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.