The New Mexico Lobos bring back a defense full of playmakers in 2022 as they dominate their top 10 returning players. New Mexico has some questions on offense, but this defense should be able to carry them to victories against a variety of teams. As we count down their top returning players, be mindful of just how talented this secondary is as we inch closer to the 2022 college football season.
For each Mountain West team’s top returning players: Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming
Top 10 returning players at New Mexico
As the countdown to the regular season continues, as does our top 10 returning players series. We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to New Mexico.
10) Syaire Riley, LB
Syaire Riley plays a unique role in the New Mexico defense, rushing the passer and dropping in coverage nearly equal amounts of time. His versatility allowed him to finish fifth on the team in tackles while recording a pass breakup and four total tackles for loss. In an expanded role in 2022, Riley’s ability to travel sideline to sideline in both facets certainly will pay dividends for this defense and his spot on these rankings.
9) Jake Saltonstall, EDGE
Opposite the all-everything Joey Noble, Jake Saltonstall was able to find his favorable matchups in the pass-rushing game and finish strong in 2021. He disrupted the pocket more often than not from the edge and has great athleticism for his frame. There is no lack of strength in Saltonstall’s game nor a lack of instincts, as he finished with 4.5 tackles for loss a year ago.
8) Trace Buckler, TE
It wasn’t quite the aerial assault a season ago, but the New Mexico passing game certainly showcased Trace Buckler as a dominant pass catcher. Buckler led the team with three receiving touchdowns as he averaged nearly 13 yards per catch. He has sure hands and a large catch radius. Buckler also proved to be sound in the run game with plus-blocking skills.
7) Ronald Wilson, S
Ronald Wilson led the team with two interceptions a season ago as he flew to the football in coverage from his strong safety spot. Playing as close to the line of scrimmage as he does, Wilson also recorded two tackles for loss and made plenty of plays in run defense. He did all this as a true freshman a year ago, and he is only getting started in Albuquerque.
6) Isaak Gutierrez, G
Starting games at both guard spots as well as at right tackle, Isaak Gutierrez is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the conference. He proved to be too much for some defenders to handle in the run game as he has a quick step off the ball and great strength on the move. Gutierrez’s best facet is his pass protection, however, as he anchors well and has terrific balance through contact.
5) Ray Leutele, LB
It was a great season in 2021 for Ray Leutele. He put forth a great display of all-around ability, finishing second on the team with four sacks while also recording two pass breakups and an interception. Leutele, once an all-state player in California at powerhouse Mater Dei, proved to be able to lock down the middle of the field in all facets at the second level.
4) Donte Martin, CB
Leading the team with six pass breakups a year ago, Donte Martin broke out in 2021 with a great season. Martin showed to be incredibly sticky in coverage, ripping off an interception but forcing more than a handful of other incompletions with sticky coverage. He’s also a sound tackler and has plus-run defense skills, allowing him to man the entire right side of the field with ease.
3) Justin Harris, EDGE
At one point in his career, Justin Harris was a highly sought-after recruit and a Baylor signee. After a lengthy collegiate journey, the 6’6″ edge rusher finally found his place on the Lobos’ front in 2021 and made the most of it. He finished second on the team with four sacks and utilized his length incredibly well to break up three more passes at the line of scrimmage. Harris has a great athletic frame that he uses just as well as you’d expect. Another year with more reps, and Harris could vault himself into the top EDGE ranks in the Group of Five, not just in the Mountain West.
2) Jerrick Reed II, S
A year after leading the team in tackles, Jerrick Reed II is back to set the tone for the Lobos defense. Reed is a ball hawk in every sense of the word, both in coverage and against the run. He recorded seven pass breakups and an interception in 2021 and had three games with at least 10 tackles. His alignment allows for favorable matchups in coverage and in run defense, given his surprising strength and compact frame. Reed is an easy candidate for first-team All-Mountain West recognition.
1) Tavian Combs, S
Finishing second on the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons, Tavian Combs is truly a tackling machine from his strong safety spot. Combs flies around the field and utilizes his 6’2″, 200-pound frame very well. He’s athletic and quick but loses nothing when it comes to matching up with potentially bigger pass catchers or ball carriers. He won’t miss tackles often and doesn’t allow much after the catch — if he even gives up a reception. Combs is the name to know on this Lobos team in 2022.
Honorable mention players returning to New Mexico in 2022
- Isaiah Chavez, QB
- Shancco Matautia, G
- Radson Jang, C
- Luke Wysong, WR
- Dion Hunter, LB