Last season the UMass Minutemen defense lacked depth, and because of that they were abused at times. Don't confuse a lack of depth with a lack of skilled players though. We already spoke about senior defensive back Randall Jette. Now at number ten on our countdown comes another senior in linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox.
Santos-Knox started his first full slate of games last year (he started four games in 2013). He not only brought the MAC to its knees leading in total tackles with 143, he was fifth in the nation. That number is good for seventh all-time in the MAC in a single season. His gaudy tackle total and his great play earned him First Team All-MAC honors, a First Team All-MAC linebacker by Phil Steele and named ECAC All-Star linebacker.
When you're tops in the nation in tackles, you're going to get noticed for the 2015 season as well. Santos-Knox has been named to three award watch lists: the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List (best defensive player), the Bronko Nagurski Award Watch List (top defensive player) and the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List (best defensive lineman, linebacker). He was also name to Phil Steele's preseason All-MAC first team as a linebacker and to Athlon Sports preseason All-MAC first team as a linebacker.
Can Santos-Knox keep it up? With improved line play expected from the Minutemen, Santos-Knox may not put up another record-books worthy tackle total. It will free him up, though, to become a force in disrupting the pass game (he had six pass breakups last year, two sacks and three more hurries). Santos-Knox is primed to become a complete linebacker, he's already a true run stopper and will now be able to wreak havoc in the pass game. When the Minutemen faithful are looking for a reason the defense will be much improved this year, Santos-Knox is the first name that comes to mind.