On the same evening of Kansas’ Guaranteed Rate Bowl matchup with UNLV, the Jayhawks’ coaching staff received excellent news for 2024. Already set to get star QB Jalon Daniels back despite rumors of a transfer possibility, running back Devin Neal will also be back with the program next year.
What does this mean for Kansas in 2024, and why would Neal return over jumping into the 2024 NFL Draft?
Devin Neal Returns to Jayhawks for Senior Season
The Jayhawks received shocking news on Tuesday as Neal decided to return to school for his final year of collegiate eligibility, per ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
Neal, who was named to CFN’s Second-Team All-Big 12 Offense this past season, could have opted for the NFL. Pro Football Network has Neal ranked as the seventh-best running back prospect for the 2024 NFL Draft.
Neal is an explosive slasher at the position, totaling 1,209 rushing yards on a 6.6 per-carry average, with 16 touchdowns. The 5’11”, 210-pounder also added 214 receiving yards and one score. He often carried the offense as Daniels missed most of the season with a back injury.
He’ll enter the 2024 season needing to reach 3,842 yards and 42 touchdowns to set the all-time school record for both rushing marks. Entering the bowl game, Neal had 3,006 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground in his career. He should easily break both records as long as he stays healthy.
What Neal’s Decision Means for Kansas in 2024
The Jayhawks will be loaded in 2024. They’ll return eight of 11 offensive starters, including Daniels, Neal, and their top three receivers.
Despite pivoting to life without Daniels and relying on backup QB Jason Bean, head coach Lance Leipold still called the 28th-best scoring offense in the nation. Now a year older and more experienced, expect this unit to be even better.
Bean played well, considering the circumstances, but Daniels is a more efficient and reliable passer. The Jayhawks will lose two offensive linemen and tight end Mason Fairchild to the NFL draft, but the offense will benefit from continuity and development. The defense won’t have the same easy transition, though.
The defense must improve for Kansas to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2007. They finished only 67th in scoring despite boasting eight senior starters. The unit could also lose talented pass-rusher Austin Booker and cornerback Cobee Bryant if the underclassmen get favorable responses from the NFL.
Bryant seems more likely of the two to make the jump since he’s more experienced and has an NFL-ready body.
Despite the defensive concerns, Kansas might be able to outgun all their 2024 opponents. Their biggest matchups include Colorado, Houston, and Kansas State. But none are overly intimidating foes.
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