A Look at the 2020 Aggies by Position

I have no idea what to expect from the 2020 Aggie Football season.  Thanks to COVID there’s additional questions beyond the roster and original schedule.  The schedule has changed dramatically along with a major reduction of fans in the stands.  Some players thrive off a stadium’s energy even on the road.  Some players get distracted by it.  Nobody has any real idea what this means so we’ll just have to see how all of this goes. 

I am PUMPED about the 10 game SEC schedule.  This schedule is amazing.  Every game this season is worthy of watching.  If it sticks around after COVID we’ll have one blessing from this pandemic.  Schedule one cupcake and one other Power 5 school for an out of conference game and we’ll finally get our money’s worth as season ticker holders.

I’ll look at the schedule in my next post but for this post I’m just going to pontificate on the various position groups.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’m not even going to call this group Quarterback.  The quarterback is Kellen Mond.  He will start the season and barring a major injury he’ll be the quarterback all season.  Simple as that.

Somehow Kellen Mond has become the most polarizing Aggie player that I can recall.  Maybe it’s the Johnny Football effect where everyone expects a dynamic quarterback under center. Mond is nowhere near dynamic but he doesn’t deserve the anguish he gets.  I can’t figure it out but for some people no matter what Mond does he’s a terrible quarterback.

The reality is he’s an above average college quarterback.  He’s been solid enough in his two seasons under Jimbo.  Go look around college football if you think Kellen is a horrible quarterback.  We’re MUCH better under center than a lot of college programs.  He’s been the best guy available for the Aggies since Jimbo got to town.  If you don’t believe me go find out where Nick Starkel is.  As a hint, he’s moved on from Arkansas because he couldn’t find playing time there.  Mond is the best guy Jimbo has had available.  Starkel wasn’t the guy.  Calzada and King aren’t ready.

The good news is that 2020 will likely be Mond’s last year under center.   I don’t see him coming back despite the new rule the NCAA created where 2020 is a free year of eligibility.  Mond either does well enough in 2020 to try his hand at the next level or he won’t have done well enough to warrant leaving.

If Mond comes back in 2021 I believe he’ll have a hard time fending off Calzada or King because his 2020 was more of the same.  He didn’t progress enough to try his hand at the NFL so not sure why he’d beat out two guys that seem really talented.  I fully trust Jimbo to run a quarterback out there that’s going to help him win football games.  I don’t see that being Mond in 2021 if he’s still around.  Mond will move on.

As for Mond’s play in 2020 I do expect it to be better.    

His legs made the difference in the Aggie’s season last year.  That took a few games for him to figure out.  Once he took off running he changed the dynamic of the offense.  His legs helped immensely in the games we won in the second half of the season.  We probably don’t beat OkSU in the Texas Bowl without Mond’s legs.  Without his legs there’s a good chance we go 6-7 rather than 8-5.  I suspect he’ll be more likely to run all season which is a huge deal for a defense to defend.

From a passing standpoint I think he’ll be better as well.  He’ll have a better group of receivers to throw to which I’ll get to next.  There’s no way he’ll make a Joe Burrow like accuracy jump but I do expect him to be better.  He’ll still be wildly inconsistent at times but any quarterback is better when their group of receivers is better.

As for Mond’s off the field stuff related to the Sully statue I truthfully don’t care.  I think too much of it has been made.  Everyone is bored and wants something to talk about.  A&M is much bigger than a statue.

I personally don’t think the Sully statue should go anywhere but Mond has a right to feel how he wants.  From what I saw he was protesting it peacefully.  Maybe he learned something about leadership through all of it.  I have no idea and I’m not going to judge him because I’ve never had a conversation with him about it.  Getting wound up over what college kids say/post on social media isn’t a good idea.  I think we’d all agree we think MUCH differently than we did in college.  I’m sure as hell glad I didn’t have social media in college. 

Mond does have the ability to be a really outstanding college quarterback.  Physically he can make a lot of throws and he can run.  I believe a lot of his issue have been confidence in addition to not having time or open receivers.  He should have more confidence and open receivers in 2020.

Hopefully 2020 will be the year that Mond shines.  It’s in EVERY Aggie Football fan’s best interest for Mond to have a really solid year.  Mond’s success will do nothing but keep the Aggie program on an upward trajectory. 

This team isn’t ready to win a national title which I’ll get to in a bit.  8 wins with a bowl win will be a pretty good season for the Aggies.  That’s an 8-3 season for an all SEC schedule.  I want more and I think there’s more there but that is the low water mark.  If Mond has a good enough season to get us 8 wins then let’s all tip our hat to him and wish him well at the next level.

If Mond fails, it’s not going to help any facet of the Aggie Football program.  For 11 games this season cheer for the man under center.

Wide Receiver:

Last season I consistently said our wide receiver group was way overrated.  Jhamon Ausbon was our most consistent receiver but he wasn’t dynamic.  Our most dynamic receiver wound up being a true freshman tight end.  Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers appeared to have all the tools but they really couldn’t get open for the most part.  I believe the lack of them getting drafted proves they weren’t as good as some people believed.

Enough about those guys.

The 2020 receiving group should be IMMENSELY better.  Ausbon comes back to be the consistent move the chains guy.  Demond Demas while a true freshman should be in the regular lineup just so defenses must defend his physical ability.  I’m hoping he’s a big play threat all season.  We’ve been missing a guy like him since Josh Reynolds left.  Cam Buckley is out for the season which is a loss but I think guys like Caleb Chapman, Kam Brown, Dylan Wright, Chase Lane, Devin Price, and Muhsin Muhammad can pick up his slack.  I’m thinking there’s a couple of guys in there that can cover the loss of Cam Buckley.

The wide receiver unit will definitely be better than last season.  I have no concerns of that.

The best news for the receiving group is the return of Jalen Wydermyer along with a healthy Baylor Cupp.  We saw what Wydermyer did last season and Cupp is supposed to be a more gifted receiver.  Those guys will give Jimbo a lot of flexibility in formations because they’re so versatile.  I think they’ll also help a very suspect offensive line which I’ll get to later.

The person I’m most excited about returning is Ainias Smith.  I know he’s listed as a running back right now but I think you’re going to see him flexed or motioned out of the backfield to get receiving advantages.  Think of what Bill Belichick does with his receiving running backs.  Smith will certainly get handoffs in the backfield but I will be shocked if he’s not targeted in the passing game as much as he’s getting touches in the backfield.

I was really shocked he didn’t get more playing time at receiver last season.  I thought he showed out in the Arkansas game but for some reason Davis and Rogers kept getting playing time when Smith was simply more productive when he played.  Ainias Smith is a football player that can do a lot of things.

Between Wydermyer, Cupp, and Smith you have a lot of flexibility in attacking the shorter and intermediate areas of the field.  That was really missing last season.  They are going to wear out linebackers in coverage.  I believe those three guys can also help someone like Demas get one on one matchups where we can watch him just go get balls.

This receiving group won’t be on par with those from LSU, Bama, and Clemson last season but I do expect it to be MUCH better than the Aggie receiving group last season.

Running Back:

The running back position has really taken a step back in the area of depth.  We basically have two guys in Isiah Spiller and Ainias Smith thanks to injuries and lack of talent.  They were true freshmen last season and had a solid year all things considered.  Behind them there’s lots of question marks. 

I REALLY love the speed of Devon Achane but he’s small.  I think he’s a guy that you’ll see flexed or motioned out as well.  He’s nowhere near an every down back but you’ll see him in sets where they hope to get him the ball in space so he can utilize his speed.  He adds some nice depth and flexibility though.

The rest of the group remains to be seen.  Earnest Crownover comes in from the junior college ranks.  He’s not highly ranked but has size going 6’1” and 220.  Hopefully he can turn into a short yardage back.

We still a need a Bama style all purpose running back but I’m fine with Spiller and Smith taking the snaps.  They both look like legit football players so I think this position group will be better than last season simply because those two guys will be a year older.

Offensive Line:

This is the group that’s bothered me the most in the two seasons Jimbo has been in charge.  I don’t see 2020 being much better and that’s a MAJOR concern.  There’s a REALLY good chance we don’t have an offensive lineman get signed by an NFL team between Erik McCoy and Kenyon Green.  Notice I said signed and not even drafted. 

That means we’ll go at least three seasons without having an Aggie offensive lineman signed by an NFL team.  More than likely it’ll be four seasons as I don’t think Kenyon Green leaves early.

You can’t compete in the SEC with that deficiency.  You just can’t.  The NFL is the ultimate metric of SEC talent.  When you have a position group that has a void for that long without NFL caliber talent you have an issue.  I don’t know how to stress this enough.

You have no idea how much I hope I’m wrong but that’s what I’m seeing.  It’s why I don’t see the Aggies being a true Top 10 program capable of beating anyone in the country this season.  Strong defensive lines will eat our lunch.  See the 2019 losses an example.  Especially the Georgia game.  We could have won that game had the offensive line done anything that game.

Most of the offensive line is back.  That’s usually a good thing for a team.  Not with this group.

The only change is Ryan McCollum will take over for Colton Prater.  McCollum was the 2019 Spring MVP but then barley played all last season.  I know he had injuries but he’d occasionally trot out there so whatever was wrong never seemed to be season ending.  I’m hoping he had some nagging injury that never fully healed and he’s fully healed now.  I believe he can be a better center than Prater which will be an improvement.  If he was really healthy all season and couldn’t beat out Prater then that’s a little alarming.

Dan Moore, Jared Hocker, and Carson Green return for their senior seasons.  I don’t see those guys improving very much from their junior to senior season, but it has happened before.  They were terrible against the elite teams last year.  I mean just got repeatedly destroyed.

We have no depth behind those guys because some of the guys Jimbo brought in his first season have had to retire due to injuries.  We have nobody in the two deep to really compete with those guys.  This is just a decimated unit that missed on a solid 3 years of recruiting.

Kenyon Green should be better with a season under his belt.  He certainly has NFL level talent.  Supposedly he’s been playing left guard some this summer which could help us.  My personal hope is that he can move out to left tackle at some point this season.  At worst he goes to right tackle.  He needs to be playing tackle at some point this season.

We do have some talented youth in Layden Robinson and hopefully Luke Matthews can live up to the family name.  We have some good looking freshmen in Chris Morris, Akinola Ogunbiyi, and Smart Chibuzo coming in.  It’s hard for a true freshman to do well at offensive line in the SEC though.  Kenyon Green struggled at times last season and he has all the talent in the world.

Short of the returning senior starters making a quantum leap I’m hoping Layden Robinson and Chris Morris find their way into the starting group at some point.  I think they’re the most ready from a talent standpoint.  Even if they’re slightly worse than the returning seniors at least they’d be getting valuable experience.

If McCollum can play as good as he did in the 2019 Spring then I think a combination of McCollum, Kenyon Green, Layden Robinson, Chris Morris, and whatever senior works best with those guys might be serviceable.

I hope I’m wrong but this is the weak link of the 2020 Aggie Football team.  I think it’s a pretty major weakness.  You can mask a weak offensive line in any other conference but the SEC. Looking at you, Big 12.  Unfortunately, we play in the SEC West where those weak offensive lines get exposed.

If I find the time I’ll do a write up on why the offensive line is in shambles but the reality is this is still a  “gift” from Kevin Sumlin and Jim Turner.  We should have talented guys entering their redshirt junior and senior year on campus but we don’t.  We simply missed on a good 2-3 years of offensive line recruiting and paying the price.

Defense:

Coaching:

Before I get to the players I have to point out Mike Elko.  This dude has been the unsung hero of Jimbo’s first two years in Aggieland.  He and Jimbo have worked perfectly together.  His one mistake was at LSU last season but I kind of get why he tried it.  He tried a 3 man front thinking he could confuse Burrow with increased coverage and Burrow just torched it.  We were never winning that game but it was interesting to see Elko go away from the strength of the team which was the defensive line.

Outside of that he’s been OUTSTANDING.  Seriously.  I don’t think most fans realize how sound of a defensive coordinator he is.  At some point he’s going to take a head coaching job.  We need to enjoy him in Aggieland.

The other blessing of COVID besides the 10 game SEC schedule is that Elko likely sticks around for 2021.  I don’t see many programs firing their coaches this season for a host of reasons.  I think Elko comes back in 2021.  I’m not sure we see Elko in maroon in 2021 without this COVID mess.

There are some blessings in all of this.

Defensive Line:

This has been the strongest unit on the field in Jimbo’s first two years and I don’t see 2020 being any different.  It’s a fairly young unit but it’s probably Jimbo’s most talented.

There will be a lot of movement as Elko likes moving guys around based on opponent and situations.  You’re going to see DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Bobby Brown, and Michael Clemons taking most of the snaps and that’s damn good.  Leal will likely be a high round draft pick and the others can hold their own in the SEC. 

Peevy is coming into his senior year and he’s been solid in his time at A&M.  He’s not an every down tackle as I think Leal will move down on passing downs but Peevy will see lots of snaps and be fine.  I personally think Bobby Brown is a little soft.  He’s a big fella but I don’t think he’s quite playing to his potential.  He goes 6’4”/325 so he’s a big body in the middle which you must have.  I just would like to see him be more dominant because he has the talent.  This will be Clemons fourth year on the A&M campus.  This is his third on the football field as he sat out his first year.  He came in with lots of hope but hasn’t quite delivered.  He finally showed some promise last year at times.  Maybe the third season is the charm.  He’s 6’5”/270 so he’s a big body at defensive end for running downs.

Behind them will be some mix that’s likely adjusted all season.  We have lots of really good depth so it’s just finding the right mix.  Jermiah Martin and Tyree Wilson will back up Leal and Clemons.  Martin had probably his best game all season in the Texas Bowl so hopefully that carries over.  True freshman Donell Harris will likely see some snaps in obvious passing situations.  He’s supposed to be fast off the ball.   That’s something you can’t coach so let’s find out early.

Backing up Brown and Peevy will be Josh Rogers and Derrick Hunter.  We’ve got some talented true freshman coming in at Defensive Tackle as well.  The best incoming freshman is McKinley Jackson who Jimbo got over Alabama.  If he’s as advertised he’ll be in the rotation this year and hopefully starting next season.  In addition to him we have Isiah Rakes and Dallas Walker coming in who are both over 325 pounds.  Jimbo has been recruiting space eaters for the middle of the defensive line.  That’s a good thing.

This is not quite the elite unit it needs to be in the SEC but it’s got enough talent and depth to compete in the SEC.  I don’t really have any issues with this unit as it’ll be the anchor of the defense.

Linebacker:

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines return as the starting linebackers.  I can’t type enough good words about Buddy Johnson.  The dude is a football player.  I’m not sure he’ll sniff the NFL but he’s a really solid middle linebacker at the college level.  He plays smart and anticipates plays.  I think we’d be in big trouble if we didn’t have him.  He’ll be a senior and he’ll be the quarterback for the guys up front.

Anthony Hines is long on talent but he’s short on football sense.  He’s often out of position because he can’t read or anticipate plays.  He relies on his athleticism to bail him out which really doesn’t work in the SEC.  He’s not terrible but it’s just frustrating to watch someone with so much talent continually be out of position to make plays.  This is Hines’ fourth year on campus.  I’m hoping the light finally comes on for him and he plays up to his potential.

We’re finally starting to develop some depth at linebacker which we’ve been sorely missing for a few seasons.  Andre White and Aaron Hansford will back up Johnson and Hines.  Andre White was a true freshman and looked good for the times he played.  Aaron Hansford is a senior.  He came in as an offensive player but due to some injuries switched over to defense last year.  He really impressed me in how well he played at times.  I don’t think he’s an every down linebacker but he is a good situational guy.

Antonio Doyle is a true freshman coming in from St. Louis.  I believe he was the top player in the state of Missouri and is already 6’3”/250 so he has SEC LB size.  He’ll likely see some time and hopefully he’s seeing regular snaps by the end of the season.  We also have Chris Russell, Andre White, and Ke’Shun Brown who saw time as true freshman last year.  I don’t think they’ll make a major impact this season but it is nice to know we have some young depth on the roster.

This unit isn’t as good as the defensive line but it’s nice to finally see some talent and depth here.  We’ve been putting a Band-Aid on the linebacker position for what feels like 4-5 years now.

Secondary:

The secondary is a lot like the linebacker unit where we’ve been trying to Band-Aid it since Armani Watts left.

Demani Richardson is the anchor here.  He started last year as a true freshman and he’s really solid.  He’s as good as we’ve seen since Armani Watts.  I have no issues with him being the anchor for this secondary.

Leon O’Neal should be the starter at the other safety position but he’s a head case.  He’s got a load of talent but like Anthony Hines he’s often out of position.  O’Neal has also shied away from contact at times.  To make matters worse he flirted with transferring in the off season.  I have no idea what to make of him.  He seems like somebody that just likes the idea of playing football and the attention.  He doesn’t actually like playing football.  He’s got next level talent but his head last season looked like he was still in junior high.  There are rumors he’s finally taking football seriously so let’s hope that’s the case.  If he wants to see the next level he’s got a long way to develop.

Backing them up will Brian Williams and Keldrick Carper.  Brian Williams played at times last season and looked decent.  He’s not as talented as Richardson or O’Neal but he should improve with experience.  Carper is a 3-year letterman so he’s been around a while.  He’s improved but he’s still not as talented as the starters.  He does add nice depth.  If O’Neal falters I think you’ll see Williams and Carper rotate out at the other safety position.

Antonio Johnson is a true freshman that should be a safety at some point.  He’s got talent.  He shouldn’t make an impact in our secondary this season but it is nice to see Jimbo bringing in talent that can take some time to develop rather than getting thrown to the fire right away.

Corner is a bit of a toss up at this point.  This position used to be worse than our offensive line.  Smart teams would just completely expose this group.  It improved dramatically last season but still has a long way to go.

Elijah Blades and Myles Jones were looking to be the starters to begin the season.  It was always assumed Jaylon Jones would push Myles Jones at some point this season.  Jaylon Jones comes in as a true freshman but he’s really talented. 

That thinking has changed since Elijah Blades decided to sit out the season earlier this week.

Blades has battled injuries since he got to Aggieland so I’m guessing this is why he decided to sit out.  That doesn’t make much sense to me because this is a free season.  I think he’d be better off spending time on the practice field hoping to get healthy and get playing time.  

Either way this takes away some much-needed depth and talent in a position we can’t afford to lose depth or talent. 

Brian George is a talented junior college transfer so I think he’s now in the mix to start right away.  My hope is at some point this season Brian George and Jaylon Jones are our starting corner backs.  Nothing against Myles Jones but he doesn’t have the talent to regularly go against the top receivers in the SEC.

I think the plan all along for this season was to bring Jaylon Jones and Brian George slowly along to get the starting spots.  Blades’ announcement just likely changes the timing of that.

The wildcard in all of this is Erick Young.  Like Richardson and Jaylon Jones, Erick Young is SEC talented.  He’s also really versatile in what he can do defensively.  He’s been slated to basically play the nickel role mainly covering the slot receiver or defending the run.

Erick Young is going to see LOTS of action.  How he’s used is going to change each week and each series I have a feeling.  If Leon O’Neal plays to his talent then I think you’ll see Erick Young at corner back when a third linebacker is in there.  When a fifth defensive back comes in (the nickel formation) then I think you’ll see Young cover the slot receiver and another corner comes in.

To me Leon O’Neal is the difference maker here.  If he plays to his potential then you’re going to have Demani Richardson, Leon O’Neal, Jaylon Jones, and Erick Young getting most of the secondary snaps.  All four of those guys have SEC talent.  It would be nice to have Elijah Blades talent to add to the rotation in the nickel set but such is life.  If those four guys can play to the talent we’ll have the best secondary we’ve had in a good while.

We still need to improve this unit but it’s good to see there’s finally some talent and depth here.  It’s been sorely lacking.

Special Teams:

I honestly don’t now much about our special teams.  We lost Braden Mann and I’m still in mourning.  We obviously won’t be nearly as good at punter but I think we’ll be fine.  This is a unit that won’t win us any games but hopefully they don’t cost us any games.

Smith and Achane are likely our return guys which will be interesting as they have plenty of talent.  I just don’t know if they’re on Christian Kirk’s level.  Not many are.

For special teams here’s what I want to see:

  1. Give me a field goal kicker that’s 80% inside of 50 yards and over 95% inside of 30 yards.
  2. A punter that averages 45 yards in the air and 90% fair catches.
  3. Kick and punt returners that don’t fumble the ball and know when to take the ball at the 25 yard line.

That’s it.  Let the defense and offense win games.  Don’t make it harder on them.

Overall:

I really like this Aggie team except for the offensive line.  That’s obvious.  I wish things under Jimbo were a little further along but I still agree 100% with what Jimbo is doing.  If we hadn’t missed on 2-3 years of offensive line recruiting the outlook for this team would be completely different.  

This would truly be a team that could win the SEC and make the college football this season.  There’s still a chance we get there but there’s just a major hole in a key spot.  This is a young but very promising football team.

In my next post I’ll look at what all of this means from a wins and loss standpoint.  At the end of the day there’s only one metric in sports – Wins and Losses.

You have to win games to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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