Oklahoma State football: The five most important Cowboys of the 2020 season
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s 2020 football season was one of adversity and perseverance. The season didn’t reach the goals the Cowboys had hoped, but perhaps they came out a stronger team in the end.
Here’s a look at the five players who were most important in shaping the Cowboys’ season and what their performances mean moving forward:
Tylan Wallace, receiver
2020: Wallace was the most impactful player on the Cowboy offense all season. No matter who was at quarterback, he was a go-to option in crucial situations time after time. He received All-America honors from the AFCA and Walter Camp organizations, even in a year when the Cowboys didn’t throw as much as had become typical of them earlier in Wallace’s career. Still, he concluded his career in the top five of several OSU all-time receiving categories.
Moving forward: Wallace, Dillon Stoner and Landon Wolf — OSU’s top three receivers in terms of catches this past season — are all leaving, handing the receiver position to a less experienced group. Brennan Presley showed in the bowl game a glimpse of what his future could look like, as did Tay Martin, the Washington State transfer who joined the Cowboys in late August. Braydon Johnson returns as well, giving offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn a group of players he should be able to count on next season.
Rodarius Williams, cornerback
2020: At one point during the season, Williams was graded by Pro Football Focus analytics as the top cornerback in college football. His grade slipped a bit after an ankle injury that eventually ended his season early. But he still finished in the top 15 on PFF, and was a lockdown cornerback for the Cowboys virtually all season. He routinely took the opponent’s best receiver out of the game plan.
Moving forward: No one helped their NFL Draft status more than Williams this season. He would have been a late-round option, if he got drafted at all, but raised his profile to mid-round level. For the Cowboys, they’re left with a big hole to fill. Jarrick-Bernard Converse is first in line to take over the top spot. Christian Holmes could return for a second senior season, and young players like Korie Black and Jabbar Muhammad got experience down the stretch.
Malcolm Rodriguez, linebacker
2020: Rodriguez was his reliable self, and he did it playing at a heavier weight of almost 230 pounds. He finished as the team’s leading tackler for the second straight year, totaling 82 stops. Playing behind an improved defensive line that gobbled up blockers, Rodriguez and fellow linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga were freed up to make plays, and they came through.
Moving forward: Rodriguez has already announced his plans to return for a fifth season at OSU. Ogbongbemiga hasn’t made a final decision, but he could pursue a pro career. Calvin Bundage announced plans to move on to the next level as well. Regardless, Rodriguez will be back in a playmaker’s role at outside linebacker next season, and his decision to come back was a huge one for coordinator Jim Knowles and the defense.
Tre Sterling, safety
2020: If you had to guess who led the Cowboys in tackles for loss this season, it might be awhile before you landed on Sterling’s name — or any safety for that matter. But it was Sterling with 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage among his 80 total tackles. Sterling’s improvement since moving into the starting lineup last season has been a big key for the Cowboy defense.
Moving forward: With the exception of Williams, the rest of the Cowboy secondary will be intact next season, and that is of incredible value to the Cowboys. They led the nation in third-down defense, and that was in part because Knowles trusted his secondary in man coverage, allowing him to pressure quarterbacks with ferocity up front.
Josh Sills, offensive line
2020: Sills wasn’t OSU’s best offensive lineman, but he was clearly its most important. He started games at three different positions, finishing out the season at right tackle. He was at his best when he played left guard, and that’s where his pro future will be. But he announced his intentions to return to OSU for one more year.
Moving forward: Between injured players getting healthy and transfers coming in, the Cowboys hope to get enough help at the tackle spots that Sills could move back inside to guard. If that’s the case, it’s good news all the way around for the Cowboy offensive line.
Scott Wright covers OSU athletics, especially football. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ScottWrightOK. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.