Zach Wilson was the biggest breakout star in college football last season, and other guys such as Isaac Rex, Tyler Allgeier, Dax Milne, Gunner Romney and others really stepped up for BYU as well. Some of those players are still around, but coaches will be looking for the next crop of guys to exceed expectations and be difference makers. Below are five guys I think will have breakout seasons in 2021. Whoever wins the QB job is the obvious choice, so I left out the QB spot since that is a given.
Tyler Batty — Defensive End
BYU hasn’t had an elite pass rusher at defensive end since Bronson Kaufusi graduated in 2016. Batty played in only 4 games last season due to a high ankle sprain, but he quickly showed that he is BYU’s best pass rusher when healthy. He finished the season with 4 sacks, including 3 versus Louisiana Tech. If Batty can stay healthy, he has the skill to finish with double digit sacks and put some real bite into BYU’s pass rush.
Talan Alfrey — Safety
Alfrey was a member of BYU’s 2018 recruiting class and is now ready to make an impact back from his LDS mission. I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased on Alfrey since he his from Auburn, Washington and I live in nearby Renton, but the dude can flat out play. Alfrey was the 2017 South Puget Sound Player of the Year and played all over the field. He played QB, RB, WR, DB and even punter during his time in high school. As a senior, Alfrey was fifth in the state of Washington in receiving yards (1,081), second in the state in receptions (68), and also had the fourth-most tackles in his region and led his team in rushing yards.
Chaz Ah You and Malik Moore are likely BYU’s starting safeties, but Alfrey will get playing time and could be a starter if one of them goes down with injury. Alfrey’s size at 6-foot-3 and his instincts make me optimistic that he will contribute this season and beyond.
Atunaisa Mahe — Defensive Tackle
Mahe missed all of last season due to a blood clot in his brain, but he is thankfully doing well and ready to play this season. Mahe played in all 13 games in 2019 at DT and had 22 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks. He is extremely strong at 6-foot-1, 302 pounds and should be a major factor at defensive tackle this season. With Khyiris Tonga and Bracken El-Bakri both gone, Mahe has an opportunity to make a big impact on the interior of BYU’s defensive line.
Chris Jackson — Wide Receiver
BYU’s WR room is deep with Gunner Romney, Neil Pau’u, and Puka and Samson Nacua as the top four guys. Those four will be tough beat out, but I think Jackson is the next guy up if any of those players go down with injury. Jackson played last season after transferring from the JUCO ranks and is one of the fastest players on the team. He had a gaffe late in the Coastal Carolina game where he lost a ton of yards, but he has the speed to be a legitimate deep threat for BYU’s QBs.
Connor Pay — Offensive Line
Pay played in 8 games last season and performed very well. With starting guards Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring both gone to the NFL, Pay will fill one of those spots and have a chance to be one of the leaders of the offensive line. James Empey is the leader in the middle and Blake Freeland has loads of potential at left tackle, but Pay locking down one of the guards spot would be a huge boost for BYU’s OL.
Others to Watch — Brayden Keim (OT), Kody Epps (WR), Josh Wilson (LB), Miles Davis (RB)