I’ll confess, I got the idea for this column from my usual source for prompts, twitter:
Call your shot.— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) July 27, 2016
Name an up-and-coming player who you think will be a household name by the end of the college football season.
It appealed to my interest in going beyond surface level discussions of the upcoming football season. I attended Mizzou’s fall camp last year and spring practices this year; admittedly with the typical media restrictions on observing practices. That gives me about as close to an "insiders" perspective as one might come across, even if I’m only standing a few feet closer to the inside than the average fan. I’ve also talked with several current and past players and through them collected some insight into some of the current roster.
For me, predicting an "up-and-coming" Missouri player to be a household name by the end of this season was simple. He needed the following criteria.
It has to be someone on Missouri’s defense since the majority of pundits and fans are already familiar with that side. Sorry Drew Lock or... ummm, J'Mon Moore?
It needs to be an athlete at a premium position - defensive line or linebacker. My rationale for this is these guys are typically on the screen the most, are tackling the ball-carrier almost every play and are in a position to record commonly understood stats - sacks, tackles, interceptions, etc. Missouri has been fortunate to have several standout players at these positions of late; Kentrell Brothers, Shane Ray, and Michael Sam all earned national recognition for their stellar play in the past few years.
It’s my opinion that Charles Harris is already known among college football writers and NFL scouts. It’s certainly the go to name-drop when they’re asked to talk about the Tigers. Perhaps he really does have a 15 sack season, earns a national award and solidifies his first round draft stock but that would feel more like validation than a surprise. Sorry Chuck.
It had to be someone who wasn’t coming off a serious injury. I just didn’t want to take the risk on a player with durability concerns. While I realize injuries are an ever-present possibility, it seemed prudent to consider history. Sorry Harold Brantley and Terry Beckner.
Finally it needs to be a someone who’s role in the defense will be emphasized. All things being equal, guys like Michael Scherer, Rickey Hatley or Marcell Frazier can probably be counted on duplicating last year’s performances.
That left me with just a few names. Sophomore defensive end Nate Howard was high on my list because he’ll be backing up Charles Harris and had the athleticism to compete as a true freshman. I ruled him out because I don’t know if he can have the requisite success from a backup role. Walter Brady quietly had a freshman All-American season last year and looks to capitalize on the focus opponents will likely put on Charles Harris. I’m concerned how Brady adjusts to a new defensive philosophy and changing responsibilities but I’ll admit he was my runner-up.
Which leaves me with just one choice. Redshirt senior linebacker Donavin Newsom.
The hybrid outside linebacker/safety role that Newsom will be playing will give him an opportunity to rush the passer and drop into coverage much like we saw from Kentrell Brothers last year. Coaches and players rave about his athleticism comparing him to Sean Weatherspoon and a blitz-heavy scheme will allow him to record the gaudy stats national pundits and fans notice.
My thought process was: Newsom is an experienced player who was under-the-radar last year due to several factors. Despite Kentrell Brothers hogging all the tackles, Newsom put up some solid stats last year.
Missouri’s offensive woes combined with the protests basically derailed all discussion of an otherwise fantastic defense but Newsom was one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the country last year. I think Newsom will take the next step and earn national recognition and possibly vault himself into a NFL draft consideration with a stellar 2016 season.