This year's CU team is an unusually experienced team. Almost everyone on the two-deep roster has started a game and Buff fans have gotten a long look at their ability. A popular fact circling around the internet right now is that the Buffs are returning 216 starts, the most in school history and one of the highest marks in the country. That doesn't leave a lot of room for breakout players. However, there is some exceptional young talent on the roster that either hasn't played yet to preserve their eligibility or has played, but in a different role. Also, I'm not counting Isaiah Oliver in this list because he's already broken out, in my opinion. CU is expecting big things from him in the fall. So, let's meet our contestants!
You could make an argument that Donovan Lee has already broken out, given that he was used heavily last year in the backfield, even though he was listed at slot receiver. I would say that only dedicated CU fans would know his name by heart, and the national analysts definitely don't have him in their Colorado notes. A position change this offseason has hastened this breakout. Lee is switching from utility player to full-time running back, where he has looked much more natural. The run during the Nicholls State game, which is partially shown above, is an example of what Lee brings to the position. He runs low, with great pad level, and has fantastic toughness for his slightness of build. His balance allows him to bounce off tackles and his hands will put him on the field this year. Lee is one of the best receivers out of the backfield in the conference (along with Phillip Lindsay) and he can also block well. The other thing to keep in mind with Donovan Lee is how well he fits in the new offense. Ralphie Report mentioned this in the over-arching season preview, but Texas Tech (which is where co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini was hired from) had great success on the ground last year, primarily because of Deandre Washington. Washington is a smaller back who was a great receiver, and despite his small frame, ran well between the tackles. Sounds exactly like Donovan Lee. Phillip Lindsay is in line to get the lion's share of the carries this year, but with how many two-back sets Texas Tech used last year and the talent Lee has, he is sure to get plenty of run and should be very effective.
Fisher has been a certified Jack Barsch favorite since he signed with Buffs in 2015. I just love the way he plays football. He's aware, he's aggressive, and he's quick enough to turn those attributes into plays. The gif above shows exactly what I mean. Fisher reads the quarterback, sees the ball, and then makes a picture perfect tackle which knocks the ball out, resulting in an incompletion. That is exactly what you want out of a defensive back, specifically where Nick Fisher will be playing. Last year, Fisher played extensively on special teams and in garbage time as a true freshman, which is where almost all freshman belong in their first year. Now, in his second year in the program, Fisher is listed on the depth chart at safety, which is a good fit for his talents. That allows him to read plays easier and act on the receiver in a physical way. I would also love to see him at nickel back, where his physicality can affect the routes and his size could help neutralize the bigger receivers. He also has the short-area quickness desired in a nickel back, so he can cover almost anyone within 10 yards. Due to the low number of scholarship players in the secondary, Fisher may end up playing more than the coaches are comfortable with, which sounds just fine to me.
This development should be very exciting for CU fans. Tim Lynott was one of Mike MacIntyre's biggest gets two years ago, and the Buffs beat out a lot of Pac-12 teams to keep the Colorado product in-state. There's a reason Lynott was so sought after. He's physical ready for Power 5 football, he has great technique, and as you can see, he's almost always the strongest guy in the room. Putting him up against CO prep defensive ends was almost unfair. In college, he factors in at guard, which accentuates his greatest strengths and gets rid of his biggest question mark, his size. Lynott has been impressing the coaches since spring football, and don't be surprised if he leapfrogs the older players and finds his way into a starting guard spot for the whole season. Lynott has a lot of potential and it looks like he's already paying off on that. If Lynott does keep a permanent starting job, it will be a milestone of sorts in the Coach Mac era. Because his system largely relies on recruiting and, more importantly, developing players, the older offensive linemen are almost always the best offensive linemen. Lynott will be one of the few Coach Mac recruits that played his way into a starting spot rather than waiting his turn and letting his body develop. The fact that he will have experienced backups pushing him every step of the way should be music to the coaches' ears.