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6 Players Wake Forest Needs to Take the Next Step in 2021

Depth is critical

Wake Forest v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In a season that’s already pushing Wake’s ability to create and produce quality depth, it felt like a good opportunity to take a look at guys who are helping create not only competition, but also quality depth, something Wake has severely lacked down the stretch the last few years.

DT Dion Bergan Jr.

We do know MIles Fox and Sulaiman Kamara will be the starters at DT. What’s behind them is still a bit of a mystery. Tyler Williams is the easy answer, but it’s hard to count on him given his vast injury history. Bergan is the next man up, especially after logging 255 snaps in 8 games last year. He’s always flashed in practice and a spark play in-game here and there, but needs to harness that and become a true option for this team, injury to the starters or not.

WR Jahmal Banks

It was hard to not put either of A.T. Perry or Donald Stewart on this list after the injury to Donavon Greene, but I’m going with Banks. The redshirt freshman has reportedly made play after play after play in the three-man race to replace Greene, which has also seen virtually zero separation. He’s got the speed, he’s got size, and as a formal D1 basketball recruit, he has the ability to be explosive going up to get the ball. Scotty Washington is a hard person to compare someone to, but having a big-bodied receiver that doesn’t miss out in the speed department would be a wonderful addition to an offense that’s going to want to push the ball down the field. If it’s as a backup that picks up 25-30 pass-catching snaps, good. If it’s as a starter, great.

DB Chelen Garnes

Wake’s defense loves swiss-army knives. Luke Masterson and Traveon Redd are the two most recent ones to come to mind. Garnes has come out and been a guy that they seemingly feel comfortable both at the ROVER but as well as a high safety. If he can continue taking a jump, the sky is the limit with how they can continue to disguise people on the field. It also gives them a chance to not have to play guys like Nasir Greer, Redd, etc 85-90 plays a game and allow them to actually substitute guys, so on third downs they can put not only put their best guys on the field, but also be better about saying “well he’s fresh we can actually use a unique package here”

RB Ahmani Marshall

Also, it shouldn’t have taken me this long, but if you don’t already please subscribe to Les Johns over at 247Sports as well as Conor O’Neill’s substack. While I can’t be at camp, they are and are doing a fantastic job with the updates there. Wake Forest has to be a team when it comes to covering it, unlike a bigger school and these two have been nothing short of amazing.

Onto Marshall. There hasn’t been a year since Dave Clawson arrived that a running back hasn’t missed time, yes I’m lumping Kenneth Walker III opting out into that. Regardless of the reason, there’s always been an opening for a third and even fourth option in the running back room. Right now there seems to be a clear three in Christian Beal-Smith, Michigan transfer Christian Turner, and Justice Ellison. While I don’t wish for any of them to be injured, it’s football, things happen. Marshall seems to be the one most primed to grab the 4th spot, but if he can turn on the jets and show he is too good to not be looked at, it gives a bit more breathing room in case of injury. A reminder should be set as another running back, Quinton Cooley, is on the shelf right now, so the precedence is there for opportunity.

DE JaCorey Johns

It seems weird to have a starter be on this list, but there just needs to be more production out of the defensive line this year and I think that starts with JaCorey. He’s a guy that’s seemingly been just right there to kick it into high gear: a solid tackler, racked up 3 sacks last year, great at creating pressure, but there just needs to be more production. With the emergence of Jasheen Davis being an absolute wrecking ball and Rondell Bothroyd slimming down while also being more than a year post-ACL surgery, it’s Johns’ side of the line that needs to start coming up with more hits and sacks.

QB Sam Hartman

You all knew this would come. This has absolutely zero to do with the bowl game, that game essentially doesn’t exist to me as I choose to view that stretch as a pure anomaly, not who Sam Hartman is as a player. With that being said, it’s not as if he’s without his flaws.

This is going to be a season that tests him. At the very least last year, Roberson broke out, Donavon Greene still offered an explosive and known target, and the offensive line was set. Right now, there are question marks left and right, but it’s going to be up to Sam to navigate them efficiently. He can’t have his moment of being too indecisive in the pocket, especially if the injury to Je’Vionte’ Nash proves to be a bigger blow than it seems right now. He can’t be bailed out by just chucking it deep, he has to be clinical in his decision-making, While the interceptions didn’t come until the bowl game, he had his fair share of throws that had no business not being interceptions, as well as just decisions that really just didn’t make any sense. If this team is going to have the season to break out, it’s going to be because Sam Hartman has taken that next step.

Players that just missed the cut:

  • TE Blake Whiteheart
  • CB Gavin Holmes
  • LB Jaylen Hudson