Like most other head coaches across the country, Bill Snyder prefers to redshirt his true freshmen. The reasons are plentiful and obvious, ranging from needed physical and mental development to simply having better players ahead of the new arrivals.
However, this does not mean that Coach Snyder will not play a true freshman in appropriate circumstances. That still usually only happens once or twice per year. When true freshmen play, it is because either: (a) the freshman is just very, very good and would be good enough to play for almost any other Big 12 team; or (b) the freshman plays at a position of immediate need (which is not to say that the players are not talented, though). The focus of this article is not on the grayshirt players that forego redshirt seasons, as they are near equivalents to the redshirt freshmen.
Examples of players that were just too talented to keep off of the field as true freshmen have included Darren Sproles, Tyler Lockett, Nick Leckey, Jeromey Clary, and Monty Beisel. Examples of true freshmen that have seen the field largely due an immediate opportunity for playing time and/or limited depth at a position have included Tre Walker, Jordan Willis, Reggie Walker, Thomas Ferguson, Torrell Miller, and Travis Britz. A trend you will notice is that if a player plays as a true freshman under Coach Snyder, he usually ends up having a very good career.
This brings up the question many K-State fans are asking now: which true freshmen or freshman will see the field for the Wildcats this fall? We'll seek to answer that question with some freshmen that could realistically see playing time. They are listed in order from most likely to least likely to burn their redshirt seasons, with likelihood predictions as to the chance of each burning their redshirts.
Kaleb Prewitt, Safety
70% chance that he plays in 2014
Prewitt is extremely talented and does not shy away from contact at all. There is no need to bash on any of the incumbent players. Instead, it should be noted that K-State could replace an outstanding player in Ty Zimmerman with another outstanding player in Prewett. He has the look of someone that could become an NFL safety. Here's to hoping that he showed up ready to play, as he really could be a difference maker right away.
Dalvin Warmack, Tailback
50% chance that he plays in 2014
Most analysts probably would have Warmack as number one on this list. However, he is not in that position on this list for four reasons. First, Prewitt should be a stud and would fill what is actually the most integral position of need for the Wildcats this year (yes, even over tailback). Second, provided that the tailbacks on hand are all healthy, Dana Dimel is likely to be able to find two and possibly even three viable options at the tailback option without turning to Warmack. Third, there will be some sets where the only back in the backfield will be Glenn Gronkowski and Judah Jones may shift some between tailback and receiver to give K-State some flexibility in its packages. Lastly, Coach Snyder has not employed the tailback by committee approach for a long, long time and values pass protection and consistency at the position, which mitigates against three of four guys sharing the load, despite what Dana Dimel said earlier this week.
All of that said, Dalvin Warmack is very talented. He will see the field if he proves himself to be a cut above the rest of K-State's returning running backs or if he provides such a good change of pace as to prove worth it (similar to Tyler Lockett as a true freshman). The other way he might see the field is if K-State's running backs cannot stay healthy. Unfortunately, given the histories of DeMarcus Robinson and Jarvis Leverett (including some rumblings of the latter being in a walking boot recently), this could also be an issue.
Colby Moore / Zach Davidson, Wildcat Quarterback
20% chance that one of them plays in 2014
With the transfer of Daniel Sams, this is strictly a position of need. K-State fans have grown accustomed to the success that the offense can have with the Wildcat formation or with a primarily running quarterback, such as Sams or Collin Klein, paired with a lead blocker. It is unclear as to whether any of the running backs on the roster have the ability to throw the football and it is also not clear and perhaps even doubtful as to whether Taylor Laird and Jesse Ertz are fast and physical enough runners to operate the Wildcat. There has been some chatter about a possible GronkCat, but that was likely pure speculation based on the fact that he threw some passes in high school rather than on any actual leaks from practices.
Ticking the boxes for speed, power, and an ability to keep defenses honest with the pass would not appear to be issues for Moore and Davidson. Colby Moore has been recruited as a safety and has excellent athleticism and running ability such that he seems like a better fit for this position, given his film.
Of course, that could stunt his development into a productive walk-on safety to folllow in the shoes of Zimmerman, Jon McGraw, Marcus Watts, and Jarard Milo.
It sounds as if the coaching staff believes in Zach Davidson's potential. The Collin Klein comparisons are not far off the mark, at least as far as running and passing styles.
Hopefully, the same talent, work ethic, and intangibles from Klein are also possesed by Davidson. The biggest reasons that these guys would still redshirt would be that K-State may not use the Wildcat and that the coaches would want to give them a chance to redshirt at the their final destination positions.
Dalton Risner, Center / Offensive Guard
15% chance he plays in 2014
In a perfect world, K-State has enough depth and talent this year that Risner is able to perfect his craft at center by redshirting and working on the scout team, so that he can take over for B.J. Finney as K-State's starting center for the next four seasons. While it's likely that will occur, if Risner is as talented as some think or if there is a poorly timed injury (unlikely, since Drew Liddle is still around to move to center, if needed), it is possible that Risner would fill a void.
Alec Ruth, Offensive Tackle
5% chance that he plays in 2014
One of the primary reasons that Alec Ruth is on this list is because K-State lost both starting tackles to graduation. Unless Ruth is mature beyond his years, it's tough to imagine him making it from small-town high school football in Colorado to the the Big 12 that quickly, but it seems like a handful of players come out of nowhere each season for the Wildcats.
Dominique Heath, Wide Receiver / Kick Returner
5% chance that he plays in 2014
This also seems like a bit of a long shot, given K-State's apparent depth at the wide receiver position. Tyler Lockett is a gamebreaker. Judah Jones and Andre Davis are also candidates to add some speed and gamebreaker ability to the position. The other guys are more possession receivers (Deante Burton, Curry Sexton, Kyle Klein, and Steven West). If Heath were to blow the coaches away with his ability and it was believed that the receivers would need a little extra firepower to support Lockett, perhaps Heath could be in a position to supply it. Regardless, it appears that he should be able to provide a skill set similar to Tramaine Thompson's.
Elijah Lee, Linebacker / 3rd down package defensive end
5% chance that he plays in 2014
Again, the depth and talent should be there to prevent Lee from needing to burn his redshirt. However, it's not a given that the junior college linebackers will quickly adopt K-State's schemes and Lee has an advantage over them by getting into camp earlier. Since K-State will often play 2 linebackers, it seems like Mike Moore can reprise his role as a 3rd down defensive end, if needed. However, it's also possible (although I think doubtful) that Moore stays on the field as a linebacker in the nickel. It is also possible that injuries become an issue to the point that the coaches would prefer Lee to see the field over less prepared junior college playes or other linebackers that may not be as athletic as Lee.