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29 Days Until Kansas Jayhawks Football: Senior Spotlight (part 1)

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We take a look at each of the Jayhawks in their final year with the team.

Oklahoma State v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Shane Jackson over at the Lawrence Journal World talked about Mike Lee’s expectations for his senior year, quoting his Big 12 Media Days interview about how this season is “my last ride. I want to give everything I got for my team.” While Lee has plans to make this a special senior year, he isn’t the only senior hoping to make one final mark on the program that has been his home for the last few years.

We’ve missed a few days in our countdown, but we are going to make that up to you today as we start to look at each of the seniors on this roster. Today we do the first 8 (out of 25) and we will look at the rest over the next two weeks. We’ll do a quick recap of each player’s KU career to date and try to predict what you can expect this year.

#1 Bryce Torneden, S from Lawrence, KS

Torneden came to KU in 2016 and played immediately. He has played in 34 of 36 possible games, starting in 24 of them. He has 159 total tackles (116 solo, 10.5 TFL) and 3 sacks, with 1 interception (returned for a TD) and 2 fumble recoveries. His junior year was by far his most productive, as he started in all 12 games and finished the season ranked second in total tackles. He was an honorable mention for the coaches All-Big 12 teams in 2018.

Pro Football Focus has rated Torneden as the best returning safety in the Big 12 this year, just in front of fellow senior Mike Lee. He mentioned at Big 12 Media Days that his goal is “to be All-Big 12 at the end of the year,” which is a realistic goal if he was able to improve over the summer. At the very least, I think it is safe to say that he will have a big impact on the field, whether that is through tough defense (and racking up stats) when opposing quarterbacks try to challenge him or keeping them from looking in his direction.

#2 Daylon Charlot - WR from Patterson, LA

Charlot was a highly-rated recruit who originally attended Alabama. After being scarcely used (2 catches in 5 games), he transferred to KU after his freshman season. After sitting out in 2016, he failed to find any traction in the offense, totaling only 13 receptions for 178 yards and 2 TDs in the last two seasons.

Given how highly he was rated, there is still hope that Charlot can turn in the kind of performance that many expected from him when he offers from multiple top-level schools. And since Les Miles recruited him at LSU coming out of high school, I’m sure that he has some ideas on how to use him. Add in the fact that there is no longer a star wide receiver ahead of him on the depth chart, and there is a decent chance he could break out this year.

#3 Elmore Hempstead Jr. - CB from Smackover, AR

Hempstead joined the team last year from Fort Scott CC, where he received all conference honors. He played sparingly in 2018, appearing in 7 games. He totaled 11 tackles, 1 interception and 2 passes defensed.

It is likely that he will continue to be defensive depth, with Hassan Defense and Corionne Harris slated to be starters. At best, he can be expected to make a few big plays, but it will be difficult to earn consistent time unless he surprises early.

#4 Shaquille Richmond - S from Oklahoma City, OK

Appearing in 15 games over 3 seasons, he has totaled 28 tackles (21 solo, 3 TFL) and 1 pass defensed.

Behind both Torneden and Lee on the depth chart, his best chance to make an impact will be on special teams. There will be a few opportunities to make an impact on select plays when he comes in as secondary depth, but given that the main guys are hardly off the field, it will be difficult to have a large impact on the defense.

#5 Azur Kamara - LB from Glendale, AZ

Kamara came to KU from Arizona Western College, where he led his team to the NJCAA national title game. Last year as a DE, he played in all 12 games with 3 starts, getting 16 total tackles (12 solo, 4 TFL) and 1 pass defensed. He also forced a fumble.

He has shifted to LB in the defense this year, where he is expected to fill the void left by the loss of Joe Dineen, Keith Loneker Jr and Osaze Ogbebor. Despite the lack of box score stats, he was routinely on the field in key situations, and I expect him to be one of the main cogs in the middle of the defense this year.

#9 Carter Stanley - QB from Vero Beach, FL

Stanley has never been THE quarterback for this team, but he has been a big part of most of the few positive moments in the last 3 years. He was 93-156 passing for 959 yards with 6 TDs and 6 INTs, but only played significant time in the final four games of the season. He was one of the heroes of the upset win over Texas (a win so shocking that I actually wrote TWO different quick reaction recaps for it), but his best game was probably also his first start against Iowa State the week before.

Going into his sophomore season, it seemed like he would get the opportunity to build off of the prior season’s successes, but he wasn’t even able to win the starting job. Ultimately, he played in 9 games, where he was 101-185 passing for 1108 yards with 4 TDs and 7 INTs. His best game again came against Texas, but it still wasn’t anything spectacular.

His junior year, Stanley played in 7 games, starting 2. Stuck behind Peyton Bender, he was unable to really make an impact until he got the starting nod in the Oklahoma State game. This was likely the best game of his career, where he was 24-32 for 247 yards and 3 TDs without an interception. But he couldn’t sustain it the next week, getting pulled early at West Virginia.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have an irrational love for Carter Stanley, a guy who has shown flashes in each season he has played. Whether his lack of long-term opportunity is a result of him being not quite good enough or because of David Beaty’s incompetence in running a team (or both) will forever be a subject of great debate, given the expectation that he won’t get the opportunity to start this year. Barring injury, I wouldn’t expect Stanley to see the field, as Les Miles doesn’t strike me as a guy that will get jumpy and change his QB mid-season.

#9 Najee Stevens-McKenzie - LB from Cleveland, OH

Stevens-McKenzie joined the Jayhawks from ASA College in New York, where he earned First-Team All-Conference honors. In his junior year, he played in 11 games on the defensive line and special teams (every game except Baylor) but didn’t show up in the box score. The highlight of his season was an interception against Texas.

As with Kamara, Steven-McKenzie has shifted from the defensive line to the LB position, likely due to a change in the defensive scheme. He is looking to step into the void left at the position and has an opportunity to make an immediate impact, especially as teams try to challenge the middle of the field early in the year.

#10 Khalil Herbert - RB from Coral Springs, FL

Herbert started playing immediately as a freshman, being one of the major pieces in a totally inept offense. The highlight of his KU career so far is the 2017 game against West Virginia, where he ran for 291 yards on 36 carries with 2 TDs. Injuries derailed the rest of that season. Last year, he was a backup to Pooka Williams, which limited his overall production as he lost a lot of opportunities to get out into open space.

This year looks to be more of the same. Pooka and Herbert are joined in the backfield by Dom Williams to make what is arguably the best RB room in the conference, but it is hard to say just how productive Herbert will be. A season like last year (500 yards, 5 TDs) is probably a good expectation for him.

Next Friday, we'll take a look at another group of our seniors that are preparing for their final season. In the meantime, tell us in the comments below which of these seniors you think will have the biggest impact this year.