We almost could have cut and pasted from last year’s preview. All five starters return from last year, a year in which those five players started every regular-season game. Once again, we should be so lucky as to have that happen again this year.
Despite the continuity, K-State’s rushing attack was mostly ordinary in 2017, ranking 56th by S&P+. Efficiency (Success Rate) languished at 77th, while explosiveness (IsoPPP) was unusually high at 15th. Most of the peripheral stats are above average, but opposing defenses stuffed K-State behind the line way too often (108th by Stuff Rate).
Pass protection also was not a strength. The Wildcat line ranked 118th out of 130 teams in Adjusted Sack Rate, and this is with a surefire NFL Draft pick in Dalton Risner at right tackle.
Entering 2018, the biggest question for this unit is whether another year of Charlie Dickey’s tutelage raises their profile. If K-State is to take a step forward and compete for a Big 12 championship, then they will need to.
Stalwart right tackle Dalton Risner (Wiggins, Colo.) returns for his senior year. Risner could have gone pro last year, and many assumed he would after he recovered from shoulder surgery. His return provides a significant amount of optimism for this unit. He is now a two-time first-team all-Big 12 selection. While we make a lot about quarterbacks staying healthy in our offense, Risner’s health this year will be an important factor in the season’s result. He played hurt for a significant portion of last season.
Western Illinois transfer Nick Kaltmeyer (junior, Edwardsville, Ill.) is Risner’s backup here. Kaltmeyer started the bowl game against UCLA with Risner out. He played in every game, mostly in field goal protection, when Risner was hurt, or in garbage time. Being Risner’s backup doesn’t mean a lot of playing time (we hope), but don’t forget the great Mitchell-Beecham Shuffle. Dickey has shown he will go with the best five players available and isn’t afraid to move guys around on the line if they deserve time. If someone is underperforming at another position, Kaltmeyer may be an option.
Dickey is giving me whiplash at the right guard position. After splitting time with Abdul Beecham (Cibolo, Texas) at left guard in 2016, Tyler Mitchell (Mathews, Ala.) started all 13 games at right guard last year, while Beecham started all 13 at left guard. According to the just-released depth chart, the shuffle has occurred again, and Beecham will start at right guard. He showed some attitude in the West Virginia game, taking care of some, umm, let’s call it “aggressive” Mountaineer play. Sending a message without getting penalized is a fine line to walk, but a nice trait to see in an offensive lineman.
Redshirt freshman Josh Rivas (Hutchinson, Kan.) takes the understudy role at right guard. Rivas has dropped 45 lbs. since last season and was one of the most-discussed backups coming into the season. If Mitchell or Beacham struggles, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rivas get a shot at either guard position.
Junior Adam Holtorf (Seward, Neb.) stepped in for Reid Najvar after Najvar’s unexpected departure last season. The former Seward Bluejay performed ably a year ahead of schedule. The team’s resident weightroom warrior is now up to 295 lbs. and should be better prepared to man the middle of the offensive line in 2018.
Evan Curl (Flower Mound, Texas) slots as Holtorf’s backup. Curl played in three games last season.
Tyler Mitchell apparently moves over to left guard position entering this season. The junior started all 13 games at right guard last season. Mitchell split time at left guard with Abdul Beecham in 2016 before moving over to the right side last year. Still with me?
Redshirt freshman Ben Adler (Wichita, Kan.) cracks the rotation as Mitchell’s backup at left guard. The 6’4”, 307-lb. Trinity Academy product was one of K-State’s bigger local signings two years ago. Given the (relative) flux at guard the last two years, Adler’s as good a bet as any of the backups to see the field at some point.
Junior Scott Frantz (Lawrence, Kan.) returns for his third season as a starter at left tackle. After Risner, Frantz is probably the top lineman for the Wildcats. Disappointingly, Frantz did not earn all-conference recognition last year, but should be in the mix now.
Continuing the youth-movement in the two-deep, redshirt freshman Bill Kuduk (Chicago, Ill.) cracks the rotation behind Frantz. Kuduk was a composite three-star recruit from Marist High School, and played in the Blue-Gray All-American Bowl in high school. Played lacrosse in high school, which probably says good things for his footwork and mobility.
Nothing against these guys who bust their asses in practice every day, but if anyone beyond the two-deep sees the field this year, then things probably aren’t going well.
Hayden Perry (R. Jr., Emporia, Kan.): Junior-college transfer from Hutchinson who redshirted last year.
Justin Eichman (So., Topeka, Kan.): At 6’9” and 348 lbs., Eichman is the biggest player on the roster, for whatever that’s worth. Transferred to K-State from Butler County CC.
Harrison Creed (R. Fr., Ulysses, Kan.): A top-10 Kansas recruit in 2016, redshirted last year. A bit surprised he didn’t crack the rotation this season.
Christian Duffie (Fr., Humble, Texas): One of two big OL recruiting wins in Texas for K-State last year, but he will almost certainly redshirt this season. Was a top-50 guard prospect by ESPN and was teammates with K-State quarterback signee John Holcombe.
Hayden Gillum (Fr., Plainville, Kan.): Unrated recruit who will probably redshirt this year. Athleticism evident in the three interceptions and four blocked field goals he recorded in high school. Also lettered all four years in basketball.
Marshall Kellner (Fr., De Soto, Kan.): Another unrated local recruit, will redshirt.
Kaitori Leveston (Fr., Waco, Texas): Stayed with commitment to K-State after a late offer from Texas. Will probably redshirt for developmental purposes, but look for him in the rotation next season.
Aidan Mills (Fr., Newton, Kan.): Originally signed in 2017, but deferred enrollment. Yet another of our multisport athletes.