Kevin Sumlin is the new head man in Tuscon after Rich Rodriguez was relieved of his coaching duties following the 2017 season. Rodriguez spent the last six seasons with the Wildcats but after sexual misconduct allegations arose, the University chose to part ways and move in a new direction. Rodriguez posted a 43-35 record while there which also played into the decision.
Sumlin comes into town with ten seasons of head coaching experience having served at Houston for four and Texas A&M for six. He inherits a squad that went 7-6 in 2017 which mirrors his record during his last year with A&M.
There are players on Zona’s roster that create some extra excitement for Sumlin’s debut season and beyond. Will their talents mesh well with the new coaching staff? That is yet to be determined but we will all find out together as we will follow these Arizona athletes all year. These are the Arizona Wildcats NFL Draft prospects to watch.
Khalil Tate – Quarterback (Junior)
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 215 lbs
Tate’s 2017 coming out party took the rest of the Pac-12 by storm. The California native finished the year with just under 1,600 yards passing and just over 1,400 yards rushing. He compiled 14 touchdowns through the air and another 12 with his feet.
He has a skillset very similar, if not exceeding, to one of Johnny Manziel who won the Heisman trophy with Sumlin as his head coach. Tate will be on early season Heisman watch lists and could realistically be the best quarterback in the conference, perhaps the country.
There will be a lot of disagreements over the translation of his game to the NFL but he has flashed all of those tangibles that NFL teams desire. Accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, and playmaking are all in Tate’s toolbox. Tate leaving school a year early is an intriguing possibility if he has a Heisman finalist type of year.
Shawn Poindexter – Wide Receiver (RS Senior)
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 215 lbs
The big and athletic former JUCO transfer dealt with nagging injuries a majority of 2017 but his breakout chances are greater than a junior high schooler’s. Posting 294 yards and a single touchdown a year ago, staying healthy and on the field is undoubtedly integral to his success in 2018.
The size correlation between Poindexter and another past Sumlin stud, Mike Evans, cannot be ignored. Manziel and Evans connected for nearly 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns in their two-year relationship. Tate and Poindexter could gel really well in Sumlin’s offense. If Poindexter is able to put on a show with Tate, NFL team’s will be scrambling to get more info on this guy.
Layth Friekh – Offensive Lineman (RS Senior)
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 300 lbs
Friekh has been the Wildcat’s starting left tackle for the last two and a half seasons but this will be the last as the fifth-year player’s career winds down. He will need to put on some more mass if he expects to continue his starter status in the NFL.
He uses his hands well and shows promising feet but there is some work to be done for sure. Right now, he is looking like a 6th – 7th round selection or maybe even an undrafted free agent. However, if Friekh can polish up some aspects of his game he may squeak onto some boards.
Kylan Wilborn – EDGE (Sophomore)
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 250 lbs
The number twin of Khalil Tate made quite the first impression. His inaugural season with the Wildcats planted the seeds for a new defensive superstar to bloom. He accumulated seven sacks from his ‘STUD’ position in 2017 while simultaneously earning the reputation of being a playmaker.
Wilborn was responsible for nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage and forced four fumbles over the course of the year. Entering year two, he is expected to be the leader of the defense. There are a lot of qualities possessed by Wilborn that NFL defensive coordinators desire. When he does declare somewhere down the road, those coordinators will be campaigning hard for their team to snatch up Wilborn.
Dereck Boles – Defensive Tackle (RS Senior)
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 305 lbs
Boles came to the Arizona campus after making stops at Boise State and Coffeyville Junior College. In 2017, he recorded 42 total tackles and 1.5 tackle for loss for the cats. He was not in on any sacks last year but did take down the quarterback once in 2015 with the Broncos of Boise State.
Those numbers are fairly decent for a 300 plus pound nose tackle in a 3-4. Boles has a nice arsenal, he replaces the heels of the OL nicely and possesses some strength to shed blockers. He will have to get stronger for the next level though. He has a good low center of gravity and is surprisingly nimble for an athlete of his size. Boles probably isn’t on too many radars but as the season goes on that could and should change.
Jace Whittaker – Cornerback (Senior)
Height: 5’11” Weight: 190 lbs
Returning for his senior season was a widely regarded wise decision. His draft stock is staying steady at about the third round right now but if he can figure out how to be consistent, he will shoot right up into possibly the first round.
He has looked like a top-tier cornerback at times and last year brought in three interceptions, 13 pass deflections, 46 tackles, and returned one of his picks for a touchdown. This is an important year for Whittaker and could possibly be a big one for him.