UCF Knights Depth Chart Projections
It seems like ages ago that the UCF Knights were touting a national championship to the world after their win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, but plenty has changed since then. Auburn's coach then is now the Knights coach, and he's ready to take UCF to a new level along with claiming that he's here for the long run. After a disappointing 6-4 season, the Knights look to bounce back, and the roster's loaded to do exactly that.
3 Big Questions
1. Will Dillon Gabriel and Gus Malzahn mesh well together?
People see Gabriel’s stats and Malzahn’s production at Auburn and might assume it won’t mesh together. Yet they forget that Gabriel originally committed to Army out of high school. An underrated athlete, running the ball won’t be a problem, and he’s the best passer Malzahn’s had as a head coach. So they should be just fine.
2. Can a young defense step up?
A number of young players saw significant time last year, and the Knights are hoping that means an experienced group in 2021. Guys like Eriq Gilyard return to be leaders of that group, which helps when times are tough. Cam Goode, Josh Celiscar, Davonte Brown, and Tatum Bethune all return with high ceilings.
3. Who’s the next Marlon Williams?
There’s not an obvious choice here, which could be just fine. Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O’Keefe are small but can run. Colorado State transfer Nate Craig-Myers or Tennessee transfer Brandon Johnson are bigger guys who could step up.
Gus Malzahn walked into a perfect situation after being fired from Auburn. The offense he inherits features a ton of talent, and will be one of the best in the country this year. Dillon Gabriel’s thrown for over 7,000 yards and 61 touchdowns in his first two seasons as the Knights quarterback, and shouldn’t have trouble adding to those numbers.
Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O’Keefe bring the definition of speed to the table, and should be utilized better than in the previous offense. Tennessee transfer Brandon Johnson and tight end Jake Hescock give UCF some size down the field. In the backfield, the Knights have options.
Bentavious Thompson and speedster Johnny Richardson return, but Malzahn also brings some talent in to compete for the starting job. Northwestern transfer Isaiah Bowser and Auburn transfer Mark-Anthony Richards provide depth and could also win the starting job. There’s a ton of talent to go around, and the only question will be if there are enough touches for everyone.
Matthew Lee worked through early season struggles to become an All-Conference talent at center. Cole Schneider and Lokahi Pauole are two of the best guards in the country. Samuel Jackson brings versatility, and can play either tackle or guard spot. Edward Collins should start, but he’ll battle with Marcus Tatum for left tackle.
If there’s one group that needed a fresh start, it’s the UCF defense. With the talent on the roster, this is a group that can make an impact on any game, but struggled to put it together consistently. Youth and inexperience played a big role. Tre’Mon Morris-Brash will be one of the leaders up front after a solid season that produced 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If Josh Celiscar can take the next step, UCF has two of the best ends in the conference. Kalia Davis is back after missing all of last year, and he’s a big presence up the middle. Cam Goode has star potential, and Malzahn brought in his former DE in Big Kat Bryant (who should start) and Western Kentucky DL Ricky Barber for depth.
Behind them, Eriq Gilyard returns as the leader of the defense. Tatum Bethune had a big year last year for the Knights and is back as well. On the backside, the Knights are without three stars.
Davonte Brown, Zamari Maxwell and Derek Gainous all saw significant playing time last year, with mixed results. This is a young group that struggled at times last season, but could take a step forward in 2021. Brown is a speedster who can run with any receiver, and Gainous is an All-Conference talent, but there will be plenty of competition to ensure that no one is satisfied. Jermaine McMillian is set to join Gainous at safety, and Dyllon Lester will be slated at nickel.