A needlessly early look at the 2024 Kansas football roster

photo by: Jonathan Mouer/Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Lance Leipold speaks to reporters during a press conference in Phoenix on Friday, Dec. 22, 2023.

The dust has just settled on the 2023 season, the final echoes from the referees’ 27 penalty calls in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl have subsided — though who am I kidding, those were mostly unmiked — and now it’s time for eight months of speculation.

The Kansas football roster is far from finalized, particularly after the recent departures of players like Austin Booker and Ar’maj Reed-Adams created unanticipated needs, but the team signed its 17-man freshman class out of high school on Dec. 20 and the early transfer window is now nearing its end.

There is a smaller spring window to come, but we are already getting a good idea of what KU will look like in 2024. Much like last season, the key position groups will look pretty familiar entering the year, particularly on offense.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (6) and Kansas running back Devin Neal (4) congratulate each other following their win over Illinois on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. Kansas defeated Illinois, 34-23.

Quarterback: The mission of the 2023 offseason was to make Jalon Daniels “bulletproof.” The mission of 2024 may be to acknowledge that he has a proverbial bullet hole — his recurring back tightness situation, the details of which are still foggy for the general public — and to focus on mending it. New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has already spoken publicly about wanting him to “attack” his rehab process.

Cole Ballard should be the favorite to back up Daniels — which could mean some more playing time — after a surprise 2023 campaign, although freshman Isaiah Marshall, who resembles Daniels in play style, will enroll early and could hit the ground running.

Running back: Devin Neal hasn’t yet made an official announcement about his future, but ESPN reported on Dec. 26 that he plans to come back from his senior season. He’ll be joined by longtime running mate Daniel Hishaw Jr., who will look to get his groove back after a lackluster second half of 2023.

Sevion Morrison could finally see the field for extended time after getting just 33 carries in two KU seasons, while Johnny Thompson Jr. has a chance for some action as a true sophomore. Torry Locklin, who was recruited by David Beaty, still has another year of eligibility to do his whole versatility thing.

Wide receiver: For the third year in a row, this group will look basically the same, with Lawrence Arnold and Quentin Skinner on the outside and Luke Grimm in the slot, not to mention familiar returnees in Doug Emilien and Trevor Wilson. The only thing to watch for will be the involvement of Keaton Kubecka, who saw some offensive snaps as a freshman.

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Kansas tight end Jared Casey celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Lawrence.

Tight end: This position will be difficult to evaluate because Jared Casey is its most accomplished player but doesn’t fit the model of a typical tight end in terms of usage or build and will have to find a home in Grimes’ scheme as he did in Andy Kotelnicki’s. Trevor Kardell hasn’t caught more than six passes in a year yet — could 2024 be his breakout campaign, or will Iowa State transfer DeShawn Hanika step in and assert himself as the starter?

Offensive line: Two anchors in Dominick Puni and Mike Novitsky will be gone, but what really threw a wrench into KU’s plans was Reed-Adams’ entry into the transfer portal on Sunday. The Jayhawks effectively need one more player to construct a sturdy line now, either a center to replace Novitsky or another guard if Michael Ford Jr. can move into the middle (where he has worked some in the past). Kobe Baynes would be one starting guard with young Calvin Clements (KU’s highest-rated offensive lineman in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, his first extended action) and veteran Bryce Cabeldue at tackle.

Kansas linebacker Cornell Wheeler (44) and Kansas defensive lineman Tommy Dunn Jr. (92) watch a Texas Tech field goal go wide during the fourth quarter on Saturday Nov. 11, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. Photo by Nick Krug

Defensive line: With Booker and Gage Keys’ unexpected departures after just one season each, this unit got a bit more uncertain but still features plenty of potential, especially with highly touted freshmen DJ Warner and Dak Brinkley coming in on the edge. Warner in particular has a chance to play as a freshman, especially given how much this unit tends to rotate.

Chances are Jereme Robinson and Youngstown State transfer Dylan Wudke will get the lion’s share of early snaps at defensive end with Dylan Brooks and Davion Westmoreland given opportunities to earn somewhat more time than they got in 2023, but this position is subject to change for sure.

Tackle is a bit clearer-cut with longtime program guys Tommy Dunn Jr. and DJ Withers at the forefront and Kenean Caldwell and Caleb Taylor behind them, but KU will miss the explosiveness of Keys and the reliability of Devin Phillips.

Linebackers: KU has already hinted at finding ways to move its personnel around at this position. It’ll need to mitigate the fact that its two most experienced players, Taiwan Berryhill Jr. and JB Brown, are stuck playing the same position, and it’ll have to rely on continued improvement from Jayson Gilliom and Cornell Wheeler as they hope to grow into starting roles. There may be some growing pains. The Jayhawks have aggressively hunted for portal players in this position and haven’t yet earned any commitments.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) celebrates with Kansas cornerback Mello Dotson (3) after Dotson’s interception during the fourth quarter on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. At left is Kansas safety O.J. Burroughs (5). Kansas defeated Illinois, 34-23.

Cornerbacks: Mello Dotson and Cobee Bryant, who have both announced they will return next season (Bryant did so Monday), will continue to form a fearsome duo on the outside. The question is who else can complement them with Kalon Gervin and Kwinton Lassiter gone. Opposing teams were already fond enough of targeting Lassiter and will now have the chance to go after much less experienced reserves.

LSU transfer Damarius McGhee is an unknown quantity after his injury-derailed season, while Brian Dilworth played three snaps in 2023. Jameel Croft and Jacoby Davis may be called upon to contribute sooner rather than later. The promising cornerback class of 2024 likely won’t be ready to play significant time in its first year.

Safeties: For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Kenny Logan Jr. will not be roaming center field for the Jayhawks. Their easiest remedy will be to find a way to put both Marvin Grant and OJ Burroughs on the field as much as possible. Jalen Dye did not play much at all after a promising spring and missed three tackles in just 21 snaps, according to PFF. He will have to compete with his brother Devin, who will join KU after accumulating 81 tackles for Utah State in 2023.

The Jayhawks also have a bevy of inexperienced young safeties, including Taylor Davis, a freshman this year whom coaches cited as a standout in bowl practices.

Kicker and punter: The kicker-by-committee approach Lance Leipold broached as a possibility late in the season never really came to fruition because KU did not have to bring out Owen Piepergerdes for any long field goals. He will likely be the starting kicker by default next season, as Damon Greaves returns at punter.


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