It’s no secret, but returning starters and production is one of the biggest advantages in college sports. Going into the 2021 season, Wake Forest will return 20 out of 22 starters from the 2020 season, one that showed promise on both ends of the ball but between COVID, injuries, and some mind-bottling plays, derailed hard at the end of the year.
According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Wake will return 81 percent of their overall production in 2021. That puts them 18th in the country and 3rd in the ACC behind Miami and Georgia Tech. Offensively, they’ll return 88% of their production(8th in the country) and on defense 74%(54th).
I don’t need to sit here and write about the impact that returning guys like Sam Hartman, Jaquarii Roberson, Donavon Greene, Christian Beal-Smith, Zach Tom, have on the offense becoming one of the most feared offenses in the ACC. I don’t need to labor about how returning a (healthier) Rondell Bothroyd, Ryan Smenda, Miles Fox, Ja’Sir Taylor, Traveon Redd will go towards the defense being one like we saw during Wake’s wins vs VT/UVA/Syracuse and less like NC State and a couple of quarters against UNC.
For the purpose of this article, I’m limiting it to players who didn’t play more than 50 snaps on either offense or defense last year which eliminates guys like Justice Ellison, AT Perry, Isaiah Chaney, Justin Williams, JJ Roberts, and Gavin Holmes, who if healthy will all play large roles this year.
RB Christian Turner
Christian Turner at Michigan, well to be frank got buried on the depth chart and at times had issues holding onto the football. From rumblings out of spring camp, he looks like a completely different back than what we saw in mop-up duty in Ann Arbor. Being the same build as Christian Beal-Smith, along with the same hair, and wearing 26, it’s at times hard to tell the two apart on the field. but he’s made a name for himself with his speed and ability to cut. It’s a dog fight behind CBS, but Turner seems to have a slight leg up in terms of being the number 2.
RBs Ahmani Marshall and Quinton Cooley
If I hadn’t put the cap at 50 then Justice Ellison would be here too. Also, if you’re sensing a trend here, you’re right.
Losing Kendrell Flowers hurt for the future, while losing Kenneth Walker III hurt for the now. But with those 2 gone, someone has to take the snaps as well as be the guy(s) to turn to in the future. From all accounts, the running backs have taken a step this year and these 2 have been at the forefront of the youth movement alongside Ellison.
Cooley was poised to be the 3rd RB last year before an injury sidelined him for the year, while Marshall was nursing one of his own and now looks to be completely healthy. Both of them offer different looks as a back. Cooley is more of a “waterbug” that uses his quickness to evade defenders. Marshall has your NFL back size and is more of your one cut-and-go type of back who loves going through you, but once he gets downhill good luck stopping him.
WR Jahmal Banks
SFA Academy Alum Jahmal Banks 1st college reception for 17 yards in a 66-14 win over Campbell #RecruitBaltimore Cred ACC Network #BaltimoreFootball #NCAA #Gameday #FootballRecruit pic.twitter.com/pAndeWaX5K— SportsMajors (@SportsMajors) October 3, 2020
The downfall of Wake Forest in 2019 was not having enough health to make it through the season, but primarily at WR once Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington went down. While we can’t predict injuries, in a season of depth you need to be able to play 5-6 guys on the outside. Donavon Greene, Taylor Morin, and AT Perry have locked down 3 of those spots, and Donald Stewart looked amazing during spring camp.
One guy that Clawson has lauded, and that they will need, is Jahmal Banks. The redshirt freshman didn’t really get a ton of burn his freshman year, but with actually having a full spring to learn the offense, has looked much better with his reps. While I’m not expecting him to be the next Sage, especially this year, competency and allowing the starters to come off the field for 20-30 snaps a game is important and he should fit that box.
RG Terrance Davis
Source: Maryland offensive guard Terrance Davis has entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer.— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) December 28, 2019
Four-year starter and a former top-75 overall recruit. Only played in four games this year because of a knee injury and is eligible for a redshirt.
In Wake’s most high-profile splash of the 2020 transfer portal, they landed a 4-year starter at right guard in Terrance Davis. He, unfortunately, sat out 2020 with a knee injury but decided to come back for his final year of eligibility.
While the OL doesn’t necessarily have a glaring need at guard, the addition of Davis is more than welcomed. If healthy, he projects to automatically come in and start. What that does is make for a fierce battle at LG between Sean Maginn and Loic Ngassam Nya. Davis is one of the best run-blocking guards out there and allows Wake to buy some more time for guys like George Sell and Luke Petitbon. It’s all about getting the best 5 guys on the line out there, and with him in the mix, adds more depth which again, has been Wake’s biggest achilles heel.
DE Jasheen Davis
If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard that Jasheen Davis put on a show during spring camp. Working primarily at the Field End(Boogie’s old position), behind Rondell Bothroyd, he’s really started coming into his own and is in line to be a major player for this defense.
While slightly undersized for the defensive line, his production and testing numbers have always been stellar. From reports on spring camp, his motor just never stops and he’s developing into a fierce pass rusher that is going to prove to be very useful on 3rd downs, especially when they tend to go with three down lineman. This won’t be one highly touted recruit to flame out from what I’m hearing.
DE Kendron Wayman
As @Kwayman_26 heads down to @WakeFB, you can bet he’ll have one person on his mind: his late older brother DeAndre.— Seth Tow (@SethTow) July 2, 2020
Read about how losing his brother shaped Kendron and his family, and how he overcame it and dominates athletically. #ShoreFB #ShoreHoopshttps://t.co/qpYZAWmseK pic.twitter.com/6ajdo0OEPD
Remember that whole depth spiel? Dave Cohen made it a point to note how good of a spring Wayman was practicing before an injury knocked him out briefly.
A standout basketball player with only a few years of football under his belt, Wayman is still very raw as a prospect but athleticism and smarts are unmatched when paired in football and Wayman has a unique blend of both. For now, I have him slotted behind Rondell and Jasheen, but with as many plays are run in football, you need to be able to run 3 deep in order to keep your 1s and 2s fresh for the big time downs.
LB Jaylen Hudson
Getting two back only gets you so far when you've lost two others. Legit concern is warranted.— Conor O'Neill (@ConorONeillFA) August 1, 2019
Will say Jaylen Hudson is one of the freshman I'm most looking forward to seeing on the field. 6-3, 230 for a freshman LB is strong.
While the tweet is from 2019, the message is the same. Wake needs to be more consistent at linebacker. Part of that is keeping players like Chase Jones and Luke Masterson healthy, but the other side of it is developing their younger guys. From reports, Hudson has been playing better and faster, which is to be expected after actually getting a spring practice to learn and grow. With great size and measurables(ran a 4.65 40-yard dash and had a 32.8-inch vertical at an NC State camp his senior year) if the light comes on, he’s the next successor at MIKE linebacker behind Ryan Smenda Jr, who needs to be able to take a breather every now and then.
ROVER Chelen Garnes
For the conductor of the Chelen Garnes hype train— DeColdest Debro (@CamLemons_) March 5, 2021
This pleases me https://t.co/hHWY9LcHFd
If you follow me, you’ll know how much I tout Chelen Garnes. Great size, was a part of one of the better Navy defenses in recent years, versatile, great speed. With the move of Traveon Redd playing more time at one of the high Safety positions instead of ROVER, it opens up more time for Garnes and AJ Williams to command that position moving forward. Garnes will be a fan favorite sooner rather than later in my eyes with the way he likes to glide around the field.
CB Isaiah Wingfield
Another #Ivy grad transfer to watch is now in portal; DB Isaiah Wingfield was 1st Team All Conference in 2019 with 40 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 PD and 1 INT; 6'0" 185 lbs; NJ native @rivalsmike @RivalsWoody @zehwangz— NCAA Transfer Portal (@RivalsPortal) July 17, 2020
In the age of the transfer portal, the last two cycles Wake has been very active on both losing and gaining players to it. I was close to adding another transfer, Luiji Vilain, to this list but I’ll touch on him more come summer once we get to see him in action.
When the Ivy league shut down their season, a lot of top tier talent entered their name into the portal. With Wingfield, it was the same as suitors such as Florida State, UVA, and Virginia Tech amongst others reached out to land the talented corner, but ultimately Wake won the battle. Adding a starting-caliber corner to a room that has a load of talent in Ja’Sir Taylor, Caelen Carson, and a now-healthy Gavin Holmes, is a fantastic move even if no one gets injured. Depth has been the concern across the board for years at Wake, and this seems like they wanted to ensure that it doesn’t happen in 2021.