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Final bold takes on 2022 cycle

charles power hsby:Charles Power02/07/22


Last Wednesday marked a turning of the page from the 2022 to 2023 recruiting cycles. This is a process that began back in December when the vast majority of prospects signed with their program of choice. Since then, we’ve seen upwards of 200 top prospects on the all-star circuit and formulated our final rankings.

Here are some unfiltered final thoughts and projections on top 2022 prospects and classes.

Pick for Freshman of the Year

Let’s start out with the super early pick for freshman of the year.

I’m going with Penn State running back Nick Singleton (No. 16). This pick is due to a confluence of several factors. Though it was a down year at running back nationally, Singleton is a surefire top talent at the position and would be a five-star in any cycle. The 6-foot, 215-pounder has an elite burst and violent, physical running style that bodes well for an early impact. He was named Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior after rushing for over 2,000 yards and 41 touchdowns at 12.4 yards per carry.

Running back is also the easiest position to make an impact as a freshman. Singleton became the most talented back at Penn State when he stepped on campus in January. The Nittany Lions’ leading rusher in 2021 had just 530 yards, so the opportunity should be there this fall. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we saw five-star quarterback Drew Allar get some meaningful snaps in the the fall, though his hurdle to playing is higher than Singleton’s.

Here are the picks for Freshman of the Year by Power Five Conference:

ACC– RB Omarion Hampton (No. 171), North Carolina – Similar to Singleton, Hampton is a college-ready back who steps into an ideal situation. North Carolina’s leading returning rusher had 295 yards in the fall. Hampton was a prolific runner at Clayton (N.C.) Cleveland High, rushing for 1,948 yards and 41 touchdowns at 12.1 yards per carry as a senior.

Big Ten– RB Nick Singleton (No. 16)- See above.

Big 12Jordan Hudson (No. 15), TCU – After seeing Hudson in person at the Under Armour All-America Game, it’s evident he’s ready to contribute on a college field. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is ready to go physically and has an advanced skill package with route-running and ball skills that should put him on the field early.

Pac-12– WR Tetairoa McMillan, (No. 68), Arizona – McMillan is Arizona’s highest-rated recruit in the internet recruiting era. It’s safe to say he comes to Tucson with lofty expectations. The one-time Oregon commit was a key flip for Arizona and head coach Jedd Fisch in the early signing period. McMillan has some of the better ball skills in the 2022 cycle. It would be a surprise is if he isn’t Arizona’s number one receiver at least by mid-season.

SEC– WR Luther Burden (No. 9), Missouri – Burden ascended to On3’s No. 1 receiver on the heels of a fantastic 2021. He was dominant as a senior at East St. Louis High and was the top receiver over the balance of the week at the Under Armour All-America Game. Burden’s skill set lends itself to an early impact. He’s one of the best after-catch receivers in the cycle and is a prolific return man, running back eight of 21 punts as a senior. Burden projects as a high volume target and is easy to get the ball to due to his ability to threaten defenses in a multitude of ways.

Travis Hunter’s long-term position

We think Travis Hunter ’s (No. 8) biggest college (and possibly professional) impact will be at wide receiver. Hunter is ranked as an athlete. He’s starred on both sides of the ball at Collins Hill High School and has been considered a cornerback prospect for much of the process. With that said, I think he’s more unique and further along as a receiver. While this opinion has not been widely espoused publicly, it is commonly held by many who have watched Hunter closely over the years. That includes some top personnel staffers in college football.

The Jackson State signee’s strengths as a prospect – namely his transcendent ball skills – are maximized at receiver. He’s a developed route runner and has a natural feel for finding openings in a defense. Hunter is an easy projection at receiver. Any perceived questions or gray areas about him as a prospect like a lack of verified speed or a slender build are minimized at receiver as opposed to corner. Don’t get me wrong, Hunter is also a very talented corner prospect. He’s a five-star at both positions, but is further along as a receiver. We’ll get to see Hunter on both sides of the ball next fall at Jackson State as both he and Deion Sanders have said he’ll play both ways.

Top OT talent might be playing DL

2022 was a down cycle nationally at offensive tackle after a banner year at the position in 2021. Kirby Smart said as much in his press conference from the early signing period. Top tackles will invariably emerge, though. One of them might be listed as a defensive lineman. Ole Miss signee Zxavian Harris (No. 100) could be the top offensive tackle in the cycle if he commits to the position.

Harris is a mountain of a prospect at 6-foot-7, 350-pounds. What makes the Madison (Miss.) Germantown product unique is his movement skills at that size. Harris has outstanding body quickness and and moves very well for such a large player. His individual flashes are as good as any big defensive lineman in the cycle. Harris can have trouble with his pad level as an interior defensive lineman, which isn’t a surprise given his stature. That would not be an issue at offensive tackle. He reminds us of former Florida and current New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown in terms of the size and movement skills.

Darkhorse future top draft picks

Rankings processes entail a balancing act between perceived ceilings and floors of prospects. Some prospects might need a year or two of development before making an impact on the college level. The On300 is littered with prospects we see as high ceiling types who could end up as some of the top draft picks from the cycle pending their development in college.

QB Brady Allen (No. 40), Purdue- One of the more physically-gifted quarterbacks in the cycle with a big arm at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds along with quick feet. Allen threw for nearly 12,000 yards in his high school career and had a huge senior season while leading his team to a state title. He’ll need to adjust to the speed of play at the college level, but the physical tools and production profile are there.

QB Nick Evers (No. 78), Oklahoma- A top arm talent with the quickest release in the cycle. Evers effortlessly whips the ball around the field. He’s also one of the better rush threats among top quarterbacks. He’ll need time in the weight room, checking in at around 175 pounds. Evers did not play for a top high school program and was not in nearly as favorable a situation as many of his peers in that regard.

DL Jaray Bledsoe (No. 80), Texas- Bledsoe is a top natural talent who still has a lot of development left. The 6-foot-3.5, 270-pounder is a top athlete within the defensive line group. He was a prolific running back as an underclassman prior to transferring and ultimately being ruled ineligible as a senior. Bledsoe had arguably the best first step among defensive linemen at the Under Armour All-America Game. He also showed some remarkable flexibility for a big man over the course of the week. There’s no question Bledsoe will need to hone his technique at the next level, but the ceiling is high.

EDGE Darris Smith (No. 81), Georgia- I would not be surprised if Smith ended up as a top ten pick at some point down the line. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has some of the best natural tools among pass rushers in the 2022 cycle. He has 35-inch arms, plays above the rim in basketball and is a favorite to win the state title in the 400 meters this spring. Smith will need some time to develop at Georgia, but isn’t likely to be pressed into action too early. I expect him to have viewers asking “who is that?” when watching he Bulldogs’ defense in a few years.

OT Jacarrius Peak (No. 163), NC State- Some feel Peak is the best offensive tackle prospect Dave Doeren has signed in Raleigh. That’s saying something when you consider Wolfpack offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu might be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Peak burst on the scene as senior and has a strong combination of size and length at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds to with outstanding movement skills, functional athleticism and play strength.

QB Tayven Jackson (No. 201), Tennessee – Jackson is a high upside projection based off of his physical tools and elite athletic profile. The 6-foot-3.5, 190-pounder was a relatively low-usage quarterback while playing in a run heavy offense for the top high school program in Indiana. We didn’t see Jackson sling the ball around the field as much as many of the other top quarterback prospects. That said, he’s a natural athlete with a quick release. Jackson is a three-sport athlete and a scratch golfer. His older brother, Trayce Jackson-Davis is the Indiana Hoosiers’ best basketball player.

QB Walter Taylor (unranked four-star), Vanderbilt- The late Vanderbilt signee might have the highest upside among quarterbacks outside the On300. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound lefty has one of the stronger arms in the cycle, effortlessly driving the ball from the far hash to the boundary with ease. He’s also a top athlete with rushing production and above the rim bounce on the hardwood. Taylor also turned in a strong senior season as the 4A offensive player of the year in the state of Alabama.

Two best scheme fits at QB

Scheme fit is a minimal (at most) factor when we’re formulating quarterback rankings – for a few reasons. First, the prospect’s overall skill set takes precedence. Second, the ever-changing college football landscape is impossible to predict, now more than ever. What looks like a great fit could easily be upended by coaching changes at the head coach or coordinator level or by a transfer. The majority of blue-chip quarterbacks are transferring nowadays.

With that disclaimer out of the way, we think the two best scheme fits at quarterback in the 2022 cycle are Devin Brown (No. 1) at Ohio State and Nick Evers (No. 78) at Oklahoma.

Interestingly, both were late additions to their respective signing classes. Brown was committed to USC and opened his recruitment after Clay Helton’s dismissal. Evers was committed to Dan Mullen at Florida before joining Oklahoma late in the process. Did more time for evaluations on both sides lead to better fits? There’s obviously a degree of chance involved, but I’m inclined to think so.

Brown’s downfield passing ability meshes with what Ryan Day likes to do on offense and should fit well with the receivers they have on campus in Columbus. Evers’ physical skill set is an ideal fit in new Sooner offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s scheme. His arm strength to touch different areas of the field combined with his rushing ability fits the offense very well.

Incoming Clemson WR’s could start

One, if not both of Adam Randall (No. 52) and Antonio Williams (No. 86) will start at wide receiver for Clemson in 2022. Clemson needed to hit at receiver in this cycle and I could see both of the in-state signees making a splash as freshmen. Randall is the most physically-developed receiver in the cycle, despite having a late birthday. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and would be mistaken for a NFL receiver in terms of build. Williams is a well-rounded wideout who brings some needed skills to Clemson’s wide receiver room. He was the top route-runner we saw at either all-star game. I could see him making an impact in the slot and as a return man. The Tigers really need to spruce up their passing attack this fall and Randall and Williams offer two clear talent upgrades at the position, in my opinion.

Best camp evaluation

Alabama signee Kobe Prentice (No. 38) was the best camp evaluation of the cycle. Prentice was a Maryland commit early on before showing out at Alabama’s camp. The in-state prospect ran multiple sub 4.4 times in the 40-yard dash and impressed the Crimson Tide staff enough to become a priority. At the time, Alabama was in the mix with several touted receivers – many who were much, much more highly-ranked than Prentice. The staff trusted their evaluation (as they certainly should) and ended up going with Prentice, who we think is one of the better receivers in the cycle. 

A&M’s biggest freshman contributor

Texas A&M’s biggest contribution from a true freshman won’t be from one of its eight On3 Consensus five-stars. I’m going with tight end Jake Johnson (No. 37) for the top freshman impact with the Aggies in the fall. Johnson is ready to go right now as a pass catching threat. He has one of the largest catch radiuses in the cycle with the ability to win in contested high-point situations in addition to scraping low thrown balls off the ground. The NFL legacy also shows some shake as a route-runner.

Johnson is stepping into a tight end room that is losing Jalen Wydermyer (the team’s leading receiver) to the draft. Former five-star Baylor Cupp has been plagued by injuries for much of his career. Sure, Walter Nolen is expected to play very well as a true freshman, but he might be working as part of a rotation. Johnson could be A&M’s top tight end and one of their top pass catchers as soon as this fall.

Wake Forest signed two top skill players

Wake Forest signed two of the nation’s best skill prospects. You read that right. The Demon Deacons landed two of their best signees in 20 years in receiver Wesley Grimes (No. 36) and running back Demond Claiborne (No. 105).

Grimes is one of the more skilled receivers in what is the deepest position in the 2022 cycle. The 6-foot-2.5, 175-pounder has vacuum ball skills. Grimes has an innate ability to use late hands so as to not tip off defensive backs on the ball’s location. He’s also one of the better route-runners in the cycle with an array of double moves. Grimes had a monster senior season at Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook with nearly 1,600 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. Head coach Dave Clawson said Grimes is one of the top receiver prospects nationally back in December. It’s hard to disagree.

It became more and more apparent Claiborne is a top five running back in the 2022 cycle. Apart from ready-made size, Claiborne checks most boxes at the position. The 5-foot-9.5, 187-pounder carries his 10.67 second speed in the 100 meters over to the field. Claiborne had one of the best seasons of any running back nationally last fall. He rushed for 2,946 yards (13.1 yards per carry) and 47 touchdowns while leading King William (Va.) High to a state title. The Wake Forest signee is also one of, if not the best pass catching backs we watched on the camp circuit.

Best DB Wisconsin has signed since?

Austin Brown (No. 79) is the best defensive back to sign with Wisconsin in the internet recruiting era. It’s of note any time a school signs a player that is one of their best talents in over 20 years. I’m not sure anyone would mistake Wisconsin with DBU, but the Badgers consistently have a top defense and Brown looks to be a talent upgrade at safety. Brown is an outstanding two-way player at the high school level. He shows instincts, toughness and athleticism on both sides, but we love his skill set at safety. On3 National Recruiting Analyst Gerry Hamilton put it succinctly by saying Brown “chooses violence” as a player.

Biggest steal of the early signing period

I think Tennessee signed several prospects with first round upside. With that said, the biggest steal of the early signing period was Tennessee getting EDGE James Pearce (No. 11) to sign early. Pearce was dominant as a senior and turned in the best single-game performance I’ve seen from a defensive prospect this fall. As On3’s Chad Simmons reported, he was leaning towards waiting to sign in February, but opted to go ahead and ink with the Vols. Pearce and Joshua Josephs (No. 74) give Tennessee one of the top pass rushing duos in the cycle. 

Pressure is on the Aggies and Longhorns

Signing top classes raises expectations and applies pressure to coaching staffs. It certainly qualifies as a “good problem.” This cycle may be the best both Texas and Texas A&M have concurrently recruited in a long time. Texas A&M finished with the No. 1 class in the On3 Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings and the highest-rated class of all-time. Texas‘ class ranks No. 5 coming off a disappointing 5-7 finish in Steve Sarkisian’s first season in Austin. Each class applies pressure to the coaching staffs, but in different ways.

For Texas A&M, this class puts the Aggies on the clock relative to the College Football Playoff. Simply put, teams that sign this type of class are expected to be in the CFP in a matter of years. We saw similar recruiting wins manifest on the field this year for Georgia, who implemented superior defensive talent (via recruiting) to win a national title. You can’t have many, if any 8-4 seasons with the type of talent the Aggies are bringing in with this class.

For Texas, Steve Sarkisian obviously needs to win in his second year. The Longhorns supplemented their class with high profile transfers, led by former five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers. But to succeed long-term, the Longhorns will have to finally develop players. It’s been no secret Texas’ player development has been a house of horrors for the last decade, over multiple staffs. Texas signed what was clearly the top offensive line class in 2022 in addition to a very strong defensive back haul. The Longhorn staff will have to develop these groups and finally churn out top draft picks at an acceptable rate in order to play up to expectations.

Prospects I’m worried we ranked too low

There’s always prospects you have a feeling could outplay their ranking. So why not just rank them higher? The easy answer is we almost always do. We tend to prioritize evidence and fact-based evaluation points and sometimes we may not have had as much exposure to prospects, whether it’s due to an injury, lack of video, not seeing them in person or just the compressed nature of a rankings list. All of the dark horse top draft picks listed above would qualify here as well.

WR Aaron Anderson (No. 55), Alabama- Wide receiver is the deepest position in the cycle relative to top 100 caliber prospects. Alabama signed the nation’s best receiver class. Of that group, Anderson is the most ready to play as a freshman, in our opinion. The 5-foot-8.5, 185-pounder has outstanding quickness both as a route-runner and after the catch. He has very strong hands with the ability to come down with extended grabs. Anderson also doubles as one of the top return men in the cycle with double-digit career return touchdowns at the high school level.

LB Shemar James (No. 70), Florida- James had a bit of a disjointed senior season. He transferred away from Mobile (Ala.) Faith Academy during the offseason and transferred back almost immediately before the first game. We then saw him go down with an injury mid-season and didn’t get to see him on the all-star circuit. While the exposure to James was limited in the last six months, we feel he has some of the best movement skills among linebackers nationally.

EDGE Trevion Williams (No. 87), Mississippi State- Williams looked like the top defensive prospect at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game. He’s a barrel-chested 6-foot-3, 250-pounds with long arms. We’ve heard positive reviews on the Crystal Springs, Miss. product for a while, but the video has always been very limited. The week in Hattiesburg allowed On3 to watch Williams in a setting against other top prospects and he showed out.

TE Eli Raridon (No. 92), Notre Dame- Raridon was a rapidly ascending prospect among the tight end group nationally throughout his senior season. He also got off to a scintillating start in his high school basketball season prior to tearing his ACL. We weren’t able to see Raridon in person on the all-star circuit, so it’s hard to say how he would’ve done. But based on his overall trajectory, I’d guess he’d play well in that setting. Raridon’s size at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, athleticism and versatile skill set point to a bright future in South Bend.

Five sleeper classes

Tennessee (No. 16) – Tennessee landed several high-upside prospects addition to EDGE James Pearce (No. 11) and quarterback Tayven Jackson (No. 201), who are mentioned above. We’re particularly high on receiver Kaleb Webb (No. 59). Webb had a breakout senior season playing against some top competition in the state of Georgia. He has one of the better combinations of high-point ability and verified long speed in the cycle. Fellow receiver Marquarius “Squirrel” White (No. 149) is a dynamic target out of the slot. EDGE Joshua Josephs (No. 74) pairs extraordinary length (36 inch arms) with very good athleticism. Running back Justin Williams (No. 218) is a top tackle breaker and Dee Williams is one of the top incoming JUCO corners nationally.

Oklahoma State (No. 22) – I found Oklahoma State’s class to be better than it’s ranking. The Cowboys signed six four-star prospects according to the On3 Consensus, but there are several more that On3 is higher on than the industry. The group features five four-star skill players in quarterback Garret Rangel (No. 230), running backs Ollie Gordon (No. 160) and CJ Brown along with Talyn Shettron (No. 106) and Braylin Presley at receiver. We’re higher on EDGE prospects DeSean Brown (No. 264) and Jaleel Johnson (No. 186) than the industry. The same goes for offensive lineman Austin Kawecki (No. 277). I also think the Cowboys got one of the best JUCO prospects in linebacker Xavier Benson and would look for him to make an immediate impact. They further bolstered the class by signing On300 offensive tackle Davis Dotson (No. 202) in the late signing period.

Mississippi State (No. 23) – Mike Leach is bringing a number of difference makers to Starkville, in our opinion. EDGE Trevion Williams (No. 87) is the headliner and has the chance to contribute early given his physicality and size. We’re much higher on linebacker Avery Sledge (No. 178) than the rest of the industry. Sledge is a high-upside athlete at the position. The Bulldogs are also bringing in a pair of On300 receivers in Marquez Dortch (No. 217) and Zavion Thomas (No. 253). JUCO corner DeCarlos Nicholson has top-end size and speed with a high upside as he’s new to the position. All of these prospects were committed to another program at one point in time: Williams-Florida State, Sledge-Tulane, Dortch-Ole Miss, Thomas-Louisville, Nicholson-Kentucky.

Vanderbilt (No. 31) – Vanderbilt landed its best class in nearly a decade in Clark Lea’s first full cycle at the helm in Nashville. The headliner is EDGE Darren Agu (No. 135) , who Vanderbilt flipped from Notre Dame earlier in the cycle. The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder is a native of the United Kingdom. Vandy had to hold off Tennessee for him at the end. The Commodores also landed safety Jadais Richard, a one-time TCU commit and flipped quarterback AJ Swann from Maryland. Running back Maurice Edwards (No. 299) is another headliner and ranks as an On300 prospect. We also think quarterback signee Walter Taylor has one of the higher physical upsides among incoming signal callers nationally.

UCF (No. 46) – The Knights pushed Cincinnati for the top Group of Five signing class in the rankings. To be honest, I would personally go with the UCF class. Gus Malzahn and staff signed five prospects we rank as four-stars. Twin defensive backs Ja’Cari Henderson (No. 116) and Demari Henderson (No. 167) are both On300 prospects as is high upside receiver Tyler Griffin (No. 195). Receiver Quan Lee and defensive lineman Keahnist Thompson also check in as four-stars. Slot receiver Xavier Townsend was a flip from Iowa State and has some dynamic qualities after the catch.