Last season, Bryce Jenkinson was a freshman linebacker fighting for playing time. Now, after accumulating 59 tackles, including three for loss in 2015, he has a starting job locked up with the key thrown away.
In 2014, Rod Moore rushed for a team-high 618 yards a year after amassing a grand total of 13 yards.
Every year, there are players like Jenkinson and Moore. Players who not much is expected from who turn into solid, nay, necessary contributors. Picking them out before the season isn’t easy. After all, if it was, then they wouldn’t be breakout players. Even with that said, let’s take a stab at picking some players that we’ll be talking about a lot more than we thought this season.
Cincinnati is known for its pass-heavy offense and there are a number of new guys in the receiving corps. Nate Cole and Kahlil Lewis, the top two receivers on the depth chart, had a combined 315 yards last season. But even though their production is about to skyrocket, there are expectations set for two players who will get the most reps.
Gray has flown under the radar a bit more. The JUCO transfer caught 69 passes for 1,154 yards and 11 touchdowns during his sophomore year for Sierra College and is now being plugged into an offense where the ball is constantly being thrown around. Last season, three different receivers had at least 500 yards for the Bearcats and five had at least 400. With his proven track record and the opportunity he has as the third starting wide receiver, Gray should easily reach those types of numbers. That would be far from shabby for a player who is entering the season without a single reception for the Bearcats.
Dowdy is less of a sleeper pick, as he has already been singled out as a tight end to watch in 2016. A John Mackey award contender, Dowdy’s potential is predicated on the fact that he is already comfortable in UC’s offensive system, whereas Gray has never played a game for UC. Dowdy played in 13 contests for the Bearcats last season and started six times. His production was limited (12 receptions, 104 yards, 3 TDs) and the fact that the tight end has not been utilized much under Tommy Tuberville doesn’t help his cause, but being a familiar face in an offense that will throw it quite often gives Dowdy a chance to have a Kelce-ian senior year.
Sure, Brazile didn’t win a starting job, but the sophomore defensive end has the size and tool set to be an effective pass rusher, something UC desperately needs. The 6’5”, 257 pounder played in six games last season and had only one tackle for loss. However he played well in the spring game (four tackles, one sack) and was impressive during fall camp. With UC looking for answers to its pass rush problems, Brazile could be part of the solution.