I love watching these players develop and grow. It’s not always easy to tell who is going to continue to get better but I like to try. I’ve been watching these guys closely ever since they stepped on campus. I know there are many guys who are going to have a great season but I narrowed it down to 5 guys that I expect to have a huge year.
I’m not going to give you the obvious guys like Malik, Hassan, Marshon, Yasir, Tabarius or CJ.
I’m going to tell you little about the 5 guys to watch for a BIG year and then my man, @CSZCardsHive, is going to share his insight after breaking down some film.
I’m not going to lie to you, when Louisville announced the addition of a 2 star recruit who transferred from Liberty, I didn’t get my hopes up very high. But I’m going to tell you that this kid can flat out play. I was so impressed with him last season. He had 37 tackles, 1 INT and his 10 pass break-ups finished eighth nationally and tied for the ACC lead. And that was year 1 in a new program. Year two should be his time to shine and look for him to be 1st team All-ACC when the season concludes. You could say he had his breakout year last season and I wouldn’t disagree but this year he will garner national attention therefore I’m calling him a breakout player
Hive Film Evaluation – Tre Clark wasn’t very well known when he transferred from Liberty, but he quickly made his presence on the team felt when he showed up for fall camp last year and showed that he had what it took to be the alpha dog and lockdown corner the secondary desperately needed. One season later, and we’re talking about Clark potentially being a first round pick in the near future and being the best corner to dawn a Cardinals uniform since Jaire Alexander. Last season, Clark was an absolute menace in coverage. He only managed to haul in 1 interception, but he was among the top in the nation in pass breakups with 10 and routinely shut down his side of the field against quality talent week after week. Standing at just 5’10 180 ILBs, he isn’t the most physically imposing corner, but he certaintly makes up for it in near flawless technique in coverage and top tier confidence that you need as a CB1. I fully expect Clark to have a First Team All-ACC caliber season and be highly regarded by NFL scouts and media for his technique, athleticism, and long arms.
I know the safety spot is one of concern for Louisville this year but it should give this freshman many opportunities to see the field and make an impression. It seemed as though he would be second on the depth chart behind transfer Kendrick Duncan (who should be on this list). But in the first 2 deep depth chart, Perry and Duncan were listed the 2 starters at safety (Perry at strong and Duncan at free).
Perry is rated as the No. 39 best prospect in school history. Look for him to make the most of his opportunities.
Hive Film Evaluation – Ben Perry was viewed by most as the most talented player in the Cards 2021 signing class and ever since he’s shown up to campus in January, he’s done nothing but earn praise from coaches and teammates and shown why he was as highly touted as he was coming out of high school. Perry is very much a do-it-all type of safety and already has a solid frame for a freshman standing at 6’2 200 ILBs. He really shines when he’s playing free safety and is given the freedom on defense to make plays all over the field. He is an extremely willing and sure tackler but I think he will shine at the next level with his ability in coverage. Not only is he a great athlete but he has a great base and fundamentals for Coach Brown and Coach Gasparato to work with for the next 3-4 years! Perry is also a great leader for his age which is what this staff needs out of its young players in order to instill the culture they’ve been talking about since arriving from App St. Perry is currently listed as the starter alongside Duncan Jr on the depth chart but I anticipate Cole will win out over him due to experience. But, that speaks more to how good Cole is than anything against Perry. He’s done everything a true freshman can do up to this point to win a starting role, or at the very least a guaranteed spot in the rotation. I expect him to not only get a lot of snaps this season but make a few game changing plays as well.
Smith finished last season third on the team in receptions. With both Dez and Tutu gone to play on Sundays, it would stand to reason that Smith would be primed for a big year. Both Smith and Justin Marshall (who could easily be on this list) look to be the guys at wide receiver. We saw a glimpse of what Braden is capable of when he had receptions of 63, 36, 29, 27 and 23 yards last season.
We could also see Braden returning punts this season. I love the philosophy of getting the ball in his hands more.
Hive Film Evaluation – Braden Smith is a name a lot of fans are familiar with because of his explosive debut against WKU where he had 4 catches for 110 yards, including a 63 yarder on 3rd and long deep in the Cards own territory. He had at least one catch in every game of the season, including a game high 7 receptions against Syracuse, but he wasn’t able to find the endzone or really recreate that magic we saw in that first game against WKU. To be completey fair though, last season was very far from normal and transitioning from JUCO to high level P5 football is going to be an adjustment for any player, no matter how talented you are. That’s why I expect Braden Smith to have a more consistent season this year and possibly be the go to guy for Malik. Standing at 5’10 190 ILBs, Smith has the size and speed to play just about anywhere on the field whether it be on the outside or in the slot, and he also has the speed and route running ability to get open at a high rate. The loss of Tutu to the pros leaves a massive hole for someone like Smith to potentially fill and I think after a year in the system and being a former QB, not only does he have the skills and athleticism to perform, but also an advanced football IQ, which will definitely help him as the Cards try to figure out who the next go to guy will be in the passing game. I would not be the least bit surprised if Smith was the team leader in receptions and reception yards and I don’t think most of the people around the program would be either!
I love this dude’s game. I feel like the talent is there and once he puts it all together, he will be a force. I felt like he was out of position a few times last season but that was a result of being in a new system. With a year of experience under coach Brown, year two should put him in the right spots to let his natural physical athletic ability do what it can do. This year he will just react with confidence as opposed to thinking before he reacts. Quicker reactions will lead to big plays that he is fully capable of making on a consistent basis. Yaya has put on about 15 pounds of pure muscle but he is still fast and quick. Huge year ahead for this 6’4″ 270 pound junior.
Hive Film Evaluation – Yaya Diaby is a player that many fans expected to lead the Cardinals in sacks last season and fill up the stat sheet. While that wasn’t the case, when you turn on the film, it’s evident Diaby played well and it’s very reasonable to believe this season we will see his talent show more in the box score. Diaby constantly demanded double teams and opened things up for the blitzing linebackers on numerous occasions throughout the season. He didn’t record any sacks but there were at least 6 I saw that were created by the double teams Diaby drew. His pass rush moves were a bit raw but his strength and explosiveness are undeniable on tape. Also, full access to the facilities and weight room will also help, as it seemed he did have trouble against bigger OTs. Diaby is now up to 273 ILBs which is around 20 pounds heavier than what he weighed in at last season. That extra muscle and weight is going to help Diaby out tremendously and from how the coaches have talked about him, I think he’s been able to retain his explosiveness even with the extra weight. The scary thing is, he may be even more explosive now! Diaby is primed to establish himself as a top 3 player on a top 25 defense this upcoming season and personally, I think he will.
The O-Line is going to look a little different this year. Losing coach Ledford seems to be a big one but the improvements of several returning players coupled with the addition of a guy like Hudson should be a good thing for the Louisville offense. Here is a breakdown of the whole O -Line.
Hudson, a KY native, comes home after playing 2 seasons at Virginia Tech. He can play all 5 spots on the line making him so versatile that it will be hard to keep him on the sidelines. I believe Hudson playing on the interior of the line will bolster the running game which could be huge with the loss of Javian Hawkins in the backfield.
Hudson is also on the track and field team where he competes in discus throw and shot put.
Hive Film Evaluation – Hudson is a versatile interior offensive lineman who was a huge get for the staff literally (listed at 6’4 310 ILBs) and figuratively. He was a freshman All-American while at Virginia Tech so he has plenty of talent to go along with a solid work ethic. The former 4 star could easily be the next great Cardinal OL. His athleticism and feet for an OL is what really stands out to me. He is a perfect fit for what Satterfield likes to do. He’s violent off the snap in the run game and his footwork allows him to hold up phenomenally in pass protection. He’s also extremely strong, as once he gets ahold of someone, they aren’t going anywhere. This season we will probably see him mostly play a similar role to what we saw Cam DeGeorge play for the Cards last season. Basically, a jack of all trades OL, although he will probably play more on the interior than outside, who doesn’t necessarily start the whole season but, by season’s end, he’ll have played the most snaps or close to it. With Cole Bentley cemented as the starting center, that is the best role for Hudson for next season. But after this season, I think Hudson takes over as the team’s starting center.
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) April 19, 2021
I could have used so many other guys on this list as well. Including almost anyone on the O line.
At running back, I think Trevion Cooley is the future but I’m not sure he will get enough touches to be a breakout player this year. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if he had a huge year.
At safety, I mentioned earlier that Kendrick Duncan could/should be on this list too. So Hive was gracious enough to give us a film evaluation of him also – Duncan Jr was arguably the biggest pickup in the transfer portal this offseason, as the need for experience and talent at the safety position could not be understated at the time with only 5 freshman guaranteed to be on the roster. Standing at 6’3 215 ILBs, Duncan Jr not only looks the part, he brings it in every aspect of the game. Whether it be making a play up in the box, dropping back in coverage and making a play on the ball, or leading his teammates off the field, Duncan Jr is the total package at safety. Before coming to Louisville, Duncan Jr totaled 146 tackles, 6 INTs, 21 pass breakups, and 3.5 tackles for loss. I fully expect him to be one of the best players on the defense and a potential NFL draft pick after this season, although he does have 2 years of eligibility if he chooses to use it!
At WR, Justin Marshall will be absolutely solid as well as seeing big games from a few other younger guys like Jordan Watkins and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, if they get opportunities.
Other names to keep an eye on are Dezmond Tell, Ashton Gillotte, Greedy Vance and K.J. Cloyd.
As Always, GO CARDS!