Today, we start the countdown of Viva The Matador’s 10 most important players going into the 2019 season.
The 2019 football season is almost here! With that come the countdowns and rankings and we have a unique one of our very own here. Viva the Matadors has decided not to countdown the best players on this squad led by new Head Coach Matt Wells, but the most important to the team. Our entire staff has been split into three different groups, each giving you 3-4 players at a time. Jacob Harris, Dylan Smyth, and Emory Lyda give you Nos. 10-7.
No. 10: Riko Jeffers
We start our countdown with junior linebacker Riko Jeffers. His presence at the bottom of this list might surprise you, but we believe other defensive players at the top will help Jeffers more by having great season than Jeffers having one himself. Don’t get me wrong though, Jeffers will be an impact player on the defense this season.
He really led the defense last season when Dakota Allen was either limited or out completely by recording 68 total tackles last season including five for a loss and 2 sacks. He played in the middle of the defense and looks to do the same this season with the new defense that Coaches Matt Wells and Keith Patterson brought in.
The decision is simple…#COMMITTOTEXASTECHUNIVERSITY
— 6GØD (@riko_jeffers) January 30, 2019
This being his first full season as a starter, I think Jeffers will have a breakout season. His speed and size is great for a linebacker. Not only does he have the physical gift to be a great linebacker, he is above average at play recognition and can sense where the ball is going. It’ll be a fun year watching Jeffers play full-time in this thin linebacking corp.
– Jacob Harris
No. 9: T.J. Vasher
The number nine player on our countdown coincidentally wears number nine on the field. T.J. Vasher has provided many moments of greatness over the past two seasons, as he’s managed to top 1,200 yards receiving in only 14 career starts (in 24 career games.) Vasher was expected to become the number one receiver last season; however, his production was hampered by a multitude of factors. The biggest of these was an injury mid-season and unstable quarterback play when he was healthy.
Texas Tech Freshman TJ Vasher. pic.twitter.com/ljZjtuWCeY
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) October 14, 2017
Vasher will likely start at the “z” position on the outside, and his presence should allow Alan Bowman to shine in the red zone, as the pair connected for five touchdowns in only five games with each other. Vasher was also extremely successful in limited volume on third down, hauling in over 225 yards and four touchdowns on only 15 catches.
Absurd body control from TJ Vasher. pic.twitter.com/yEJeH1v4ps
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) May 11, 2019
The biggest question for Vasher will be his consistency. Last year saw him put up at least 50 yards in all but one full game (not including TCU, where he only played one drive); however, in 2017 he had much more polarizing game to game performances, putting up multiple 100 yard performances only to come out the next game with under 30 yards and multiple drops. If he wants to become a true number one receiver, he will need to produce consistent outings like in 2018 with some of the superstar-esque performances we saw in 2017.
Overall, I believe T.J. Vasher has the potential to form an incredible dynamic duo with Alan Bowman. We’ve seen the highlights and star performances, but this year will hopefully be the year where Vasher can emerge as a number one option. While the offense will have plenty of weapons regardless, Vasher hitting his stride and becoming a dominant force would make David Yost’s first offense in Lubbock a dangerous task to handle for opposing defenses.
– Emory Lyda
No. 8: Eli Howard
Howard is an experienced vet and a leader on the defensive line. After playing both his freshman and sophomore year, this is the year where that experience will pay off big. Coach Wells named Howard a captain going into the season after coming off an all Big-12 honorable mention selection.
Eli Howard is undeniably important going into next season because of one reason: He lives in the opposing backfield. The Big 12 is loaded with talent at QB. Guys like Brock Purdy and Jalen Hurts will do some damage to a defense if given time. Enter Eli Howard. Howard boasted 37 team tackles last season (2nd among the d-line) and 3.5 sacks. With the departure of Tony Jones, I expect Howard’s numbers to increase. It’s also worth mentioning that Howard led the team in QB hurries last season.
I fully expect Texas Tech’s defensive line to be a strength going into next season, and it will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator, Keith Patterson, uses Howard as a pass rusher. If Howard continues to build on two solid seasons in Lubbock, expect him to be a problem for opposing quarterbacks. When it’s all said and done, Eli Howard will lead the team in sacks next season.
– Dylan Smyth
No. 7: Terence Steele
Steele has been a fixture on this offensive line since 2016, when he started at left tackle as a red shirt freshman. This season though, Coach Wells and offensive line coach Steve Farmer have decided to switch things up a little bit. Terence Steele will now play the left side and Travis Bruffy will play the right side.
Steele was a captain last year and will fill that role again this season. He has really been one of the anchors of the offense and is the longest tenured starter on that side of the ball. He was awarded Big 12 Honorable Mention last season, which could be a sign of things to come.
This offensive line is going to be crucially important to the success of the team this season. Don’t be surprised if you see a few more guys from that position group on this list. With the way Coach Well and Coach Yost want to run the ball this season, the tackles will be very important in how the edge is set for a running back to get through the hole between the guard and tackle or whether or not he can get to the edge on a sweep play.
Steele is one of the most important guys on this team. He is the only four-year starter on the offense and will be a force to be reckoned with on the left side of the offensive line. His experience can help this team even with learning a new system with his maturity and effort on the field. Don’t get me wrong, Steele will be a force to be reckoned with come August 31st.
– Jacob Harris
Look forward to the next chunk of players to come out next week, with the final group coming days after that. Do you agree with our rankings so far? Let us know in the comment section below!
Source: Viva the Matadors