Quinsey Sablan/Nevada Sagebrush Nevada safety Asauni Rufus (2) defends a pass during practice at Mackay Stadium on Aug. 25. Rufus was third in the nation among freshmen in tackles with 105.

Quinsey Sablan/Nevada Sagebrush
Nevada safety Asauni Rufus (2) defends a pass during practice at Mackay Stadium on Aug. 25. Rufus was third in the nation among freshmen in tackles with 105.

By Neil Patrick Healy

JERICO RICHARDSON — WIDE RECEIVER — SENIOR

Nevada’s offense has playmakers on the outside to make senior quarterback Tyler Stewart’s job much easier. With the new and more wide-open offense, the skill positions should be able to flourish. The reason I decided to go with Jerico Richardson rather than fellow senior receiver Hasaan Henderson is because Henderson has a well-documented injury history. Even if he is suited up on Saturday, you have to wonder if Henderson will be hampered and slowed due to another nagging injury. Richardson will be looked to as the more consistent threat at receiver, and don’t be surprised if he has a 75-catch, 1,000-yard season.

JARRED GIPSON — TIGHT END — SENIOR

One of the more frustrating moments for those who followed the Wolf Pack last season was when tight end Jarred Gipson would have a quiet day and the offense suffered as a result. In the final three games of the season, Gipson didn’t record a catch, and the offense was completely unreliable. If the offense is going to take the next step, first-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey must stress getting the ball in Gipson’s hands. Of the 19 catches he had last season, five went for touchdowns. Is it realistic to think that Gipson will score about one every four times he touches the ball? Probably not, but it shows his potential.

KOREY RUSH — DEFENSIVE END — SOPHOMORE

Nevada trots out almost an entirely new front seven this year, and if that unit is going to be able to replicate last season’s production, Korey Rush will be the main reason why. One of Brian Polian’s highest-rated recruits in his tenure at Nevada, Rush finally has the floor to show what he can do in a starting role. He showed potential last season coming off the bench and playing in 12 games with two starts as a redshirt freshman. With former All-MWC linemen Ian Seau and Lenny Jones off to the NFL, Rush will have to live up to the billing if Nevada wants to be successful on defense.

ASAUNI RUFUS — FREE SAFETY — SOPHOMORE

The obvious bright spot of Nevada’s defense last season was the emergence of freshman star safety Dameon Baber. It true, Baber’s breakout freshman season was both exciting and encouraging for the future. That being said, Baber’s spotlight may have begun to cast a shadow on another emerging playmaker at the safety position. Sophomore safety Asauni Rufus made a big splash in his freshman season with 105 tackles, which was third in the nation among freshmen, ninth in the Mountain West and second in the conference among defensive backs. The fact that Baber overshadows Rufus’ breakout performance shows just how good this secondary could be.

AKEEL LYNCH — RUNNING BACK — SENIOR

For better or worse, Nevada always seems to run the ball well. The main reason for the consistent success out of the backfield is because the offense never relies on one single back to carry the load. Nevada’s best offensive teams always had at least two players (running back or quarterback) eclipse 1,000 yards. Don’t get me wrong, junior running back James Butler is the No. 1 option at running back, but he’s not going to carry the ball 30 to 35 times a game. Penn State graduate transfer Akeel Lynch will fill the role of No. 2 back that Butler filled last year and has the potential to finally have that breakout season everyone at Penn State was waiting for.

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NP_Healy.