bringing back.
In this latest update, the Jayhawks rank 106th in the nation by returning 67% of their production from an 0-9 campaign in 2020.
The national average of returning production this offseason is 76.7%, which is actually up from previous years (2014-20) when the national average was 62.5%. In fact, only 14 teams are currently below the typical national average this summer.
Kansas is not actually the lowest-ranked Big 12 team in this specific category, however. Texas is slated to bring back 59% of last year’s production, which is a number that puts the team at 118th in the country.
Iowa State, meanwhile, leads the Big 12 in returning production. The Cyclones have 88% of its production coming back after making it to the conference title game a year ago. They come in at No. 24 in the nation.
TCU and Kansas State are the only other teams in the league listed inside the top-70 in returning production. The Horned Frogs come in at 63rd at 77%, while the Wildcats rank 70th overall at 76%.
Oklahoma, which is the favorite to repeat as Big 12 champions, is ranked 73rd in the nation in what it is bringing back. The Sooners notably have the league's preseason pick for offensive player of the year, Spencer Rattler, under center once again.
Baylor is ranked 78th at 75%, and Texas Tech is 86th with a clip of 74%. Oklahoma State is listed at 91st by returning 73% of its production from last fall. West Virginia is just above KU, bringing back 68% of its production to rank 103rd in all of college football.
It is also worth noting that KU’s two nonconference FBS opponents are on opposite ends of this list.
Coastal Carolina comes in at 17th overall with 89% of its production coming back from an impressive season in 2020. Duke, which is slated to face KU in the last week of September, has just 57% coming back from last year to rank 120th in the country.
On offense, Kansas has its top-two passers and leading receiver returning this fall. Jalon Daniels and Miles Kendrick combined to throw all but 10 of KU’s pass attempts in 2020. Kwamie Lassiter II is back for one more season after catching 43 balls for 458 yards and two scores.
As for the defense, junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. returns after pacing the Jayhawks with 58 total tackles. He recorded 40 solo stops, while notching two interceptions and earning three pass deflections. Defensive end Kyron Johnson also has one more season after tallying 42 total tackles last fall.
The recruiting process has been picking up some steam this offseason for Eudora High School juniors Jaiden Bender and Jaden Hamm. The two standout football players have received a combined 14 scholarship offers so far, a list that includes the University of Kansas for both of them.
Hamm, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, has netted 12 of those scholarship offers. He’s received offers from Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Miami (Ohio), Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Penn State and TCU.
“It’s another drive point,” Hamm said. “It gives me something else just to continue to work harder and make sure that I just keep doing my own thing, and make sure I’m not getting out-worked.”
Bender, meanwhile, has interest from both the local Division I program entering his junior season. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver netted an offer from KU in February before landing an offer from K-State in April.
“It certainly means a lot, especially since the KU one happened toward the middle of sophomore year,” Bender said. “It definitely just like put a little more pep in my step to just work harder and harder each day.”
Both players appear poised to play for a Division I program at the next level along with senior Silas Etter. A three-star athlete on Rivals, Etter is verbally committed to continue his football career at Kansas State next year.
Sean Hayden, who has been the head coach at Eudora since 2018, has played a big role in helping all three players get noticed. Each of their stories are completely different, but they all have promising careers ahead of them.
Here’s an update on where the EHS juniors stand in the recruiting process entering the 2021 campaign:
Hamm open to playing on either side of the ball
Not only does Hamm make an impact on offense and defense for Eudora, but he’s getting called to play either side of the ball at the next level. Hamm is being recruited as a tight end or defensive end, depending on team needs at either position.
Kansas State is the only school giving Hamm the option to play either position at the next level. Oklahoma State and Penn State are recruiting Hamm’s services for defensive end, while all the other remaining programs view him as a tight end.
It will ultimately play a factor for Hamm when he makes his collegiate decision, as he will have to gauge the potential for playing time by taking a closer look at each depth chart. He just doesn’t have a preference at this stage of the process.
“I just want to get on the field,” Hamm said. “But, no, it really doesn’t affect me a lot. I enjoy playing both sides, and I know it’s going to be about the same amount of work and the same amount of film study either way.”
Hamm’s recruiting journey started last December, when both KU and KSU offered him after he posted his highlight reel from his sophomore year. He’s since been taking advantage of everything being open again, making time to visit Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Arkansas this summer.
After the dead period, Hamm would like to check out Nebraska and Iowa State. He also hopes to see Oklahoma State again, since he toured the campus while competing in a basketball tournament down there.
Hamm was especially impressed with his time spent at KU, as he met the new coaching staff during an unofficial visit in June.
“They really surprised me and left a good impression on me,” Hamm said. “With a lot of the coaches just getting in town from Buffalo, I was very pleased and excited with what they had to offer.”
“They will be the turnaround of the KU football program,” Hamm added.
Hamm would prefer to have an idea of where he is committing by the end of his junior campaign. Hamm made 61 total tackles, including 22 solo stops, for the Cardinals last fall during a 3-7 season. But Hamm expects more wins for Eudora in 2021.
“We're preparing ourselves through film and all those workouts to hopefully have one of the best seasons of Eudora football history,” Hamm said.
Bender receiving offers without huge numbers
Playing in a flexbone offense, Bender didn’t get many chances to shine during his sophomore season. He netted six catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns last fall.
Still, the collegiate programs came calling this offseason. And they likely won’t stop now.
“They can just see what I could be (doing) if we threw the ball more and how (much) better it would be,” Bender said.
Bender certainly has a knack for making the most of his opportunities. He averaged 25.8 yards per catch last year.
Bender, who was a talented high jumper in track and actually qualified for the state meet in four different events, can leap up and snatch a ball from the defender. He has the speed and athleticism to make big plays when he touches the ball.
There is still room for improvement as well. Bender is working on his route running, trying to emphasize getting in and out of his cuts. He’s also focusing on his hands, making sure to not drop any of the passes that come his direction.
Bender visited KU for the first time in June, getting a tour of the facilities and meeting with coaches.
“It was a pretty good visit,” Bender said. “We talked to most of the coaches, walked around the facility, saw the players working out, (and) went to the indoor facility.”
Bender would like to keep his recruitment open until his senior season, though he has big expectations for this fall. Like Hamm, Bender believes Eudora can build off its 2020 season, when the team upset Piper in the postseason for its first playoff win in five years.
“We’ve been dominating these past camps we are going to,” Bender said. “I feel like we have a really good chance at going to the (championship) this year.”
Despite having yet to play a snap of 11-man football at the varsity level, Free State junior offensive lineman Calvin Clements has already collected scholarship offers from a trio of Big 12 football programs.
That fact is not lost on Clements, who has received offers from the University of Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State so far this offseason. Clements, a transfer from Veritas Christian High School, also understands that he has earned this opportunity by competing in summer camps at both KSU and ISU.
“It’s pretty crazy when I think about it, to think that I haven’t played a varsity snap and I have three offers,” said Clements, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds. “But two of the three offers, I’ve been to their camps and I’ve proved that I can play and that I’m a good player.”
The Jayhawks were the first to offer Clements back in late April before Lance Leipold took over the program. According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, former recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle was the person who originally called up Clements.
Clements got acquainted with the new staff during an unofficial visit to KU last weekend. He met with offensive line coach Scott Fuchs and Leipold while getting a tour of the facilities. Clements admitted that the Kansas coaches talked about their plan for the program as well.
“They are definitely picking stuff up,” Clements said. “We’ll probably see a turn in KU football over these next few years. I trust those coaches, they definitely knew what they were talking about.”
Both the Cyclones and Wildcats followed suit with scholarship offers in June, but only after Clements competed in their respective summer camps. That meant they were able to get a firsthand look at his huge stature, and seeing how it translates on the football field.
Clements told the Journal-World that he doesn’t have a timeline for when he would like to make his verbal commitment. He will continue to be open to any offers, while weighing factors such as relationships with coaches and proximity to home when ultimately making his decision.
“It's definitely exciting that it's happening this early,” Clements said. “It gives me lots of time to think over stuff. Lots of times, for kids, the recruiting process can come late. But it's nice that it's coming early.”
Plenty more colleges will almost certainly call Clements before his FSHS career is finished. But his recent rise in the recruiting world didn’t happen by accident.
Before transferring to FSHS, Clements played tight end for Veritas Christian as a freshman. With the Eagles competing in eight-man football, Clements was asked to block a lot from his position while also flashing strong hands when the ball was thrown his way. Clements has natural athleticism, playing both football and basketball at a high level.
When Clements joined the Firebirds’ roster, it was actually former assistant coach Scott Frantz who suggested the position change. Frantz played offensive line for FSHS before ending up at Kansas State, where he started all 51 games at left tackle from 2016-19.
“He saw me and saw a left tackle project,” Clements said. “So he turned me into a left tackle, and I'm enjoying it a lot.”
Clements added 50 pounds to his frame while only playing at the junior varsity level for both football and basketball last year. The rest of the transition has been smooth, as Clements becomes more familiar with the technical aspect of offensive line play.
The potential is extremely high for Clements, who already has good length and size for the position to succeed at the next level. He is able to consistently reach defenders on blocks, but also displays good athleticism to get to the second level. One area where Clements would like to improve is his hand usage.
“I need to work on my hands,” Clements said. “Sometimes my hands can tend to get outside and you need to keep them inside.”
If he does continue to improve, Clements could be the next big offensive line prospect to come out of Free State. Turner Corcoran, who graduated from FSHS in 2020, was the top-ranked recruit in Kansas in his class before going to the University of Nebraska.
For now, Clements is just ready for his debut with the Firebirds this fall.
“I'm really excited,” Clements said. “I think we'll have a solid team this year. We've got more team camaraderie than last year, because last year was difficult with COVID.”
Kansas football added another potential impact player via the transfer portal on Monday, when former Michigan reserve linebacker Cornell Wheeler announced his decision to transfer to the University of Kansas.
Wheeler, who spent one season with the Wolverines, was rated a four-star inside linebacker coming out of high school in 2020. Wheeler attended West Bloomfield High School during his final prep season and played under Ron Bellamy, who now coaches safeties at the University of Michigan.
During an interview with Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Wheeler cited the opportunity for early playing time as a reason for why he ultimately chose to transfer to KU.
If Wheeler does get on the field right away for the Lance Leipold-led Jayhawks, this scouting report should give Kansas fans a glimpse at what the transfer linebacker has to offer:
Key stats: Because Wheeler did not see game action as a freshman at Michigan, his high school stats and tape will have to suffice for this report. Wheeler piled up 130 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery during his senior season. He was even selected as MLive Detroit’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Body type/athletic ability: Listed at 6 feet and 231 pounds on Michigan’s roster, Wheeler has the build of your typical two-down thumper at linebacker. He’s got solid length and a bulky stature that should make for an ideal fit in a 4-3 scheme. Wheeler might not be the fastest player on the field, but he shows the ability to get downhill in a hurry when he makes the correct read.
Strengths: Play strength, run defense and mental processing
Wheeler’s physicality is evident throughout his final highlight reel from his senior season, which was posted on Hudl on Dec. 18, 2019. It is honestly just six-plus minutes of Wheeler emphatically putting the opponent on the ground whenever given the opportunity. He plays like a classic hard-nosed linebacker.
The numbers really do tell Wheeler’s story. Prior to his 130-tackle season as a senior, Wheeler actually accumulated 165 stops during his junior campaign. That type of production didn't happen by accident. Wheeler is very good in run defense.
Wheeler has the size and strength to fight through blocks while trying to process a play. When he does commit, Wheeler can get upfield in a hurry to make the tackle. He meets ball carriers with great leverage, and often demonstrates the ability to finish with authority.
But the thing that really stood out about Wheeler’s tape was how often it seemed like he was one step ahead of everyone else on the field. He displayed good mental processing, which showed up whenever he sniffed out a screen pass to deliver a punishing blow to the running back.
It turns out there was a reason why Wheeler was able to blow these plays up. His high school coach, Bellamy, said he loved to watch film during an interview with 247Sports in September of 2018. And the former high school coach knew it was over for the other team whenever Wheeler recognized what an offense was trying to do.
“You know when the team’s going to run the screen or going to run the draw — whatever it may be — and he's on the field screaming out what's about to happen," Bellamy said. “And you’re just like, 'Oh, man. Bless these kids that are about to get hit by Cornell.'”
“He’s that type of guy that has total understanding of the game,” Bellamy added. “He’s a quiet kid off the field, but he’s a monster on the field.”
One reason for concern: Pass coverage
There weren’t many plays of Wheeler in pass coverage on his final highlight film, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise. As an inside linebacker, it is not like Wheeler will be asked to do much outside of his comfort zone in pass coverage.
That said, Wheeler’s impact on the KU defense might be limited if he’s not able to play on all three downs. The Big 12 is a passing league after all, and Wheeler is going to have to hold his own in certain situations to stay on the field.
Given Wheeler’s mental processing, this does feel like an area where he can improve once he becomes more familiar with the system. He probably won’t have to match up with a receiver in the slot that often, but he should be able to defend certain areas of the field.
Overall thoughts and projection: Like most of the transfers before him this offseason, Wheeler likely didn’t come unless he was getting early playing time.
Wheeler’s situation is a bit different since he has four years of eligibility remaining, so the Jayhawks don’t need to rush him onto the field. Still, given Wheeler’s pedigree as a prospect and KU’s current linebacker situation, he could have a decent role on this team right away.
If Wheeler is going to have success early on, it will likely come as a run defender. He will be able to rack up tackles in a hurry, if his skill set is able to translate. Wheeler should also continue to improve as he becomes more familiar with KU’s scheme.
The Jayhawks might have landed a player who can hold things down in the middle of their defense for multiple years.
The transfer portal helped the Kansas football program land an important addition to its secondary this past weekend when cornerback Jeremy Webb announced his decision to come to Lawrence.
Webb was most recently a starting cornerback at Missouri State after being a reserve defensive back at Virginia Tech for multiple years. He entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal as a graduate transfer in early June before deciding the University of Kansas was where he wanted to conclude his collegiate career.
With the Jayhawks losing starter Karon Prunty to the transfer portal earlier this offseason, Webb figures to come in and immediately compete for a big role on this year’s team under the new coaching staff.
Because of that, here is a breakdown on what Webb has to offer to KU:
Key stats: Webb’s best production came in his lone season with Missouri State. He started in all but one of the 10 games he played in. Webb recorded three interceptions and earned six pass breakups to go along with 38 total tackles.
Body type/athletic ability: At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Webb has a big frame for a cornerback. His frame is more than just length, though, as Webb has thick arms and a big chest. Webb’s stature plays into how he succeeds in pass coverage.
Strengths: Physical style of play and tackling
It should be no surprise that Webb wins with physicality.
Put on any of his tape, it will be obvious that Webb wants to rely on his combination of length and strength in pass coverage. Webb is constantly using his hands to disrupt receivers, forcing them off the stem of their route. Webb is good when in press coverage situations because of that style of play.
The hand usage doesn’t stop near the line of scrimmage, however. Webb maintains that physical play even when the ball is heading his way, while also showing the ability to make a play on the ball at the right time. Webb was only called for four penalties last year, two of which happened in the conference championship.
Webb’s competitive toughness and play strength are especially evident in the run game. He is not afraid to make a play on a ball carrier in space, and rarely misses when given the opportunity to do so.
According to NCAA Premium Stats at Pro Football Focus, Webb posted a tackling grade of 79.2 last season for the Bears. He recorded a mark of 74.2 or higher in all but three games. Because of his ability to have leverage at the point of attack, Webb only missed three tackles all year.
One reason for concern: Play speed
The tape might be limited on Webb, but his style of play would suggest that speedy receivers could occasionally get behind him on deeper routes.
Per NFLDraftScout, Webb’s unofficial 40 time is listed at 4.67. The Big 12 Conference features plenty of talented wide receivers, some of which rely solely on their speed. Webb might not be able to run with every opponent on deep routes, especially when starting near the line of scrimmage.
That might end up being fine though. His hand usage can overcome some of that, limiting any potential separation between him and the receiver. Webb demonstrated this while breaking up a pass against Oklahoma in the season opener, making a play on an underthrown ball on 3rd and 15.
Overall thoughts and projection: It seems unlikely that KU’s new coaching staff would bring Webb in for one year just to have him play a small role.
So given that the cornerback room is thin, Webb will likely make an instant impact and compete for a starting job this season. And there is honestly reason to believe that Webb is finally putting it all together at this stage of his collegiate career.
Last season, Webb finished with a coverage grade of 76.0 via PFF. He was targeted 58 times, giving up 35 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Webb allowed a NFL passer rating of 76.7 while playing 617 total snaps.
Webb will now have to build off that year against even tougher competition.
Pro Football Focus released its 2021 season preview magazine on Monday, and expectations are unsurprisingly low for the Kansas football program in Year 1 of the Lance Leipold era.
According to the magazine, the Jayhawks have a preseason Elo ranking of 117th out of 130 teams in all of college football. They have a 0% chance of winning the Big 12 title and are projected at 3.9 wins based on PFF’s initial simulation.
Five of KU’s six position units are ranked 10th out of as many teams in the Big 12 entering the season. The lone exception is the defensive line, where Kansas has the eight-best unit in its conference ahead of both West Virginia and Texas Tech.
None of that matters in the long run, however, because this is a rebuilding year for Kansas. PFF said as much in its “bottom line” sentence to sum up what to expect from the Jayhawks entering the 2021 season.
Bottom line: “Kansas made a home-run head coach hire with Lance Leipold, but the positive effects of the new regime are highly unlikely to take place in 2021, given what he inherited.”
Still, Pro Football Focus highlighted a few key players worth mentioning entering this fall. The full preview magazine is available for PDF download for those who are subscribed to their premium college football stats or grades.
Here are a few notable players mentioned in KU’s preview section:
Junior offensive tackle Earl Bostick Jr. listed as X-Factor
It is no secret that KU’s offensive line was abysmal last year. According to the magazine, Kansas put together the worst tackle play ever last fall since PFF started tracking such data back in 2014.
Bostick was part of the reason why, as he logged 547 snaps and posted a pass-blocking grade of 44.7 during the 2020 season. He spent 354 of those snaps at right tackle, but will likely switch over to the other side of the line this year.
After surrendering 22 pressures in his first year as a starter, Bostick has to make some serious strides if KU’s offensive line is going to show any signs of progress.
Transfer WR Trevor Wilson picked as breakout player
Although Wilson might have been overlooked initially when six former Buffalo players transferred to Kansas, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound wide receiver could make an instant impact in Lawrence.
Wilson could really emerge as the primary target for Kansas after his debut season with the Bulls last fall. He led the team with 19.9 yards per reception while also pacing UB with three receiving touchdowns during a 6-1 campaign.
Per the magazine, Wilson ran 55 routes last year and posted a receiving grade of 87.0. Wilson was targeted on 40% of his routes, which was the fourth-highest rate in the FBS among players with at least 50 routes.
So it is not hard to see why Wilson could carve out a nice role right away.
Kenny Logan Jr. mentioned among top returners for KU
PFF also mentioned Buffalo transfer center Mike Novitsky, guard Chris Hughes and safety Kenny Logan Jr. as KU’s most-important returning players. Each player was given a paragraph to help explain their importance.
Logan’s synopsis was especially revealing though. According to the magazine, Logan ranked second in the league in coverage grade at free safety last season, which shouldn’t be surprising given all the success he had as a sophomore.
What was interesting was that Logan didn’t fare as well when he lined up in the box. His coverage grade dropped to 18th among 24 Big 12 safeties, suggesting that Logan might be better suited to play deep on a more consistent basis.
“The 6-foot sophomore has always been at his best playing deep when he can keep his eyes on the play in front of him, so an increased role here would do wonders for the defense.” — PFF