Alright everyone, time for my way too early predictions, both for the spring game and for fall ball eventually. Most of this is based off of last year's body of work and 1 video of spring practice I was able to watch (these will obviously evolve as we go through the spring camp and will likely be completely inaccurate by the time we get to September).
WR starters - Keyon Lesane, DJ Collins, Terrell Timmons, Porter Rooks. I think in the spring Anthony Smith will be among this group, but will eventually lose his job to Timmons who will be more consistent. I don't think Lesane sticks it out for the full year as a starter (no offense to him). Someone will jump him but he will be a consistent, reliable option for the beginning of the year.
RB group - in order: Houston, Sumo-Karngbaye, Allen, Mimms, Jones, Raphael, Crowell. This is the order in spring camp/spring game, and likely to start the year. Houston and Sumo get the nod because of seniority, but I think Allen will jump both of them by the end of the year. Personally I like the 1-2 punch of Allen/Sumo with Houston as the change of pace back, but Houston has the most senior leadership so I'd imagine by the end of the year he's splitting top reps with Allen with Sumo getting a bit fewer reps. The next year I think Allen, Sumo, and Raphael mainly share the load. Would love to see Crowell get into the game some due to his pedigree and high school skills, but he's probably hanging out near the bottom of the depth chart.
TE - HOT TAKE INCOMING: Juice Vereen comes in as an instant impact player. I think he'll end up hard to keep off the field. He and Pennix will be some of our most impactful receiving threats next year, with Pennix lining up more at the TE/back position and Vereen splitting out wide more often. I think he will be used very similarly to Gadsden next year. Toudle will feature prominently in the offense as well, and some of our big receivers (Collins, Timmons, Smith) get some creative packages from the TE/Slot position to leverage mismatches. Also, due to Anae's use of the "Inside Receivers" I feel like a guy like KC Concepcion will find some burn at the slot.
OL - Lyndon Cooper takes over for Zavala. I think the OL as a whole takes a step forward this year. A better OL would have likely taken us to 9 or 10 wins last year. With a daunting schedule, it'll be necessary to ensure we get to at least 8. Dawson Jaramillo will solidify a spot along the line as well. Jaramillo, Cooper, McMahon, Eason, and Belton will likely round out the group - but don't count out guys like Matan (who's been taking RG snaps) and Rylan Vann from cracking the rotation.
QB - MJ Morris starts the spring game. I think Armstrong takes the reins in the fall, but MJ gets the initial nod because of his familiarity with the players. It's likely neck and neck right now, and Armstrong would be the immediate starter if he hadn't had a year off from Anae's system (and also had the misfortune of a year in Kitching's system). Armstrong will take the reins but it will continue to be a tight race throughout the year, potentially with MJ taking over by year's end.
LB - Caden Fordham. That is all. Just kidding. I think Fordham steps up as a solid member of the rotation, while Poole finds his groove as the Vi Jones type - filling in on blitzes, punt blocks, and the like. Wilson, Scott, and Betty round out the top 3, but our LB corps will continue to be a strength. Fordham, Poole, Thompson, and Wright will be pushing the top-3 guys consistently and it will be a challenge to maintain a spot in the starting lineup, making sure that everyone is in peak form game-to-game.
DL - Jackson, Vann, Clark, Price, Cleveland, Potter, and Hibbler. I think we have 7 guys or so ready to go, and Zyun Reeves and Isaiah Shirley will add additional depth, but we likely won't see much beyond those top-7.
Safety/Nickel - Not much surprise here. Boykin, Harris, Brown are at the top of the list. Myers is listed there right now, and if he's anything like Aydan White, he'll break into the rotation and eventually lead the pack. Rakiem Ashford will likely contribute here as well, and I'd imagine they'll move some contributors from CB and other positions to play there a bit. At Nickel, Robert Kennedy will likely get the starting nod, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Boykin play there a ton. Let's not forget Bishop Fitzgerald
CB - White and Battle have the top two spots locked up. BUT! Rente Hinton has been seen playing with the 1s. And Isaiah Crowell has been making plays in practice (or so it seems). Brandon Cisse has already been covering some of the 1s in early practices Plus the Defensive Backfield will be getting Daemon Fagan who could step in anywhere in the backfield and contribute. HOT TAKE - I think the defensive backfield will be one of the strongest units this year.
Overall position breakdown - strongest to weakest prediction:
3. Tight Ends
6. Running Backs
7. Offensive Line
8. Defensive Line
9. Wide Receivers
Fortunately I think that WR's, OL, RBs, and DL all take a step up from last year, and Quarterbacks will be at least as good. With a slightly tougher schedule, should shake out to 8-9 wins. As long as we keep UNC out of the ACC Championship game, I'll be pleased with that result. Even better would be to strike when we have the chance and make it to 9-3 (6-2) and go to the ACCCG for a rematch with Clemson.