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Arizona’s 10 most irreplaceable players for 2019

arizona-wildcats-college-football-2019-preview-irreplaceable-players-schooler-tate-taylor-mccauley Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats came out with a 5-7 record in Kevin Sumlin’s debut season, one that featured a lot of young but talented pieces. Now as they enter the 2019 season, with Sumlin’s first full offseason under their belt, they’ll look to get back on track for bowl eligibility and then some.

In order for that happen, Arizona will need these 10 guys to stay on the field and bring success. Without them, UA will be scrambling to replace their production and leadership, which could turn this season into an another uphill battle.

10. Jace Whittaker

Whittaker missed the nearly the entire 2018 season due to a shoulder injury and will be back to full health this fall. When healthy, he has proven to be one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12, especially when you take a deeper dive into the analytics side of things.

He’s one of the clear-cut leaders of the defense and his IQ is high, but why he’s not higher on this list is simply due to the really solid depth behind him and the way assistant Demetrice Martin developed some of these young guys.

With McKenzie Barnes, the emergence of Christopher Roland-Wallace, and the incoming talents of Bobby Wolfe, there are three solid guys at corner to back up Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns.

9. Christian Young

After splitting some time at corner and bandit last season, Young will go back to bandit and take over the starting role with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles now on the San Francisco 49ers.

Young showed tremendous flashes and versatility as a true freshman, able to play man coverage and show great speed at corner. He also stepped in as the starting bandit when called upon switching up between playing zone and stepping up into the box.

Backing him up will likely be Chacho Ulloa, who has slowly been working into a safety role over the last few years, but Young is on track for a huge career at Arizona as he takes on his first season as the true starter.

8. Scottie Young Jr.

After dealing with off-field issues and injuries in his first season and a half, Young will have full control of the free safety position. He has been an absolute playmaker on defense when he’s on the field, providing big hits and interceptions.

Behind him is Jarrius Wallace who had an up-and-down 2018 season but still remains one of the better backups on the roster.

7. Jalen Harris

After a beneficial redshirt season to start his career, Harris catapulted into a starting defensive end/STUD spot last year and began to break out.

He is one of Arizona’s best pass rushers, and while he didn’t put up huge numbers last season (21 tackles, 3 sacks) it’s his constant pressure he puts on the backfield that is so invaluable. His length, speed and now power at 242 pounds gives him such a rare combination off the edge.

Kylan Wilborn gives great depth at STUD considering how well he played as a true freshman. But injuries and Harris’ progression definitely played a role in the limited snaps he got in 2018.

6. JB Brown

He’s been making plays since he was a true freshman and has solidified himself as one of Arizona’s best players. At 6-foot-3, 258 pounds, Brown isn’t the most physically gifted on the defense, but he is so technically sound that he can outmaneuver an opposing offensive line.

Versatility will be key for Brown as this years defensive line is a mashup of defensive ends. While he has been featured as a defensive end, he can also play a little more on the inside at defensive tackle. No matter what defensive coordinator Marcel Yates is trying to call, Brown can work into the plan.

5. Donovan Laie

Laie was a pleasant surprise last season as he emerged due to the Layth Friekh suspension/shuffle. He dominated his offensive tackle role as a true freshman and has true NFL potential after just one season.

Laie fought through an injury in fall camp so the hope is that he can continue to stay healthy. If he has to miss time there is a steep drop off at tackle as there isn’t much experience between David Watson and Edgar Burrola.

4. Josh McCauley

McCauley has risen from the walk-on ranks and has finally received a scholarship after taking over at center. He absolutely exceeded expectations after he took over for Nathan Eldridge, who missed the 2018 season due to injury (and has since transferred to Oregon State).

Center play at Arizona has been outstanding the last few years and continues to be underappreciated. Who exactly is behind McCauley is unclear, as it could be Steven Bailey, or perhaps Robert Congel or Jon Jacobs.

But with McCauley calling the shots while trying to catch junior college transfers Paiton Fears and Josh Donovan up to speed, hiss value is incredibly high on this roster.

3. J.J. Taylor

The run game has to get going in order for Arizona’s to go. The Wildcats have led the Pac-12 in rushing each of the last three years and it has become Arizona’s identity, especially with the backs and dual-threat quarterbacks over the last few years.

Taylor comfortably finished sixth in the nation last season in rushing yards, nearly 300 yards ahead of the next-best rusher.

Gone is the narrative to err on the side of caution due to Taylor’s 5-foot-7 frame, as he finished 10th in the nation in attempts per game with 21.55.

The run game opens up the pass and once Taylor gets rolling the offense can do a lot of damage. Limit him and Arizona is going to have trouble weaving together some drives.

Gary Brightwell is a great No. 2 back, and behind him would be either Darrius Smith, who showed flashes last season, or Nathan TIlford, who has rarely seen the field at Arizona despite entering as a four-star prospect.

2. Khalil Tate

The offense goes as far as Tate does. Last year he was out to show that he was an improved passer but he failed to utilize his legs like he did in 2018. A bad ankle didn’t help that.

Despite the frustration that came with watching the offense, statistically it was still one of better seasons for Arizona over the last six years.

Now in his final season, Tate needs to come out with confidence in both his arm and legs. He has a slew of young receivers that he needs to lead, but can rely on one of the best backs in the Pac-12 and an offensive line that should be even better than last season.

Should he face injury, there’s not a lot of depth that could truly sustain a high level of play and win games.

Rhett Rodriguez has his limitations but is the safe choice to run a fairly steady offense. Grant Gunnell has a huge amount of upside but coming in as a true freshman has it’s challenges. Jamarye Joiner unfortunately got put into some terrible situations last season and Kevin Doyle did not see a snap for whatever reason.

1. Colin Schooler

Perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever get to Scooby Wright III again, Schooler is by far the best player on the roster. Since arriving on campus he has played a stupid amount of snaps and continues to grind out consistency. There is no doubt he has played the most snaps out of anyone on the roster over the last two years.

He won’t have a tremendous defensive line in front of him, but alongside him he’ll have Tony Fields, who has also been dependable and could have made this list if it weren’t for the rise of Anthony Pandy.

Day Day Coleman has a load of potential who has just recently converted from safety. Incoming freshman Derrion Clark has the instincts of Schooler but is a bit undersized and will likely redshirt just given the few amount of snaps that will be available.