(Photo of Malik Cunningham: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Louisville football program might have only just started spring practice this week, but it’s never too early to take an educated guess as to who will start for the Cardinals when they venture down to Atlanta to for their 2021 season opener.
Related: Way-Too-Early 2021 Season Projection
There’s still going to be a plethora of position battles throughout the remainder of spring ball, summer workouts, and even into fall camp, but Louisville Report decided to take a shot at giving an early projection at the Cardinals’ two-deep depth chart for the 2021 football season.
Malik Cunningham (6-1, 200, R-Jr)
Evan Conley (6-2, 215, So.)
Quick Hit: Barring another turnover-filled year, this is still Cunningham’s job to lose. However, if Cunningham continues to gift the ball to the other team, Conley could be inserted sooner rather than later. TJ Lewis and Shai Werts could also be inserted in emergency circumstances, or at the very least garbage time.
Hassan Hall (6-0, 204, Jr.)
Jalen Mitchell (5-10, 221, R-Fr.)
Quick Hit: With Javian Hawkins departing for the NFL, the Cardinals will now more than likely resort to running back by committee. If Hall can stay healthy, he should get a majority of the reps. Mitchell, Maurice Burkley and newcomer Trevion Cooley should also see the field a lot.
Wide Receiver (X)
Justin Marshall (6-3, 213, R-Jr.)
Christian Fitzpatrick (6-4, 215, Fr.)
Quick Hit: After a hype-filled preseaosn and disappointing 2020 campaign, Marshall is now thrust into an even bigger role than last year. To be fair though, he was vastly underutilized. Christian Fitzpatrick, barring another injury setback, should see a nice jump in 2021.
Wide Receiver (Y)
Braden Smith (5-10, 192, So.)
Shai Werts (5-11, 205, R-Sr.)
Quick Hit: Even with Tutu Atwell heading to the NFL, the Cardinals still have talent in the slot. Smith isn’t the speedster that Atwell is, but he is very capable in the middle of the field. Werts could be a viable weapon if his transition from quarterback goes seamlessly, and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce is a real threat to start from day one.
Wide Receiver (Z)
Jordan Watkins (5-11, 175, Fr.)
Josh Johnson (5-11, 187, R-Sr.)
Quick Hit: Watkins showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch last season, and hopes to have an elevated impact with Dez Fitzpatrick gone. Johnson could easily play inside or out, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Demetrius Cannon as the backup here.
Dez Melton (6-3, 240, R-Fr.)
Francis Sherman (6-3, 237, R-Fr.)
Quick Hit: Unfortunately, we won’t get to see a seventh year of Ean Pfeifer, leaving another open spot on the roster offensively. It’s a toss-up between Melton and Sherman for the open tight end spot, but I’ll give the edge to Melton and his role in the passing game, although Sherman’s workman effort could easily surpass it.
Marshon Ford (6-2, 240, R-So.)
Isaac Martin (6-1, 250, R-Jr.)
Quick Hit: One of the most underrated tight ends in FBS football is back again. Coming on originally as a walk on, Ford has dominated both in the passing and blocking game. Martin should get some more playing time this season after working his way up the ladder as well.
Adonis Boone (6-5, 310, Jr.)
Trevor Reid (6-5, 285, Jr.)
Quick Hit: Despite some struggles, Boone should hold down his starting spot from last year. Although, Reid will certainly give him a run for his money.
Caleb Chandler (6-4, 310, Jr.)
Joshua Black (6-2, 290, R-Fr.)
Quick Hit: He had a fantastic start to the 2020 season over the first couple games, but Chandler, among with a couple other members of the offensive line, started to regress as the season went on. He still had a solid season, and should rebound for 2021, but Black gained some ground on him.
Cole Bentley (6-3, 314, R-Sr.)
Austin Collins (6-3, 270, Fr.)
Quick Hit: Getting Bentley back for another year was not only good for the line, but the offense as a whole. He very well could have cracked an NFL roster one way or another, but opted to come back. Collins should be the backup after earning an emergency start last year, but Byran Hudson or Luke Kandra could even see time here.
Bryan Hudson (6-4, 310, R-Sr.)
Robbie Bell (6-5, 305, R-Sr.)
Quick Hit: While Cam DeGeorge is listed on the roster, it’s still not guaranteed that he will return for 2021. That being said, it’s hard not to see Hudson starting here after transferring from VT. If Bell wasn’t injured and coming of a mediocre season, I would be tempted to list him as the starter.
Renato Brown (6-4, 330, R-Fr.)
Tim Lawson (6-5, 290, Fr.)
Quick Hit: This is another spot where DeGeorge could see time if he decides to come back. Brown has a ton of potential, but had several freshmen moments last season.
Tabarius Peterson (6-3, 260, R-Sr.)
Dayna Kinnaird (6-3, 270, R-Jr.)
Quick Hit: Louisville will need to do a better job at getting pressure in 2021, and retaining veteran experience is a good first step. Peterson is another player who opted for another year, and Kinnaird earned a couple starts before the staff opted with Peterson.
Malik Clark (6-2, 290, R-Jr.)
Dezmond Tell (6-1, 266, Fr.)
Quick Hit: This could be the biggest individual question mark on the whole defense, as Louisville will have a different starting nose tackle in every year of the Satterfield era following Jared Goldwire’s departure. Fortunately, Clark showed some early potential in the limited snaps he got, as did Tell.
YaYa Diaby (6-4, 255, Jr.)
Ramon Puryear (6-3, 255, R-Fr.)
Quick Hit: Transferring to Louisville over the last offseason, Diaby was an instant impact up front. Combined with Puryear as well as the other DE spot, the Cardinals have a ton of experience. It just needs to translate into a tad more production.
Outside Linebacker (Card)
Marvin Dallas (6-1, 195, Jr.)
Zay Peterson (6-1, 210, Fr.)
Quick Hit: This is relatively inexperienced position, as Rodjay Burns ate up most of the snaps here before bolting to the NFL. However, the staff loves the potential of both Dallas and Peterson. It will be hard to replace Burns, but it seems that either one of the Cards at Card could do it.
CJ Avery (5-11, 230, R-Sr.)
Dorian Jones (6-0, 230, R-Fr.)
Quick Hit: The single biggest win as it pertains to talent retainment was undoubtedly getting Avery back for a fifth year. He has been the team’s leading tackler for the past couple seasons, and I have little doubt he will be in the running for that title again. The lone concern here is if Jones will not serve as a steep talent dropoff when inserted.
Monty Montgomery (5-11, 225, R-Jr.)
KJ Cloyd (6-2, 215, So.)
Quick Hit: The position has enormous sack potential. Whenever Dorian Etheridge was not on the field, Montgomery was a QB’s nightmare. With Etheridge gone to the league, expect a heavier dose of pressure from this spot. Especially considering Cloyd had the same pedigree while in JUCO.
Outside Linebacker (Dog)
Yasir Abdullah (6-1, 225, Jr.)
Nick Okeke (6-3, 240, R-Jr.)
Quick Hit: Few players had a stronger end to the 2020 season than Abdullah. If Louisville is able to get more pressure and increase their sack & tackle for loss total, it will most likely be because of him. Okeke, as well as Kameron Wilson, also provide solid depth here.
Kei’Trel Clark (5-10, 194, So.)
Greedy Vance (5-10, 155, Fr.)
Quick Hit: You could make the argument that Clark is probably the best player currently on the teams. He is, in my opinion, the best man-to-man cover corner at Louisville since Jaire Alexander. It also helps the his backup in Vance is just as fast, and showed flashes of his potential last year.
Chandler Jones (5-10, 186, Jr.)
Jamel Starks (5-10, 187, Fr.)
Quick Hit: With Marlon Character and Anthony Johnson both departing the program, Jones is elevated into a more concrete starting position. However, don’t be surprised to see Starks, or even newcomers Kani Walker or Rance Conner see a fair share of reps here.
Kenderick Duncan Jr. (6-3, 225, R-Jr.)
Josh Minkins (6-2, 179, Fr.)
Quick Hit: There was a bunch a turnover at the safety position for Louisville over this offseason. Fortunately, they were still left in good hands. Coming over from Georgia Southern, Duncan is now the veteran of the group with Jack Fagot transitioning to OLB. Minkins, whenever he sees the field, will also be a serviceable backup, and only continue to get better.
Lovie Jenkins (6-1, 195, Fr.)
Benjamin Perry (6-2, 170, Fr.)
Quick Hit: With Russ Yeast transferring to K-State, Jenkins has all but cemented his starter status. It won’t come easy though, as newcomer Benjamin Perry is arguably the most talented freshman to join the program this spring.
You can follow Louisville Report for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on Twitter:
Facebook – @LouisvilleOnSI
— to www.si.com