The 2020 Baylor football season is quickly approaching with the first scheduled game against Ole Miss on September 6 (should COVID somehow subside), and I’m curious to see how the team performs without several lost players and with a brand new coaching staff! Last month I shared my 5 favorite Baylor football players from the past 5 years, so as we prepare for the upcoming season, I compiled my 5 essential players who will take the field in 2020. This list mostly features offensive athletes since I predict Baylor will need to score fast and often to make up for the lack of returning defensive experience.
- Senior QB Charlie Brewer: As the leader of the 2020 squad, Brewer easily takes the top spot in my list of 5 essential athletes. Baylor’s 2019 team heavily relied on defensive standouts like James Lynch (DT), Clay Johnston (LB), Grayland Arnold (CB), Bravvion Roy (DT), James Lockhart (DE), etc., to stay neck-and-neck with opponents, finishing multiple games with only a field goal or touchdown advantage. Because every previously mentioned defensive star either graduated or declared early for the NFL draft, Brewer and his offense will have to step up if they want to vie for the No. 1 placement in the Big 12 and a consecutive run for a spot in the CFP final four. Brewer was incredibly tough throughout 2019, taking late and unnecessary hits in nearly every game, and he’ll have to ensure consistency and connection with his receivers if the Bears aim to rack up the points. Last season, Brewer completed 251 of 389 passing attempts for 3,161 yards with 21 TDs and 7 interceptions. He also added 147 carries for 344 yards and 11 rushing TDs.
- Junior LB Terrel Bernard: After All-American starting MLB Clay Johnston tore his Achilles in the sixth game against Texas Tech, backup Bernard shocked Baylor and Red Raiders fans alike with his explosive and agile performance. The sophomore finished the 2019 season with a team-high 112 tackles, 9.5 for a loss of 44 yards, 4.5 sacks for a loss of 33 yards, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 5 QB hurries and 2 pass breakups. Entering his junior season, Bernard is one of 5 essential players because the Bears will have to make up for their new defensive line and loss of fellow talented LB Jordan Williams. However, the now-upperclassman will have adequate opportunities to prove his skill and lead the entire defense under possibly the best defensive coaching minds in the country.
- Junior WR Tyquan Thornton: Thornton has been an extremely consistent and accurate receiver since his first game as a freshman. Since the Bears lost All-American WR Denzel Mims, Thornton may possibly be WR1 among a collection of impressive receivers. During his freshman year in 2018, Tyquan recorded 20 catches for 354 yards (averaging 17.7 yards or at least one first down per catch) with 3 TDs including a career-long catch of 41 yards against Texas Tech, which was the longest TD of the year for Baylor. He started in 11 of 14 games for Baylor this past season, and finished with 45 catches for 782 yards and 5 TDs. During the Baylor vs. OSU game, Tyquan caught a career-long 78-yard pass, which, according to Baylor Athletics, was “the third-longest pass play in program history to not result in a touchdown.” If Thornton and Brewer find a reliable stride every game, I don’t see why Baylor’s offense can’t be as high-scoring as the best teams of the past.
- Senior RB Trestan Ebner: A hybrid receiver/running back reminiscent of former Bear/current San Francisco 49er Jalen Hurd, Ebner could be on the brink of a historic season. The Bears are in no short supply of talented backs (despite the loss of JaMycal Hasty), but Ebner’s ability to catch almost every ball and outrun even the quickest DBs is worth categorizing as a top 5 essential personnel. Although his stats aren’t as stunning as fellow RB John Lovett—he (Ebner) had 53 carries for 250 yards and 3 TDs as well as 24 catches for 317 yards and 2 TDs in 2019—Ebner has a dynamic proficiency that makes him a standout among every back and an important one to watch in 2020.
- Sophomore K John Mayers: Who says special teams isn’t important? As a lowly freshman, Mayers had some of the most important and literal game-changing performances in all of 2019 Baylor Athletics. He finished 16 of 19 (84.21 completion percentage) in field goals with a career-long 51 yarder, and managed to make 53 of 53 extra points last season. Mayers won the game for Baylor against Iowa State with a 38-yard field goal, and in the Bears’ 2019 victory against TCU, Mayers hit the 51 yard field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation—the longest one made by a Bear since 2013. Should any of the 2020 games be close in score (which, let’s be honest, they definitely will since we can’t have nice things), Mayers’ accuracy will be essential.