Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Today marks seven weeks until the start of JMU football’s 2019 season. We’re less than 50 days away from JMU battling West Virginia in hopes of securing another FCS-FBS upset. As the season inches closer, we continue our weekly countdown series. Last week we shared eight questions the Dukes need to answer prior to the 2019 season. This week we’re ranking the seven best players on JMU’s roster.
With a program like JMU’s, every player is solid. The Dukes are loaded with talent across the board, but these seven players stand out the most in my eyes heading into 2019.
7. D’Angelo Amos, safety/punt returner
Amos earns a spot on this list for his ability as a safety and as a punt returner. Defensively, Amos tallied 64 tackles, six passes defended and two fumble recoveries last season. Going into his redshirt junior season, I expect Amos to take a jump forward on the back end of the defense. I expect him to grab his first career interception and to develop into one of the most disruptive secondary players in the FCS.
While he’s still a bit unproven as an elite safety, Amos’ punt returning ability isn’t a projection — he’s the best punt returner in the country. Amos averaged an absurd 22 yards per return last season and found the end zone three times, including twice against Villanova in a remarkable individual performance. He’s one of JMU’s most dynamic players with the ball in his hands.
6. Liam Fornadel, offensive lineman
With 28 games played and 15 starts through two seasons, Fornadel is a tremendous asset on the right side of the offensive line. The junior is strong, reliable and durable, which are tremendous assets in an offensive lineman. The Dukes want to run the ball, and they should feel comfortable running to the right side of the line with Fornadel paving the way.
He earned Second Team All-CAA honors last season and should be considered a favorite to make the First Team this season.
5. Dimitri Holloway, linebacker
Holloway flies way under the radar. The linebacker rarely makes mistakes, and he’s one of the surest tackles on the team. He tallied 127 tackles, 11 for loss, in his 2018 campaign.
Expect Holloway, a HERO Sports Third Team Preseason All-American, to perform at a high level in 2019. If the Dukes make a deep playoff run and play 15ish games, Holloway can make a run at a 150-tackle season. Only seven Dukes have ever reached 150 tackles in a season.
4. John Daka, defensive line
Daka comes in at No. 4 because he’s disruptive. He’s not only reliable, but he’s also one of the true game changers on the Dukes’ roster. He can change games by forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback in crucial situations.
A HERO Sports First Team Preseason All-American, Daka enters the season as one of the best defensive linemen in the entire country. He’s coming off a 10-sack (17 tackles for loss) season and should only build on his breakout junior campaign.
Daka is an NFL prospect and an elite FCS talent.
3. Riley Stapleton, wide receiver
He may face a suspension to start the 2019 season, but we’ll discuss that more when the information becomes available. On the football field, Stapleton dominates FCS cornerbacks.
He’s big, strong and knows how to use his large frame to make plays. When he’s at his best, he makes JMU’s passing game elite. He snagged 62 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 despite a relatively slow end to the season. Halfway through the year, Stapleton was on a historic pace in terms of receptions, yards and touchdowns.
It’s impossible to deny Stapleton’s talent when he gets targeted with accurate throws. If JMU gets its quarterback situation figured out, Stapleton should dominate when he’s on the field.
2. Ron’Dell Carter, defensive line
Carter is a coach’s dream. Strong, athletic and versatile, the Rutgers transfer does it all. He’s speedy enough to play defensive end and powerful enough to play defensive tackle. He’s considered the leader of the defense, and he understands the game at an elite level.
He recorded 58 tackles, 13 for a loss, and 7.5 sacks last season. He demanded the attention of the offensive line last season and sometimes plays defensive tackle in third-and-long situations, which can hurt his overall stats, but Carter is the entire package. He’s a great player and a great teammate. Like I said, he’s a coach’s dream.
1. Rashad Robinson, cornerback
Robinson entered last season as an NFL prospect and JMU’s top corner. He missed the entire season due to injury, and we all know what Jimmy Moreland did in Robinson’s absence. Now it’s Robinson’s time to show why he’s one of the nation’s best.
Despite missing all of last season, Robinson enters 2019 as a HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American. He finished his junior campaign in 2017 with seven interceptions. With 103 tackles, 25 passes defended and 10 interceptions in his career, Robinson owns the experience and skills to be a premiere FCS corner in 2019.
Assuming he returns to full health, Robinson could find himself going in the first two days of the 2020 NFL Draft. Jimmy Moreland was the Dukes’ best player in 2018, and I think another corner will be the Dukes’ best player in 2019.
Editor’s note: Who would make your list of the top 7 players on JMU football’s roster? Share your list in the comments below or send us a tweet to @JMUSportsNews.