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Buffaloes release final depth chart before season opener

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Colorado opens against UCLA on Saturday.

Colorado v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

With so much uncertainly surrounding the 2020 Colorado Buffaloes, we at least have a preliminary depth chart ahead of their season opener against UCLA. There are a ton of questions in respect to young players vying for playing time, players switching positions to fill gaps and what the depth looks like where injuries occur.

Offense

QB — Sam Noyer
QB2 — Tyler Lytle
QB3 — Brendon Lewis

This is the big one. Sam Noyer was the forever backup to Steven Montez, moved to safety after a rash of injuries (presumably because Mel Tucker didn’t think he was good enough), entered the transfer portal (presumably to find somewhere to play QB), came back to CU (presumably as a depth piece), and has now won the starting job.

I have no idea if Noyer is any good. I have heard for years that he’s a tantalizing practice player — better even than Montez was — but struggled to turn that into gameday production. Maybe he’s really the best QB, or maybe he looked solid while Lytle and Lewis struggled in fall camp. I would still prefer Lewis as the highest upside player, particularly in a rebuilding year, but Noyer deserves that shot if he really was the best player in camp.

RB — Jarek Broussard
RB2 — Jaren Mangham
RB3 — Joe Davis
RB 4 — Ashaad Clayton

This is Colorado’s deepest position, although that much is already under duress. Broussard rose to the top of the rotation after Alex Fontenot suffered an undisclosed injury in practice on Monday. He’s an exciting piece who resembles Fontenot’s patient running style more so than any other back.

Broussard being RB1 might be nominal anyway, as Mangham should earn as many carries against on UCLA. Throw in Joe Davis as a quick back and the Buffs will be playing the hot hand, sans Fontenot.

It’s also worth mentioning Ashaad Clayton, the true freshman who missed most of camp with an undisclosed injury. If he’s back to 100%, the Buffs will probably integrate him over the next couple of weeks, rather than rushing him onto the field.

XWR — K.D. Nixon
YWR — Daniel Arias
ZWR — Dimitri Stanley
WR4 — Maurice Bell
WR5 — Jaylon Jackson
WR6 — Brendan Rice

The top three receivers are no surprise if you read Jack Barsh’s breakdown of the position group. Nixon is the obvious top target, as the two-year starter can break off big plays any time he gets the ball. Stanley will be in the slot and could end up with the most catches of the team, depending how comfortable Noyer is throwing in the middle of the field. Then there’s Arias, who at 6’4 is a tremendous deep ball threat on the boundary, insofar as he finds consistency.

The Buffs will likely rotate receivers early and often, so be on the look out for Bell and Jackson, as well as Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. Bell is the most likely of the bunch to earn a starting position, partly because he’s the most game-ready if Arias struggles.

TE — Brady Russell
TE2 — Matt Lynch

If you don’t know how valuable Brady Russell is to the Buffs, please read this. We don’t know exactly what Karl Dorrell and Darrin Chiaverini’s offense will look like, but we know Russell will be a crucial lead blocker, safety net for the new QB and the heart of the locker room. For depth, the Buffs have Matt Lynch and Nick Fisher, both graduate transfers from Pac-12 schools, as well as sophomore C.J. Schmanski. None of them are as versatile as Russell, but should be big bodies in the run game.

LT — William Sherman
LG — Kary Kutsch
C — Colby Pursell
RG — Casey Roddick
RT — Frank Fillip

The only real surprise here is that Casey Roddick is starting over Kanan Ray, but otherwise it’s three returning starters (Sherman, Pursell and Kutsch) and another (Fillip) who has been groomed to be the next offensive tackle. This should be a very solid group, particularly on the left side with Sherman carving out running lanes. The depth might be a little dicey with inexperienced underclassmen in reserve, so that’s something to be weary of.

Defense

DE — Terrance Lang
DT — Mustafa Johnson
NT — Jalen Sami
DL4 — Justin Jackson
DL5 — Jeremiah Doss
DL6 — Lloyd Murray

The Buffs return all three starters from 2019, which happened to be their strongest position group when healthy. Johnson is the star and he should be back to his old form without any cheap shots from ASU linemen. Lang is an excellent run defender and could break out as a junior. Sami is the least noticeable in the box score, but is a massive man making everyone’s job easier.

The depth on the line is missing a crucial piece in Antonio Alfano, the transfer from Alabama who is battling epilepsy. Having Doss and Murray should be solid on the interior, even if both have room to grow. Jackson is a game-ready JUCO transfer who should aid in the pass rush.

OLB — Carson Wells
OLB — Guy Thomas
OLB3 — Jamar Montgomery
OLB4 — Joshka Gustav

If any under-the-radar Buff turns in an outstanding season, the odds might favor Carson Wells. He’s immensely talented and could be a major player on the edge. Even if he doesn’t take the next step, he was damn good last year and should provide pass rushing and versatility there.

The OLB spot opposite Wells is more a question mark, as Guy Thomas transferred from Nebraska by way of Coahoma C.C. He’s a pure speed edge rusher in a role that has been lacking since Jimmie Gilbert’s 2016 season. Jamar Montgomery should rotate with him, although he’s a better all-around linebacker than he is a natural pass rusher.

ILB — Nate Landman
ILB — Akil Jones
ILB3 — Jonathan van Diest
ILB4 — Marvin Ham

In another position of stability, Nate Landman is the star on the defense, while fellow starter Akil Jones proved more than capable in 2019. These are two are so solid and rarely make mental mistakes. Pass coverage can be a bit sketchy, but not many inside linebackers can cover a wheel route.

After Landman and Jones, Jon van Diest should be solid, if unspectacular, while Marvin Ham flashes the potential that made him such a highly touted recruit. Between these two, Van Diest will play many more snaps as someone who will know the defense, communicate effectively and make whatever plays he’s required to. Ham will see the field only when team speed is needed, although he’s not the only option in that scenario.

STAR — Chris Miller
STAR2 — Curtis Appleton

The STAR position under Tyson Summers, or Buff Backer under Mike MacIntyre, has changed significantly over the years depending on personnel. Whereas Davion Taylor played near the line of scrimmage, Ryan Moeller was more of a traditional hybrid rover, and Chris Miller may be more defensive back than linebacker considering his experience at cornerback.

Admittedly, Miller seems less suited for the STAR position than Mark Perry, but I don’t know how Miller has developed since his season ending injury in 2019. We should find out in due time just what that role will entail, how close to line of scrimmage Perry will be, and so on.

CB — Christian Gonzalez
CB — Mekhi Blackmon
CB3 — Nigel Bethel
CB4 — Tarik Luckett
CB5 — Jaylen Striker

The depth chart reveal didn’t have too many surprises, but Gonzalez’s name being atop the cornerback chart is an exciting item. The true freshman is likely the best player in the 2020 recruiting class, already polished enough to play over a few options with starting experience.

Blackmon is a less of surprise, as he was the primary starter before missing most of 2019 with a shoulder injury. Even if Jack Barsch isn’t too excited about that starting spot, the Buffs have options if he struggles or misses any time due to injury.

The primary slot cornerback appears to be Nigel Bethel, the Miami transfer who is freaky fast. We haven’t seen him play, so expectations are tempered, but he’s a fun depth piece at the very least.

FS — Derrion Rakestraw
SS — Mark Perry
FS2 — Isaiah Lewis
SS2 — K.J. Trujillo

Once thought of as a depth piece, Rakestraw played admirably as an injury replacement. He took over free safety after injuries decimated the rotation, so much so that Noyer desperately had to move to the position. Rakestraw is a coverage safety who may lack the ball skills of a Mikial Onu, but makes fewer mistakes.

With Perry, the consensus was that he would be a starter, but no one knew which position it would be between strong safety and STAR. It turns out he’s going to be playing safety, his more natural position and the place he’s more likely to shine. His exact role really depends on what the STAR is asked to do, but he’s certainly going to be a major player.

Seeing K.J. Trujillo here is a bit of surprise, since he was CU’s best cornerback as a freshman in 2019. Perhaps the Buffs see a potential hole at free safety and are preparing him to eventually succeed Rakestraw. This season is a freebie with eligibility, so why not try something out. If it doesn’t work out, or if the cornerback group struggles, Trujillo can always move back.