SMU Mustangs’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Preston Stone, RJ Maryland

    Rhett Lashlee and the SMU Mustangs head into the ACC in 2024, and the top 10 returning players are looking to make a statement right away.

    Rhett Lashlee and the SMU Mustangs enter unchartered territory as they head into the ACC, but they bring in the talent to compete immediately. There aren’t any doubts about their expectations this year, and the SMU top 10 returning players are ready to make some noise.

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    SMU Mustangs’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Savion Byrd, OT

    Marcus Bryant’s entry into the transfer portal hurt SMU’s offensive line, but the Mustangs staff already addressed it last December. Rhett Lashlee hasn’t been shy about bringing talent from the portal to his team, and the offensive line benefited from that strategy.

    Savion Byrd brings 20 games of experience to the Mustangs’ offense and should replace Bryant. This line has plenty of experience, and that, paired with the deep skill position groups, makes this offense intriguing in 2024.

    9) Jonathan McGill, S

    One of the biggest questions about the Mustangs heading into last year was if the defense could step up with what was expected to be an explosive offense. The latter unit needed some time to get up to speed with a new quarterback, and the defense actually led the way.

    Players like Jonathan McGill used their experience and leadership to reshape a unit that used to be a liability for the Mustangs. The former Stanford Cardinal transfer gave the SMU defense a versatile weapon they could move around at different positions, and his experience is welcomed this year.

    8) LJ Johnson Jr., RB

    Lashlee’s team had a ton of depth last year on offense, and that will be the case again in 2024. Despite Tyler Lavine’s departure, the running back room returns its top three rushers from last season, including former Texas A&M transfer LJ Johnson Jr.

    It’s tough to stand out in a group that featured Lavine, Jaylan Knighton, and Camar Wheaton, but Johnson worked his way into the rotation as the second option. He ran for 576 yards and four touchdowns last year and now has his sights set on an even more productive campaign.

    7) Mike Lockhart, DT

    The defensive line took the biggest hit on the Mustangs’ defense, but Lashlee and his staff also had a plan for that. They were looking for experienced players who could be disruptive for their defense, and they found one in Mike Lockhart.

    The former Georgia Tech and West Virginia transfer posted his best season in 2023 with nine tackles for loss and should step in to contribute right away. SMU finished eighth in the country last year in tackles for loss, and Lockhart can help them repeat that success.

    6) Jaylan Knighton, RB

    The running joke was that SMU was “West Miami” last year, but it made sense for Lashlee. He was familiar with certain players from his time with the Hurricanes and didn’t mind adding them to his new roster.

    MORE: 2024 ACC Weekly Football Schedule 

    Jaylan Knighton showed flashes of his potential with the Hurricanes, but injuries sometimes limited him. Looking for a fresh start, he followed Lashlee to the state of Texas and took over the majority of the carries for the Mustangs. He finished the year with 745 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s ready to stress opposing defenses with his speed again.

    5) Jordan Hudson, WR

    A reunion seemed fitting for the Mustangs and Jordan Hudson. Committed initially to Sonny Dykes, Hudson followed the former coach to TCU before transferring across the Iron Skillet rivalry before last season. With no clear favorite to be the go-to pass catcher, Hudson inserted himself into the rotation.

    Again, the Mustangs had depth last year, and they’ll have it again in 2024, making it tough to stand out. Hudson must be efficient with his catches, something he was able to do last year. The top seven pass catchers from last year return, and the Mustangs added Miami transfer Brashard Smith to the mix.

    4) Isaiah Nwokobia, S

    The secondary was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the improvement of the front seven last year. With the Mustangs getting after the opposing quarterback, their defensive backs could play more freely on the back end.

    Isaiah Nwokobia took advantage of his opportunities and led the team with four interceptions last year. The redshirt junior from Dallas also returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns, and he returns to wreak havoc against opposing offenses once again.

    3) RJ Maryland, TE

    Don’t sleep on RJ Maryland for the 2025 NFL Draft. The 6’4″, 233-pound junior from Southlake, Texas, proved an explosive weapon for the Mustangs last year, averaging 15.2 yards per catch. He finished second on the team with 518 yards and tied with Hudson for the team lead with seven touchdown receptions.

    Maryland is working on his impact as a blocker too. He’s a great pass catcher who knows what to do with the ball once it’s in his hands, but the Mustangs will benefit from him taking a step as a blocker to open up the rushing attack. It feels weird to say, but the offense needs to be more explosive in 2024, and a balanced attack makes that happen.

    2) Elijah Roberts, DE

    Elijah Roberts is a massive return for the Mustangs defense.

    The SMU defensive end proved to be one of the best additions from the transfer portal, leading the team with 12 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. It will be a retooled defensive line this year, and Roberts takes on more of a leadership role to help the new arrivals.

    1) Preston Stone, QB

    It’s a huge year for Preston Stone. Now that his inaugural campaign is out of the way, he can focus on his development and embrace the new challenge of the ACC. The Mustangs won’t find life as easy as it used to be, but they’re ready for this new endeavor.

    Stone plays a significant role for many reasons. He seemed to settle in as the season progressed last year, throwing 14 touchdowns to just one interception in his final six games. An injury shortened his season, but he’s back and ready to build upon a good year.

    KEEP READING: 2024 ACC Power Rankings

    He won’t be hurting for talent around him, as the Mustangs should feel good about every position offensively. Stone needs to distribute the football to that talent, but he’s also a dangerous player for opposing defenses to stop. If he takes a step forward, the Mustangs are a dark horse in their new conference.

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