1. OT Terence Steele (6-6/300): The two starting tackles are the top of this list and I think they justifiably deserve the top two spots. By the time the season ended, Steele, who was the starting left tackle, was moved to right tackle. There were significant moments during Steele’s redshirt freshman campaign where he struggled. Kingsbury said before the season, that they thought that Steele was going to be a staple at left tackle for years. But Steele struggled at left tackle. Kinda one of those “life comes at you fast” and Steele wasn’t quite ready for it. The book isn’t written on Steele just yet, and if you remember correctly, Le’Raven Clark started out at left guard before moving to left tackle and I think this would have probably been the best path for Steele as he transitioned from being redshirted to starting. Steele is obviously athletic and he’s got a big mobile body, but he’s got to get stronger and more consistent.
2. OT Madison Akamnonu (6-5/310): Consistency was the huge problem with Akamnonu and there may not be a trait that is more necessary for offensive linemen than consistency. Akamnonu started out as the starting right tackle, alongside Justin Murphy, but Akamnonu was benched and then he played and then he was benched and here we are with a similar situation with Steele in that Akamnonu should have probably started out at right guard, then transitioned into a right tackle this year. That didn’t happen and what we saw was an uneven redshirt freshman campaign. If Texas Tech wants to be good in 2017, it starts right here with Steele and Akamnonu. They’re going to decide, at least offensively, what Texas Tech is going to be.
3. IR Jonathan Giles (5-11/185): You’re probably wondering why I would include the leading receiver for Texas Tech on this list. A guy who caught 69 passes for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns. Make no mistake, Giles was very good last year, but he faded late during the season and if Giles wants to be very good, then that’s not a problem, but if he wants to be great then he needs to be better. Giles started out the year catching 53 passes in the first 7 games, which means that he only caught 16 passes for the remaining 5 games. The downturn started against TCU, where he only caught 2 passes for 10 yards, had 5 catches for 55 yards against Texas, a good game against Oklahoma State which was 5 catches for 94 yards, completely shut out against Iowa State and 4 catches for 82 yards against Baylor. And of those 13 touchdowns, 11 of them came in the first 7 games and only 2 the remaining 5. Even more striking is that Giles averaged 142 receiving yards at home and only 51 on the road.
4. S Jah’Shawn Johnson (5-10/180): I’m not going to bemoan Johnson’s effort last year. Johnson was 2nd in the team in tackles with 77, was 2nd on the team in passes broken up with 6, 2 interceptions (led the team), 3 tackles for a loss and 3 forced fumbles last year (led the team). That’s a pretty varied stat line, but the one thing that I want Johnson to improve as much as humanly possible is improve that speed. Scott Salwasser needs to do his magic with Johnson. Johnson is fearless and he is the teams hardest hitter on a consistent basis and the one thing lacking in his game is speed. I’d love to see Johnson improve on that part because that’s the only part, at least to me, that’s lacking.
5. DE Kolin Hill (6-2/250): When Hill first showed up, he looked absolutely legitimate in terms of his size. A real-deal defensive end, but in his sophomore year, he struggled to make much, if any splash plays. Hill finished with just 1 sack and 4 tackles for a loss. That’s for your starting strongside defensive end. Contrast that with K-States Jordan Willis, who is a senior, but ended up with 17.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks. I don’t have those sorts of expectations for Hill this year, but it sure would be nice if he made a push and got to a third of those stats or if I’m feeling lucky, splitting the difference. Regardless of what happens, Hill has to have better splash plays and be better at getting to the quarterback.