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Personnel that will need to be impact players for Memphis this season

Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin lll sprints for huge game versus Temple last season.

We are on the brink of another season taking place for the Memphis Tigers football program. Despite significant turnover from the 2019 roster that appeared in the Cotton Bowl, the Tigers finished the season solid. Memphis had an overall record of 8-3, which finished 3rd in the American Athletic Conference.

The dynamic talent that allowed the Tigers to have a 12-2 record and to appear in a New Year’s Six Bowl is pretty much gone for the most part. However, the Tigers have shown to have so much depth at critical positions that it brings optimism of what can happen next. Let’s take a look at the personnel on the Tigers roster that will need to have a significant impact on the program this season.

Grant Gunnell: QB

All signs point to the University of Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell to become the Tigers’ starting quarterback to the 2021 campaign. However, he has big shoes to fill by replacing QB Brady White. White, by far, is the most accomplished quarterback in the history of the Memphis Tigers football program.

He did what many other previous signal-callers could not do, which was to lead Memphis to a significant bowl game appearance on New Year’s Day.

As we already know, in a conference such as the AAC, quarterback play is a critical element to a program’s long-term success. Based on the scouting report given by Pro Football Focus, Gunnell has enormous upside as a passer in the AAC.

“The 2020 version of Gunnell was wildly different from the 2019 iteration. He took 185 drop backs across eight games for Arizona in 2019 and displayed pinpoint accuracy en route to an 85.4 passing grade. But Gunnell attempted only 93 passes across four games in 2020 due to an injury in his third game of the season and racked up seven turnover-worthy plays. He subsequently transferred to Memphis following the 2020 campaign. He specifically joined the Tigers to push the ball downfield, as that’s not something he was given the green light to do at Arizona.”

Calvin Austin lll: WR

Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin stepped up big time last season. Especially after highly talented teammate Damonte Coxie forgoes playing for the remainder of the 2020 season. Austin finished the year with 63 receptions, 1,053 yards, and 11 touchdown scores.

Those achievements alone have allowed Austin to be on the watch list for the prestigious Maxwell Trophy Award. The award is given to the most outstanding player in college football for that particular season. Another solid year of production by Austin could go a long way regarding the success of the Tigers this season.

Kylan Watkins and Rodrigues Clark: RB

The running back position has been a pivotal contributor to the Tigers’ success throughout the program’s history. In 2020, that was not the case. Memphis had one of their lowest levels of production from the running back position. Both backs could not generate the level of offense that previous players such as Kenneth Gainwell and Antonio Gibson could pull off while playing for the program.

Both backs combined for a total of 994 yards rushing. Overall, the team’s rushing yard total was 1,597, which was also the lowest since 2013. Along with Gunnell, both Watkins and Clark will need to show up immediately if the Tigers want to be in the conversation of winning the AAC title in 2021.

Quindell Johnson: S

One of the biggest strengths for the Tigers last season was their defense. Memphis ranked third in the AAC by only allowing 27.9 points a game. The Tigers also ranked fourth against the run third in pass efficiency defense. Memphis will be bringing back a total of nine starters from last year’s defense. Safety Quindell Johnson is a name to keep an eye on this season. Johnson is one of the best safeties in the AAC right now.

In 2020, Johnson recorded 81 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Due to those contributions, Johnson was named Second-Team All-AAC. As a result of last season’s achievements, Johnson joined fellow teammate Calvin Austin lll as a watch list player for one of college football’s top awards.

Johnson was named as a player to watch out for when winning the Chuck Bednarik Award. Like the Maxwell, the Chuck Bednarik Award goes to the most outstanding defensive player in college football.

Sean Dykes: TE

Tight end Sean Dykes was a weekly contributor for the Memphis offense last year. Dykes caught 47 passes for 581 yards and seven touchdowns for the Tigers in 2020. Listed at 6’2, 224 pounds, Dykes is a tight end but could be easily recognized as a wide receiver due to his physical stature. His presence as a safety net for the quarterback position will be greatly needed for this season.

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Photo courtesy of Matthew A. Smith.

Meet Derrick Branch, the founder and chief wordsmith at Strike 7 Sports. With a sharp focus on the NFL and the NBA, Derrick's expertise in sports is matched only by his passion for sharing it with others. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the prestigious University of Arizona Global. Let his insightful and engaging writing take you to the heart of the action.

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