With signing day in the rearview mirror and spring football practice starting on March 23, it’s a good time to take an early look at what the Arizona Wildcats’ depth chart could look like at the start of the season.
Let’s go with the offense first!
NOTE: This depth chart is based purely on my conjecture.
- Starter: Jordan McCloud
- Backup 1: Gunner Cruz
- Backup 2: Will Plummer
- Notes: This was a tough one for me to conclude but I think this’ll be the chart. McCloud has undeniable experience at the college level, even having a very successful game against a good UCF team. Jedd Fisch is familiar with someone of McCloud’s skills, having just had Cam Newton in New England. Cruz is a big kid with a big arm. He already has Pac-12 experience, so that’ll play into the decision of making him the first backup.
Plummer also gained a ton of experience last season, however, he’ll need a little more development. He has a strong arm and is extremely athletic. I believe having one more good year of development will get him ready.
- Starter: Michael Wiley/Drake Anderson
- Backup 1: Darrius “Bam” Smith
- Backup 2: Jalen John
- Notes: Wiley really started to show what he brings to the table in 2020. He continued to be a threat in the passing game and his running game definitely took a large step up. Because of this, he’ll start.
Anderson, who transferred from Northwestern, led the B1G Wildcats in rushing in 2019 and was the second leading rusher in 2020. He brings a dynamic running style and experience in a run heavy league. I can see Arizona running two-back sets with Anderson in the backfield with Wiley or splitting the starting spot with Wiley throughout the season.
“Bam” Smith had an impressive sophomore season in 2019 but opted out of the 2020 season. I wouldn’t expect that to hinder him at all. He has all the tools you’d want in a running back and is probably the most dangerous receiver out of the backfield.
John showed some that he can not only run the ball effectively, but he can also be a viable option in the passing game as well. I suspect he’ll have a bigger role in 2021.
- Starters: Jamarye Joiner/Jalen Johnson
- Backup 1: Boobie Curry/Dyelan Miller
- Backup 2: Thomas Reid
- Notes: Joiner is a dangerous slot receiver, however, I believe that his skillset can be best used on the outside and think he’ll make the move outside this season. He has legitimate next-level talent and should be able to take another large step forward in his career this season.
Johnson has all the tools needed to be an outside receiver in the Pac-12. He his big, fast, and has great hands. He was suspended last season for violating the previous staff’s COVID protocols but I expect him to jump right in and compete.
Curry had a relatively productive season in 2020, however, he was under-utilized under the previous staff. He doesn’t have the blazing speed of Johnson, but he has the size and strength to be successful if used properly.
Miller created a lot of buzz during fall camp but his progress was derailed by an injury. Because of that, he was unable to see the field in 2020. I expect that to change this season, and with a new staff. He has a ton of upside and if he builds on his strong fall camp performance, he will see playing time sooner than later.
Reid has been a staple on special teams and has made his presence felt a few times on the field.
- Starters: Brian Casteel/Stanley Berryhill III
- Backups: Tayvian Cunningham/Jaden Mitchell
- Notes: Casteel and Berryhill are interchangeable as the starters in the slot. Both are extremely talented and explosive players. They have been productive their whole careers. I also believe that both were underutilized and not used to their full effectiveness.
Casteel and Berryhill are really good with the ball in their hands and they can make incredible plays in open space. However, they are also both very good in the intermediate and deep passing games. Both have shown that they can make contested catches and even burn defenders down the field.
Speaking of underutilized, Cunningham was grossly mismanaged in most games during the last regime. He has the speed to get separation and blow off the top of a defense, as seen by his 75-yard touchdown against USC in 2020.
Mitchell is someone who has great playmaking ability. Unfortunately, he has had two severe knee injuries that have held him back a bit. Mitchell is someone who has incredible mental strength and doesn’t let obstacles get in his way. His determination and work ethic, along with his talent, can easily land him playing time this coming season.
- Starter: Bryce Wolma
- Backup 1: Stacey Marshall
- Backup 2: Zach Williams
- Notes: Stop me if you heard this before, but I truly believe Arizona will use tight ends in 2021. There are a couple of reasons for that belief, the chief among those is Jordan Paopao is coaching tight ends. It’s been a hot minute since Arizona has had a dedicated TE coach.
I am eager to see Wolma under Paopao’s tutelage. Coach P has put a lot of successful TEs into the League and I think Wolma can be another one. He is a great run blocker, but don’t sleep on him in the passing game. He has good hands and is pretty athletic for his size. He has shown incredible patience since his freshman season and I believe it’ll pay off.
Marshall is another really good run blocking TE but is probably even more athletic than Wolma. He saw some action in 2020 and I expect that to increase in ‘21.
Williams was the most productive player at the position last season with 24 yards on two catches. Williams is interesting in that he can play tight end or even spread out wide and play on the outside. I’m interested to see how the new staff uses him.
- Starters: Donovan Laie/Paiton Fears
- Backup: Jordan Morgan/Edgar Burrola
- Notes: Starting with right tackle, Fears is the most experienced option on that side of the line. He had a rough year in 2020. He allowed 19 QB pressures, including 12 hurries and three sacks. If he can solidify his footwork, he should be able to be more successful.
Burrola is back with the team after being suspended in 2020 for violating COVID protocols. He received the most playing time of his career in 2019, splitting the starting role with Fears. He was, quite honestly, a really solid player. He allowed zero sacks in almost 500 snaps and only had one penalty against him. The main reason I have him as a backup is that he’ll need to get back into game shape and get used to the speed again.
Moving over to the left and you have two of the best linemen on Arizona’s roster. Laie had a pretty good year in 2020. He played the first three games at left guard before taking over duties at left tackle for the final two games. He only allowed seven pressures which just goes to show you that his is undoubtedly the best lineman on the team. That’s good news for Arizona as Laie was very close to transferring away.
Moving on to Morgan. He didn’t have a very good season in ‘20. He played only two games due to injury, and it’s clear he’ll need some more development. He has a ton of talent and upside, but I think that another season learning from Laie and first-year OL coach Brennan Carroll will benefit him.
- Starters: Josh Baker/David DiVall
- Backup: Sam Langi/Josh Donovan
- Notes: On the right side of the line, Baylor transfer Davis DiVall should be able to slide right into the RG role. He hasn’t made it to campus yet, but the staff is confident he’ll be on campus in August. DiVall definitely is intriguing as he already is familiar with the speed of Power Five football.
Donovan is another player with a rough season in 2020. He played a mix of left and right guard. His best games came at right guard, while his worst were at left. Just based on that, I’d put him at RG. He has experience and has three starts under his belt, but there are some mechanical tweaks that he needs to work on.
On the left side you have a young player in Josh Baker as the starter. He was impressive his first year in Tucson, allowing zero pressures in over 80 snaps. For a true freshman playing in the Pac-12 on the offensive line, that is a big deal. He should be able to easily earn the starting job at LG.
Langi is an absolute mauler. He planned on redshirting his first season at Arizona due to understanding that he needed to get used to P5 play. He has the size and talent to be a legit player on the interior line. I’m intrigued to see how much he developed his first season in Tucson.
- Starter: Josh McCauley
- Backup: J.T. Hand
- Notes: This is a no-brainer. Besides Laie, McCauley is the most experienced lineman the ‘Cats have. The former walk-on is also one of the best pass blockers on the roster. Add to it that he rarely has an errant snap and you have one of the better centers in the conference.
I know Hand is a true freshman, but he very much reminds me of Josh Baker. A mauler, stout, and has good technique and strength. Having him enrolled early will do nothing but benefit him. He is a true center and he will be able to learn a lot from someone like McCauley.