Texas A&M lost an extremely talented class to the 2017 NFL Draft. Five players were selected, and several others signed undrafted free agent contracts with opportunities to make teams.
That adds to the urgency for the players left on the Aggies roster. The 2017 season will be critical for coach Kevin Sumlin, but the roster has several question marks. For answers, players in key positions must step up.
Here are the 10 most important players on Texas A&M’s roster heading into the 2017 season.
10. WR Jhamon Ausbon
2016 stats: n/a
The first player on this list has yet to play a college football game. Texas A&M lost six of its top seven wide receivers from last season. The Aggies desperately need an injection of physical talent at receiver. Ausbon is easily the best receiver prospect the Aggies signed. Ausbon set himself apart as the highest-rated offensive prospect at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., narrowly ahead of teammate Kellen Mond.
9. CB Nick Harvey
2016 stats: 66 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 10 passes defended, INT
Harvey was a top cornerback prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. To this point, he has generally lived up to the hype. Coordinator John Chavis counts on defensive backs making plays all over the field, and Harvey last season finished third on the team in tackles. He should help anchor a steadily improving secondary rotation filled with seniors.
8. LT Koda Martin
2016 stats: n/a
Texas A&M produced fairly significant offensive line talent in recent years, including four first-round picks. However, the Mike Sherman well of offensive line talent is starting to dry up. With tackles Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor in the pros, former 3-star prospect Martin will likely be tasked with protecting the blind side. There are questions about the entire offensive line, but Martin’s production will be most critical.
7. LB Anthony Hines
2016 stats: n/a
Hines is the second early-enrollee to rank among the top 10 most important players. It’s a significant ask for a true freshman to play major snaps at linebacker. However, Hines is no regular linebacker prospect. In a standout four-year high school career in Texas, Hines had 634 tackles — 634! —and 78 tackles for loss. To say the least, it’s fair to think he can compete at the college level.
6. DT Zaycoven Henderson
2016 stats: 40 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks
Texas A&M lost bookends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall to the NFL draft, with Hall selected in the third round. That means the defensive line push now will come from the interior. Henderson — along with true junior Kingsley Keke — make up one of the better pairings of interior linemen in the SEC. Both players must create opportunities for young Aggies defensive ends.
5. RB Trayveon Williams
2016 stats: 156 carries for 1,057 yards, 8 TDs
Keith Ford will be the primary running back, but Williams is the dynamic playmaker the Aggies desperately need. Quarterback Trevor Knight is gone, which means the running game must provide extra push. Williams was part of a talented true freshman running back class in the SEC. He had runs of 30 yards or longer in eight games.
4. LB Otaro Alaka
2016 stats: 65 tackles, 7.0 TFLs
Out of three starting linebackers in 2016, two are gone. Richard Moore transferred to SMU and Shaan Washington is with the Minnesota Vikings. That leaves Alaka the only major contributor back. Alaka must provide consistent production.
3. Safety Armani Watts
2016 stats: 56 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 2 INTs
Two years ago, Watts was one of the best defensive backs in the SEC. He led the conference with 126 tackles, becoming the first Aggies player since 2010 with at least 100 tackles and first defensive back since 2003. Justin Evans overshadowed Watts in 2016. But with Evans gone to the NFL, this is Watts’ defense again. He must replicate his 2015 numbers, especially with questions at linebacker.
2. QBs Kellen Mond/Nick Starkel/Jake Hubenak
2016 stats: 61-104 for 884 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
It’s unclear at this point which quarterback will run the offense in 2017, though Mond seems to have the upper hand. Whichever player commands the offense will influence how coordinator Noel Mazzone calls plays. Quarterback is generally the most important position on the offense, and nowhere more so than for the Aggies. With variations of passers and runners, the offense will evolve to fit the guy under center.
1. WR Christian Kirk
2016 stats: 83 catches for 928 yards, 9 TDs
Amari Cooper. Julio Jones. A.J. Green. There are few receivers in college football who overshadow their quarterback, but Kirk is one. The only returning starter at receiver, Kirk could post stupid-good numbers in what should be his final collegiate season.