Kansas State depth chart observations: Felix Anudike makes big jump as defensive end starter

Lenners emerges as top choice at tight end

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike (91) sacks Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (17) during last year's game in Manhattan.

One newcomer and a forgotten face from the past were the most noteworthy takeaways when Kansas State coach Chris Klieman released his first official depth chart Monday ahead of the Saturday season opener against Stanford.

Sophomore Felix Anudike, who appeared in five games last year as a true freshman, vaulted to the top of the chart at one defensive end position ahead of super-senior Bronson Massie. On offense, senior transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe and junior Sammy Wheeler had received most of the hype at tight end, only to be listed in a dead heat behind super-senior Nick Lenners.

Anudike, a 6-foot-3, 255-pounder from Lee's Summit, Missouri, had received rave reviews throughout fall camp after recording a modest three tackles with one sack last year. Khalid Duke will start at the other end, with senior transfer Timmy Horne and senior Eli Huggins at tackle.

More:Here's the Kansas State University football schedule for the 2021 season

"Tremendous," was defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman's assessment of Anudike's progress midway through camp. "Last year he was a good player that made splash plays in practice, but in the game situations you were always a little nervous.

"Now he's the guy, and I think he's stepped into more of a leadership role. You can just tell by the way he walks, talks (and) acts, he's going to be a good player for a lot of years."

Anudike agreed that his knowledge of the game has improved. He also has bulked up to 255 pounds after coming in before the COVID-19 quarantine at 215.

"Coming in last year, I didn't know that much about how to play my role as a defensive end," he said. "Then seeing Wyatt Hubert, Bronson Massie and everybody ahead of me, they taught me the game better and made me play even faster."

At tight end, Imatorbhebhe was touted as the heir apparent to Briley Moore, who made a splash last year as a graduate transfer. And Wheeler has impressed coaches with his pass-catching ability.

More:Chris Klieman excited about more Kansas State running backs than just Deuce Vaughn

Lenners, appeared in nine games last year with one start, but was hampered injuries and largely flew under the radar as Moore emerged as a favorite targets of quarterbacks Skylar Thompson and Will Howard. While not as much of a receiving threat as Imatorbhebhe and Wheeler — he has 16 career catches with one touchdown, he was a first-team all-Big 12 selection by the league coaches in 2019.

When asked early in camp about the depth chart at tight end, assistant coach Jason Ray suggested that it was too soon to tell.

"Right now, alphabetical," he said with a smile on Aug. 11.

Aside from Anudike's jump to the top, the biggest surprise may have been that Klieman listed three linebackers on the two-deep in place of a nickelback, though he had hinted last week that the Wildcats may present a more traditional look against a Stanford team not known for a wide-open offense.

While Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher had locked down the middle and weak-side linebacker spots, converted safeties Ryan Henington or Wayne Jones most likely will start on the strong side. Reggie Stubblefield and Aamaris Brown are the top candidates when K-State goes with a nickel set.

"We have a couple of packages where we'll use a little bit bigger player in Wayne Jones and Ryan Henington," Klieman said. "Then we have our speed nickel package where we're using more of Reggie and Aamaris Brown, but that's a position that we feel much better about at the end of fall camp than we did at the beginning of fall camp.

"If you put a plethora of wide receivers in, then we'd probably go with the speed kids playing nickel. So it's going to be a little bit based on what the personnel is that we see. Our nickel is still our Sam backer on four down, so (Henington and Jones) are both going to play as well as those two nickels."

More:K-State QB Skylar Thompson thinks he is a better player now than he was before injury

As expected, super-senior Skylar Thompson will start at quarterback, with sophomore Will Howard backing him up. And 2020 breakout start Deuce Vaughn will start at running back ahead of sophomore Joe Ervin, who opted out last year because of COVID-19.

K-STATE TWO-DEEP

OFFENSE

WR — Malik Knowles, Keenan Garber or Chabastin Taylor

LT — Cooper Beebe, Carver Willis

LG — Josh Rivas, KT Leveston or Dawson Delforge

C — Noah Johnson, Hayden Gillum

RG — Ben Adler, Hadley Panzer

RT — Christian Duffie, Logan Long

TE — Nick Lenners, Daniel Imatorbhebhe or Sammy Wheeler

QB — Skylar Thompson, Will Howard

FB — Jax Dineen, Mason Barta or Christian Moore

RB — Deuce Vaughn, Joe Ervin

WR — Phillip Brooks, Kade Warner

WR — Landry Weber, Tyrone Howell

DEFENSE

DE — Khalid Duke, Nate Matlack

DT — Timmy Horne, Robert Hentz

DT — Eli Huggins, Jaylen Pickle

DE — Felix Anudike, Bronson Massie

WLB — Cody Fletcher, Austin Moore

MLB — Daniel Green, Nick Allen

SLB — Ryan Henington or Wayne Jones

CB — Ekow Boye-Doe, Tee Denson

SS — Jahron McPherson, Ross Elder

FS — Russ Yeast, TJ Smith

CB — Julius Brents, Justin Gardner

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK — Taiten Winkel or Ty Zentner

KO —Ty Zentner or Chris Tennant

HOLD — Jack Blumer, Ty Zentner

LS — Randen Plattner Nelson Pipes

P — Ty Zentner or Jack Blumer

KOR — Malik Knowles, Deuce Vaughn

PR — Phillip Brooks, Malik Knowles