Ten BYU Football Players Primed for a Breakout Season

Casey Lundquist

We've been counting down the top 10 BYU football players that are primed for a breakout season in 2020; today, we finish our countdown. Obviously, we're going to assume that football happens this fall. Before we get started, it's important to define what a breakout season means. For the purposes of this series, a breakout season means a player takes on a much bigger role than the prior season. That could be from role player to starter or starter to playmaker. Let's get started!

Honorable Mentions

  • Keenan Ellis, Ben Bywater, D'Angelo Mandell, Dax Milne, Alema Pilimai

No. 10 - Gunner Romney

Gunner Romney BYU Football

Gunner Romney was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. Romney has been productive for an underclassman, but he hasn't met the lofty (and probably unfair) expectations put on him when he arrived on campus. Through two seasons, Romney has 539 receiving yards on 44 receptions and 4 touchdowns. It's important to note that Romney has battled through some injuries at BYU - he's also been behind three very experienced Wide Receivers.

BYU needs multiple Wide Receivers to take a big step forward in 2020. Gunner will not only have the opportunity to become a clear-cut starter, he will also have the chance to become 'the guy' at WR for BYU. I expect Romney to go back-and-forth with Neil Pau'u for the most receiving yards at Wide Receiver in 2020.

No. 9 - Seleti Fevaleaki

Seleti Fevaleaki was recruited by Kalani Sitake and Ilaisa Tuiaki when they coached at the University of Utah. Then they recruited Fevaleaki when they moved to Oregon State. In the end, Fevaleaki followed Sitake and Tuiaki to BYU.

Seleti Fevaleaki will be one of a few newcomers that will look to bolster BYU's pass rush this season. After a mission and a redshirt season, Fevaleaki has the opportunity to earn playing time at Defensive End in 2020. Fevaleaki had a good spring and I expect him to become a contributor in 2020. The Defensive Line is the most Senior of any position group, but I still expect him to find a role on the defense.

No. 8 - Keenan Pili

Keenan Pili BYU Football Boise State Football

Keenan Pili, the brother of Trajan Pili and 2020 signee Logan Pili, was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. Pili signed with BYU over offers from Cal, Utah, Vanderbilt, and Washington State.

Pili battled a shoulder injury throughout his Freshman campaign. In total, the shoulder injury sidelined Pili for four games and limited his reps in various other games. Pili tallied 26 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in 9 games.

Pili is one of the fastest Linebackers on BYU's roster. His sideline-to-sideline speed makes him a versatile asset for the BYU defense. He can help in coverage but he becomes really dangerous when he is able to use his speed in the open field. I'd like to see more of him off the edge like we saw against Liberty: 

No. 7 - Keanu Hill

Keanu Hill stretches for the goal line against Idaho State.

Keanu Hill showed potential in very limited reps last season. Keanu appeared in the Idaho State game where he had 40 receiving yards on 3 receptions. His best reception of that game was actually called back by a holding penalty - Hill kept one foot inbounds as he caught a deep pass from Joe Critchlow.

Hill played in a run-heavy offense in high school and had limited opportunities to showcase his talent. As a result, Hill flew under the radar as a recruit - BYU and Wyoming were Hill's only offers. BYU was happy to land Hill's services and 2020 might be the year that BYU fans understand why. BYU needs contributors to step up at Wide Receiver this year and Hill will have the opportunity to earn significant playing time. I think Hill will become a rotation player at minimum in 2020.

No. 6 - Blake Freeland

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Blake Freeland was a True Freshman in 2019 who started seven games for BYU at Right Tackle. Freeland's first start came against Boise State where he locked down the starting job for the rest of the season. Starting at Tackle as a True Freshman at the FBS level is impressive. It's especially impressive, however, for Freeland since 2019 was his first season playing Offensive Line - Freeland played Quarterback and Tight End in high school.

With more experience under his belt, I expect Freeland to take a big step forward in 2020. The starting job won't be handed to him - he will have some competition in Harris LaChance and Mo Unutoa. I believe Freeland will lock down the starting job and become a key piece of BYU's Offensive Line moving forward.

No. 5 - Chaz Ah You

Chaz Ah You

Chaz Ah You was one of BYU's best playmakers on defense in 2019. Last season, he had 40 tackles, 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 1 forced then recovered fumble (Sports reference). Although his Sophmore season was productive, I expect Ah You to take a big step forward in 2020. Ah You's ceiling is as high as any player on BYU's defense.

Ah You underwent shoulder surgery and missed spring practices. Whether he moves to Safety or sticks at Linebacker, Ah You should be a staple on the BYU defense in 2020.

No. 4 - Uriah Leiataua

Uriah Leiataua

Uriah Leiataua showed flashes last year after suffering various injuries as an underclassman. In 2019, he recorded 19 tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Against Utah State, Leiataua was named on Pro Football Focus' Team of the Week. Leiataua's abilities align with a four-down front which is the scheme that BYU ran during spring ball. A new scheme could set up Leiataua for a big Senior season. Leiataua is my pick for the player who will lead the team in sacks at the end of the season.

No. 3 - Zach Wilson

Zach Wilson BYU Cougars Football

Zach Wilson needs to win the starting QB job before he can have a breakout Junior season. However, I expect him to win it during fall camp. Wilson showed strengths and weaknesses during his Junior campaign; for a full review of Wilson's performance in 2019, you can read this piece that I put together last week.

With an additional year of experience and a healthy off season, I expect Wilson to take a big step forward in 2020. Throwing for more than 3,500 yards is a realistic goal if he stays healthy. The true barometer of Wilson's success will be whether he's able to take big steps forward in terms of protecting the football. Wilson simply threw too many costly interceptions in 2019.

No. 2 - Troy Warner

byu-football-five-players-who-stood-out-at-spring-football-Troy-Warner

During spring football, you could argue that Troy Warner was the MVP on defense. Warner finally looked healthy after suffering a lisfranc injury in 2017. Warner looked like the player he was recruited to be and the player he was prior to injury. Warner intercepted a Jaren Hall pass on the first day of spring, and he nearly intercepted a slant route during goal line segment. BYU needs help at Safety in 2020 and Warner looks capable of filling that role.

In his final season as a Cougar, I expect Warner to take a big step forward and be one of the best players on defense. 

During spring football, you could argue that Troy Warner was the MVP on defense. Warner finally looked healthy after suffering a lisfranc injury in 2017. Warner looked like the player he was recruited to be and the player he was prior to injury. Warner intercepted a Jaren Hall pass on the first day of spring, and he nearly intercepted a slant route during goal line segment. BYU needs help at Safety in 2020 and Warner looks capable of filling that role.

In his final season as a Cougar, I expect Warner to take a big step forward and be one of the best players on defense.

No. 1 - Isaac Rex

Isaac Rex, the son of former BYU Tight End Byron Rex, is my leading candidate to have a breakout season in 2020. Rex only had one reception for 23 yards in 2019. (BYU Cougars) Following a redshirt season last year and an impressive showing during the few spring practices, I expect him to play a big role in the offense this season. Rex is 6'6, 250 lbs. and he moves really well. Rex uses all of his 6’6 frame to impact the game as a blocker and a receiver. He is a matchup nightmare for smaller Defensive Backs.

Matt Bushman is the undisputed starter at Tight End for BYU in 2020. However, I expect BYU to run more 12 personnel (1 Running Back & 2 Tight Ends) to get Isaac Rex on the field.

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Casey Lundquist
Casey Lundquist

Editor

A couple notes from spring ball...there were two guys that stood out during ever practice: Warner and Rex. I've tried not to over-hype those two guys because one hasn't played significant time and the other has been injured for two years...but man they looked good.

If WRs stay healthy, I think there's a scenario where that group takes a step forward despite losing three seniors. I'm high on the three returning players and a few of the newcomers. I also think Keanu Hill is the real deal.

Icecougar
Icecougar

I would be thrilled to see Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox play their last year injury free and go out with a bang.

I totally agree that Rex will have a really good year, similar to the impact that Dallin Holker had prior to leaving on his mission.

I also think BYU fans won't miss Hifo, Shumway and Simon because of the play we'll see from Dax Milne, Gunner Romney and Neil Pau'u combined with the depth and productivity we'll see from the TE group. The one thing that gives me pause is the 2nd and 3rd string guys are unproven and inexperienced so it will hurt if we start suffering injuries to this group.


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