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Kansas Keys: Players to watch for on the Jayhawks in 2023


The season is just around the corner for the Kansas Jayhawks football team. Kickoff is September 1st against FCS foe Missouri State. With all the newfound success for this program, expectations and morale are high surrounding this season, mainly due to the leadership and talent that is permeating throughout the team. A group that returns a whopping 90% of their production from last year, as well as adding a Top 50 transfer class on top of that, will help immensely. Let's take a look at players that will make the biggest impact for the 2023 Kansas Jayhawk squad.


Offense

QB Jalon Daniels, Junior

Jalon Daniels is perhaps the biggest star on this team, so it's no surprise he headlines this list. The junior passer racked up a lot of notoriety and put the Big 12 and nation on notice with his play, especially through the first five weeks of the 2022 season. Daniels finished out the 2022 season with a 162.0 passer rating, an 87.9 QBR, and 66.1 completion percentage to go along with 25 total touchdowns, 2,014 yards passing, and 419 yards rushing over nine games played. He led the Jayhawks to the Liberty Bowl, where he shined even in a heartbreaking loss. Daniels went 37/55 with 544 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. This has brought exceptionally big expectations, some even saying that Daniels is a dark horse Heisman candidate. He's also received Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors and on the Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp, Maxwell, and Golden Arm Award watch lists, among others. With these expectations though comes a large, looming question: Can Daniels stay healthy? With a shoulder injury that sidelined him multiple games last year and inhibited his performance in losses to Texas and Kansas State, along with some back tightness that has plagued him through preseason camp, questions regarding his health are valid. All signs point to him being ready to go, however. This question is perhaps the biggest hinge point for Kansas football this season. If Daniels can stay healthy and repeat, or improve, upon his numbers from last year, be on the lookout for who could be the Big 12's next legendary quarterback.

RB Devin Neal, Junior

Another breakout star from last year, Lawrence native Devin Neal is poised for another big season. Neal racked up 1,090 yards rushing on 180 carries, averaging a stellar 6.1 yards/attempt, and put up 9 rushing touchdowns, as well as having 21 receptions for 183 yards and a receiving touchdown. The Maxwell, Walter Camp, and Doak Walker award watch list member, has shown to also be a leader on and off the field. Neal has been a key spokesperson for the team and gets high praise from coaches and teammates. He wants to be one of the biggest leaders and influences for this offense in order to "plant the seed" and secure a legacy of teambuilding and chemistry above all. "I’m hoping I’m more of a big brother type rather than an older teammate." Neal said in an interview with Jayhawk insider Matt Tait. Find more about Neal and running backs coach Jonathan Wallace's "Planting Seeds" method here. Neal will share the majority of carries with fellow key back Daniel Hishaw, whose season was cut short due to a hip injury. He's up for Comeback Player of the Year. With this dynamic duo in the backfield, KU's run game will be a force to be reckoned with and arguably their biggest strength. A lot of the thanks goes to Neal, and there may be more successes to come for this unit on behalf of him.

TE Mason Fairchild, Senior

This Andale, Kansas native is built like the perfect NFL Tight End. At 6'4", 260 lbs with excellent vertical ability and route running, Fairchild and fellow Tight End Jared Casey compliment each other well, being the receiving and blocking counterparts playing off one another constantly. In terms of that receiving prowess, Fairchild had 35 receptions for 443 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. Expect those numbers to grow as he has steadily gained a bigger role in this offense. Being a senior leader and Mackey Award watch list member, he will be expected to produce heavily and continue making astounding catches for big yardage. Expect him also to improve his draft stock and potentially garner the attention of more NFL scouts as the year goes on.

Defense


S Kenny Logan Jr., Senior

Kenny Logan, Jr., if not the production leader for this Jayhawk secondary, is certainly the spiritual leader. Logan has been a stalwart for the Jayhawks since he first stepped foot on campus in 2019. The senior has had a fantastic career here, racking up 288 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions, and 12 pass deflections. Last year was his most productive, grabbing 106 of those tackles, 1 fumble, and 2 of those interceptions. Logan is known as the hard-nosed, physical, in your face type of safety, and at 6'0", 205 lbs, he hits like he's twice that size. At the same time, Logan can defend the pass well and flies across the field with excellent speed. The NFL Draft prospect decided to come back to Kansas after considering leaving for the draft last year. He's out to prove that he can further increase his draft stock, as well as his already high status with the Kansas faithful. Expect him and Bryant to dominate the skies in a way Kansas football has not seen since Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib.




CB Cobee Bryant, Junior

The man formerly known as Jacobee and currently known as "Hawk Mamba", Cobee Bryant, is another guy NFL teams have their eyes on. The 6 foot, 175 pound junior out of Evergreen, Alabama has some of the best coverage skills out of any corners in the nation. He's racked up 3 interceptions and 9 pass deflections last year as well as a pick 6 to seal the game against West Virginia. He's got the cockiness and high energy you love to see from any good corner as well as the vertical and speed to keep up with some of the nation's best receivers. Bryant will be expected to take on a bigger leadership role as he enters his upperclassman years, a role he should have no problem stepping into being arguably the best defensive player last year. The Thorpe watch list member is expected to impress, and impress he will so long as he stays healthy and improves his tackling.

LB Craig Young, Senior

Craig Young is the centerpiece of the Jayhawk front seven. What's seen as a "weak" link for the Jayhawks should more be seen as "untested" considering the losses this Jayhawk team has had to its front seven over the past year. Names such as Lonnie Phelps and Sam Burt have departed for graduation and the NFL. Young stands as the player with the most experience on this front, racking up 84 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown, and 4 pass deflections throughout his career both at Kansas and at Ohio State 2019-2021. He will continue to build his resume as a senior defensive leader and become the guy that makes a name for this Jayhawk front seven full of transfers and new blood. A guy that can absolutely fly to the ball and shows incredible intensity, he's shown to be contagious in that regard. If he can lead this front seven to be successful, then this Jayhawk defense could turn out to be sorely underestimated after being one of the worst units in the Power 5 last year.

Conclusion

The Jayhawks have plenty of playmakers that can very well make a statement in this highly competitive Big 12. With a load of talent on other teams making waves, many of these Kansas guys (sans really Daniels, Bryant, and Neal) get overlooked. However, that only puts a chip on their shoulder to shock everyone who said last year was a fluke and that Kansas will plunge back into irrelevancy. Kansas is here to stay, and these six mentioned here are merely the tip of the iceberg of impact players Kansas has on it's roster in 2023.

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