Kansas State depth chart observations: Felix Anudike makes big jump as defensive end starter
Lenners emerges as top choice at tight end
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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
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
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