(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Predicting the stars of Maryland football this season

With about 48 hours until Maryland kicks off its season against No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, the TLB staff decided to take a stab at who will lead the team this season as it looks to compete with the giants of the Big Ten. While some players are easy picks, like running back Ty Johnson for Offensive Player of the Year, or defensive end Jesse Aniebonam for Defensive Player of the Year, some players flying under the radar are sure to break out this season.

22 members of our staff weighed in, giving their vote on who they believed would finish as the team MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, as well as Special Teams Player of the Year. Let us know what you think in our Twitter polls.

Note: This survey was conducted and concluded before the team released its Week 1 depth chart on Tuesday.

MVP

RB Ty Johnson – 77% (17 votes)

The Case for Johnson: The senior back was arguably Maryland’s MVP last season, rushing for a team-high 875 yards and five touchdowns. He did it all, adding another receiving touchdown in his junior campaign and returning kicks, which included a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown at Ohio State. If the Terps are going to improve from last year’s 4-8 finish, Johnson will once again have to be the focal point of the offense.

QB Kasim Hill – 14% (3 votes)

The Case for Hill: This is more up in the air, with interim head coach Matt Canada declining to name a starter ahead of the team’s opener and instead naming Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome as co-starters for Saturday’s matchup. However, when Hill, a former 4-star recruit from Washington, D.C., arrived on campus last fall, he was deemed the future of Maryland football. He responded well to rehab for his torn ACL, as did Pigrome, and was ready for preseason practice in early August. Expect Hill to be the guy under center for the Terps, sooner rather than later.

Antoine Brooks, Jr. – 9% (2 votes)

The Case for Brooks, Jr.: It isn’t very often that you see a defensive player starring as a team’s MVP, but there’s always a chance. Brooks, Jr., the team’s junior nickel back, is looking to build off a sophomore season in which he was tied for third on the team with two interceptions. He also finished second on the team with 77 tackles and working so close to the line of scrimmage, he’ll get a bunch of opportunities to rack up tackles, tackles for loss and possibly blitz the quarterback off the edge.

 

Offensive Player of the Year

RB Ty Johnson – 59% (13 votes)

The Case for Johnson: As was stated in Johnson’s case for MVP, the offense should revolve around him again this season. One area where Johnson could contribute more is the passing game. Despite his game-breaking ability, he only reeled in five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. With wide receiver DJ Moore, who led the team last season with 80 catches, in the NFL now, Canada should utilize Johnson more as a receiver, whether that’s through screens and option routes out of the backfield, or spreading Johnson out like a traditional wideout.

QB Kasim Hill – 18% (4 votes)

The Case for Hill: Maryland fans will still have to wait until Saturday at noon to see if Hill is indeed the starting quarterback, but if he is, then he is without a doubt a serious option to be the team’s best offensive player. A dual-threat quarterback, he showed a lot of promise before his season prematurely ended with a torn ACL. In the three games in which Hill played, he completed 18 of his 21 pass attempts for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged five yards per carry and rushed for another score.

WR Taivon Jacobs – 14% (3 votes)

The Case for Jacobs: With Moore in the NFL, Jacobs enters the season as the team’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver. Whether he can fill Moore’s shoes has yet to be seen, though. He was perfect as a second option last year, recording 47 receptions for 553 yards and five scores, all which ranked second behind Moore. But what will happen this year when he draws opposing team’s No. 1 corner and defenses game plan to shut him down? Jacobs’ first test is against Kris Boyd and Davante Davis, the Longhorns’ senior corners.

RB Anthony McFarland – 9% (2 votes)

The Case for McFarland: There was a lot of buzz in College Park when McFarland, a DeMatha product, opted to bypass powerhouses like Alabama and Miami and stay local. However, that excitement subdued when McFarland arrived for his freshman year still recovering from a season-ending injury he suffered in his senior season of high school. Add that to being lumped in a veteran running backs unit, and the coaching staff decided to redshirt McFarland his freshman year. He should find a way to contribute to the offense this season, whether that is getting carries with Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, or catching passes.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

S Darnell Savage, Jr. – 50% (11 votes)

The Case for Savage, Jr.: Savage, Jr. enters his senior season as the most experienced starter on the defense, starting his last 25 games which dates back to the season finale of his freshman year. He was tied for the team-high in interceptions last season with three, and also returned one for a touchdown. Despite playing deep, he was always around the ball, finishing fifth on the team with 59 tackles.

BUCK Jesse Aniebonam – 18% (4 votes)

The Case for Aniebonam: Aniebonam is arguably the team’s most talented defensive player. After a nine-sack season in 2016, his season was cut short in 2017 after suffering an ankle injury in the team’s opener at Texas. The entire defensive line missed his presence, as the team finished with just 16 sacks. With Auburn transfer Byron Cowart lining up on the other side of the line, he could take pressure off Aniebonam as he returns to the Maryland defense.

DB Antoine Brooks, Jr. – 18% (4 votes)

The Case for Brooks, Jr.: When you look at the season that Brooks, Jr. had without Aniebonam and a consistent pass rush, there’s reason for optimism that he can have an even better season in his junior campaign. With Aniebonam and Cowart likely taking pressure off Brooks, Jr. in the run game, he might have more opportunities to contribute as a more traditional defensive back and grab interceptions.

LB Tre Watson – 14% (3 votes)

The Case for Watson: Watson, a transfer from Illinois, takes Jermaine Carter, Jr.’s spot in the middle of the defense, and will quarterback the defense this season. While he missed three games last season due to injury, the senior from Tampa recorded 65 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception and even led Illinois with five quarterback hurries. His production mirrors that of Carter, Jr. last season, who ranked first on the team with 90 tackles, but also led the team with 3.5 sacks.

 

Freshman of the Year

K Joseph Petrino – 27% (6 votes)

The Case for Petrino: When the team released its first depth chart on Tuesday, Petrino, a freshman from Richmond Hill, Georgia, was listed as the team’s starting kicker. Petrino comes with a combination of range and accuracy that the team hasn’t had in a kicker since Brad Craddock, who won the Lou Garza Award in 2014 as the nation’s top kicker. Kicking was putrid for the Terps last season, as they went 8-for-15 in field goal attempts. With some questions still looming about how Canada’s new offense will look in Maryland, Petrino might find himself with a lot of opportunities to put points on the board.

DB Jordan Mosley – 27% (6 votes)

The Case for Mosley: Mosley was expected to join the Maryland defense as a linebacker when he committed, but he was listed as a defensive back in the team’s first depth chart. He certainly has the size to move over to safety, at 6-foot, 203 pounds, and is listed as a backup behind Savage, Jr. Mosley could see some playing time as a linebacker-safety hybrid in sub packages.

WR Jeshaun Jones – 23% (5 votes)

The Case for Jones: Jones is one of the bigger options at wideouts for Maryland, standing at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. The Fort Myers, Florida, native faces an uphill battle to get playing time, listed behind veterans like Jacobs, senior Jahrvis Davenport and junior DJ Turner. But with questions at receiver behind Jacobs, Jones could work himself onto the field by the end of the season.

TE Chigoziem Okonkwo – 18% (4 votes)

The Case for Okonkwo: When Maryland uses a two tight end set, Okonkwo will line up with senior Avery Edwards. Okonkwo, a Powder Springs, Georgia, native, is a little smaller than Edwards, but still a big target at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He could contribute as an extra blocker in run situations, as well as help out a Maryland passing offense in need of someone to step up this season.

DB Raymond Boone – 5% (1 vote)

The Case for Boone: With a lot of depth and experience in the secondary, Boone, a three-star recruit from Greenbelt, Maryland, will likely redshirt his freshman year. His most likely way to see the field this season would be to find a role on special teams.

 

Special Teams Player of the Year

RB Ty Johnson – 27% (6 votes)

The Case for Johnson: Johnson will once again be the primary kick returner for Maryland, and he’ll get many opportunities to set the offense up with great field position. He averaged 24.3 yards per return, including his 100-yard kick-return touchdown at Ohio State.

K Joseph Petrino – 27% (6 votes)

The Case for Petrino: Petrino will not only be kicking field goals for the Terps, but also handling kickoff duties. His strong leg should keep returners in the endzone and take some pressure off Maryland’s coverage unit.

RB Javon Leake – 23% (5 votes)

The Case for Leake: While Johnson mainly took care of the kick return duties, Leake returned 13 last year. The sophomore from Greensboro, North Carolina, averaged 21.1 yards but had a 82-yard return in a 42-39 win against Indiana last season.

P Wade Lees – 14% (3 votes)

The Case for Lees: Lees was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List, given to the nation’s top punter, for the second straight season this summer. The 30-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, recorded a season-best seven punts of 50 or more yards last season.

RB Jake Funk – 9% (2 votes)

The Case for Funk: The reigning Special Teams Player of the Year is a fan favorite on the team, contributing in a variety of ways. He’s listed as the backup kickoff returner behind Johnson, and also contributes on coverage units.

Daniel Oyefusi

Daniel Oyefusi is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is majoring in Multiplatform Journalism and minoring in Law and Society. This fall, he covered Maryland football for The Left Bench, a student-run campus publication. This past summer, Daniel worked as an intern at TMZ, specifically assisting in the TMZ Sports department. He has written for other publications, including Terp Magazine and The Diamondback, the university's student-run newspaper. He is also president of the Maryland Association of Black Journalists and Vice President of Media and Web Content for the UMD Sports Business Society.
About Daniel Oyefusi 88 Articles
Daniel Oyefusi is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is majoring in Multiplatform Journalism and minoring in Law and Society. This fall, he covered Maryland football for The Left Bench, a student-run campus publication. This past summer, Daniel worked as an intern at TMZ, specifically assisting in the TMZ Sports department. He has written for other publications, including Terp Magazine and The Diamondback, the university's student-run newspaper. He is also president of the Maryland Association of Black Journalists and Vice President of Media and Web Content for the UMD Sports Business Society.