I always know football is right around the corner when it's finally time to pen the annual "My Guys" column. The concept -- stolen from Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan -- is simple: before the season begins, choose five players you're especially excited about and who you anticipate having a breakout season. Under those parameters, the task is not to pick established stars, but to anticipate players now ready to elevate to that higher level. Thus, you could choose Colt McCoy heading into the 2008 season, but not '09.
Before offering My Guys for 2010, a quick review of My Guys heading into last year:
Chykie Brown, CB -- Whoops. Okay, so Chykie was hardly bad, but in a stout secondary he was the third-best corner, and his most memorable plays were mental lapses like falling asleep in the opener against UL-Monroe, allowing a 75-yard TD to Luther Ambrose.
Fozzy Whittaker, RB -- There were flashes, but overall it was another quiet, injury-plagued season, with Whittaker finishing with 212 yards on 53 carries (4.0 ypc) and 4 TDs. Not that any Texas tailback was doing much in the dysfunctional running game, but Whittaker drowned against tough defenses, bounced outside too often, and was too easy to take for a loss. I'm still bullish on his potential as a runner, but he's going to have to show he can run between the tackles to produce; bouncing outside time and again won't get it done.
Keenan Robinson, LB -- Now we're talking. Probably my best breakout call, Robinson established himself as a valuable starter alongside Rod Muckelroy, racking up 74 tackles (3rd on the team) while making steady strides forward throughout the season, particularly in coverage responsibilities, which early in the season lagged behind his other skills. A sure, physical tackler with solid instincts and excellent leadership, Robinson's got a good shot to hit triple digits in tackles this year.
Aaron Williams, DB -- His presence on the stat sheet wasn't anything spectacular, but then again, by mid-season teams quit challenging him. Now why might that be?
DJ Grant, TE -- The law of averages says Barrett Matthews will survive... I mean, they can't all get injured, right?
Finally, before moving on to this year's selections, how about a 2009 All-Breakout Team. If these guys were Your Guys, I'm looking forward to hearing your picks for this year:
2009 All-Breakout Team
DE Sam Acho (one of My Guys heading into 2008)
DT Lamarr Houston (another of my '08 selections)
LB Keenan Robinson
CB Aaron Williams
CB Curtis Brown
RB Tre' Newton
My five guys for 2010, after the jump.
MY GUYS, 2010
Foswhitt Whittaker, RB -- Speaking of the law of averages, my Fozzy hyping is bound to pay off at some point, right? Based on the offense we appear set on running and the reports out of open practices, Cody Johnson is a tempting choice here--and believe me, as a lifelong fan of the Steelers I know what a big tailback with great feet can do to move the chains. I haven't seen Johnson yet this fall so I'll withhold jumping aboard that bandwagon, but even if I had, I'm set on doubling down on Whittaker, and not just because I'm still enamored of his high school film. He needs to learn to run with purpose, but in this his make-or-break season, I expect he'll be properly motivated to try and -- if he stays healthy and Texas' line/scheme opens legit running lanes -- can thrive. Don't let his smaller size scare you off; he's got three inches and 10 pounds on Hodges Mitchell, who ripped off a 1,400 yard, 9 TD season in 1999, in an offense not dissimilar to what we'll be seeing this fall. (Like Lamarr Houston and Chris Ogbonnaya, my love for Fozzy is a personal infatuation; I won't begrudge anyone who thinks this one won't pan out. But you love who you love, right?)
Marquise Goodwin, WR -- I already tagged him as one of our five most important offensive players, and I think he's very much up to the task. His ability to separate is elite, and he's a lot stronger and tougher than most realize. This isn't a track star masquerading as a football player; he's the real deal. Expect big things. Soon.
Mason Walters, G/T -- We've known about his talent for some time, but a hairline fracture in game one last year put his performance on hold. With Tray Allen sidelined with the same ankle injury that kept him out of spring ball, Walters looks like the starter at left guard for game one, and I expect he'll remain a starter as long as his health allows. He'll open as a guard, but his ultimate destination is at tackle, and whether it's the return of Allen or the readiness of Ashcraft, if Texas has a problem at tackle, Walters may make the move sooner than you think. If Britt Mitchell struggles on the right side, look for Texas to consider throwing Hix back to his old spot on the right and sliding Walters over to the left to begin protecting Gilbert's blind side. One way or the other: if he's healthy, he's going to be an important player for us. Starting this year, I expect.
Emmanuel Acho, LB -- I don't know what the Texas record is for tackles-for-loss or forced fumbles is, but I won't blink if Emmanuel Acho sets a new high for both this year. You know about his freaky first step and outrageous athleticism, now get ready to watch how Muschamp puts it to use this year. He's going to be in the backfield all year long, and he's now got the maturity and experience to channel all his talent into huge production. Robinson arrived last year. Acho makes his full presence felt this year.
Kenny Vaccaro, S -- I should probably put Curtis Brown here, since so many Texas fans still don't realize how good he was last year, but in my book he broke out last year, so you're on notice. Instead, I'll note my excitement for Vaccaro, because by all accounts the kid can run and cover. He won't be Earl Thomas (no knock on any DB), but he appears to have the same flavor of on-field instincts that made ET so special. If that's right, he'll be tough to keep off the field, and the question may be whether it's Scott or Gideon's snaps that he takes.
And now it's your turn. Who are your breakout players for 2010?