B/R Recruiting: 2022 Commits Who Can Lead Teams Back into Top 25
During one of the wackiest college football seasons in recent memory, the AP Top 25 has essentially been a two-way escalator that has seen teams step on and off at an incredible rate.
Through eight weeks, an astounding 45 squads have been ranked.
Some familiar programs have dropped from the poll, though, including national runner-up Clemson, which has endured an awful offensive start. The 2019 national champion LSU Tigers aren't ranked either and just agreed to part ways with head coach Ed Orgeron after the 2021 season.
So, as some powerhouses and other non-Top 25 squads look to rebuild, here are a few 2022 commits who could help address problems right away.
Ramon Brown, Virginia Tech Running Back
Consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have taken the Virginia Tech Hokies out of the poll conversation, which is an all-too-familiar event for head coach Justin Fuente.
This year, it's about inconsistency in the 92nd-ranked running game, as the quarterback situation hasn't been that bad.
Fuente has done a better job recruiting this year than in recent memory, and one of the best commitments in the Hokies class is Ramon Brown, a 5'11", 202-pound bruiser from Midlothian, Virginia, who looks like the kind of back who can carry the load every down.
Penn State, Maryland, South Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State and others were among teams who tried to lure Brown, and some traditionally strong running back producers populated that list.
While he probably needs to learn to be a better weapon out of the backfield, Brown possesses strong speed to go along with the type of frame that can make him an immediate-impact player.
TreVonte' Citizen, LSU Running Back
It may seem odd to put a running back on this list for the LSU Tigers. After all, Tyrion Davis-Price just set a single-game school record with 287 rushing yards in a win over Florida last weekend.
But a deeper look shows Davis-Price has just 575 total yards through seven games, and consistently running the ball has been a problem for the Bayou Bengals in each of the past two years. Given the recent trend of LSU players leaving early for the NFL, draft-eligible Davis-Price could go that route too.
Either way, you've got to have more than one quality running back in the SEC.
Enter TreVonte' Citizen, a 6'0", 217-pound Lake Charles, Louisiana, star-in-the-making, who could have gone to the majority of the programs in the nation but stayed home.
At worst, Citizen can be a fellow pile-driving force alongside the brutish Davis-Price for whoever the new coach is in Baton Rouge.
With the Tigers bringing back elite weaponry in the passing game, and with quarterback Max Johnson having a strong year, QB Myles Brennan scheduled to return and signal-caller Walker Howard coming in the 2022 class, throwing shouldn't be an issue.
The puzzling hiccups on defense haven't been because of talent, either. So, you can circle running back as a point of concern, and Citizen checks the box for big-time help.
AJ Duffy, Florida State Quarterback
Despite another rough season for Florida State, the future looks brighter for head coach Mike Norvell, who has done an exceptional job of building relationships on the recruiting trail in what is turning into a dynamite class.
Will he keep everybody in the fold?
After transferring to Florida's IMG Academy from his California home, the top-100 prospect is playing for one of the nation's elite high school programs and faces a schedule that resembles that of a small college program. If anybody is going to be ready for Power Five football, it's be the 6'2", 203-pound signal-caller.
Duffy is extremely accurate, can make all the big-time throws and isn't a statue in the pocket.
While Jordan Travis has been more effective than McKenzie Milton this season, neither FSU quarterback exactly strikes fear in the hearts of opponents. Duffy has that next-level ability, has confidence and is used to making plays against quality competition.
Justice Finkley, Texas Defensive Lineman
Texas' recent problems with allowing comebacks to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have come because of a putrid defense that is having the same ill effects of a season ago.
Yes, the Cowboys shut down the Longhorns offense in the second half last week, which allowed Mike Gundy's team to storm back for the win, but fielding a quality defense has been a constant struggle.
Texas is 113th nationally against the run, having allowed more than 201 yards per game. The Longhorns simply cannot stop anybody, which is why replenishing the pantry with stars such as Justice Finkley is so important.
The 6'2", 255-pound Trussville, Alabama, native elected to go his own way instead of staying in state and playing for the Crimson Tide or Tigers. That's huge for coach Steve Sarkisian, as he is an ideal 3-4 defensive end who has the frame to add 20-25 pounds and shift inside. He can be an edge-collapser or swallow runners if he moves to the interior.
Greg Gaines, Iowa State Wide Receiver
One of the most puzzling teams is head coach Matt Campbell's Iowa State.
They were a preseason Top 10 team and even a sleeper to compete for the College Football Playoff.
Instead, they're muddling along at 4-2, with surprise teams such as Oklahoma State and Baylor carrying the Big 12 headlines alongside Oklahoma. While running back Breece Hall is quietly having another terrific season in what is probably his last in Ames, the Cyclones need help in the passing game.
Quarterback Brock Purdy hasn't been good enough, and he needs more weapons alongside wideout Xavier Hutchinson. Greg Gaines can help immensely. The 6'2", 185-pound Tampa Bay, Florida, product looks like a difference-maker.
He headlines a surprising Cyclones class, given Campbell's normal also-ran groups rankings-wise. Gaines is a long, lanky receiver who high-points the ball well and goes after the passes in the air. He is also athletic and has good enough speed to step on the field right away.
He knows fellow Tampa area product and Iowa State freshman running back Deon Silas, and is friends with quarterback commit Rocco Becht, according to 247Sports' Michael Swain. That trio can go a long way in helping Campbell and Co. rebuild after this stable of playmakers leaves.
Domani Jackson, USC Cornerback
The best player on this list is USC defensive back Domani Jackson, who is still a Trojans commitment despite Clay Helton's firing as head coach earlier this year.
You can bet everybody in the nation will come after several USC recruits, and Jackson is chief among them. Watch for Michigan, Alabama and others to turn up the heat.
If he stays in Los Angeles, Jackson is as close to a can't-miss prospect as it gets in the Trojans' class. The Mater Dei High School cornerback is 6'1", 185 pounds and is the nation's fifth-ranked player. He has exceptional ball skills and can do it all in the defensive backfield.
The Trojans could even put him at safety, and he'd likely shine there too.
Helton did a good job of recruiting at one of the easiest places in the nation to lure prospects to—besides an embarrassing 2020 haul—but while there is talent all over the field on both sides of the ball, it hasn't produced as expected.
That's why the Trojans are making a coaching change, and Jackson can be an immediate boost to a secondary that is 79th against the pass.
Cade Klubnik, Clemson Quarterback
This will be controversial. After all, D.J. Uiagalelei is a former 5-star signal-caller who played admirably in relief of Trevor Lawrence a year ago, and this is his first year leading the Clemson offense.
But he's not playing well enough that you can mark him down in Sharpie as the Tigers starter next year.
If he doesn't improve significantly, he won't be. It doesn't matter how much goodwill head coach Dabo Swinney has built; Clemson isn't used to being 4-2 and unranked, and you can bet Uiagalelei, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and others will be on the hot seat if things don't change.
The 6'3", 186-pound Austin, Texas, standout is a 5-star recruit and a top-30 player nationally. He may be on the skinny side, but Lawrence was, too, and he was too good to keep off the field.
He has a live arm, quick delivery and is best while making throws on the run, and he has exceptional upside. It's far from a guarantee Klubnik unseats Uiagalelei, of course, but at worst he'll light a fire under the incumbent.
Clemson needs to worry more about answers than recruiting rankings, and Swinney has a reputation of doing that.
Jadyn Marshall, UCLA Wide Receiver
At 5-2, UCLA is trudging along just fine this season. But the Bruins aren't where they want to be considering they were once ranked, one of the buzzworthy stories of the early campaign and expected to flex in the Pac-12 South.
They've still got a shot to win that wide-open division, but head coach Chip Kelly's best Bruins team still has plenty of growing up to do, and getting more skill-position players would be wonderful for Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Ethan Garbers or whoever is under center for the 2022 offense.
The Bruins are known for churning out tight ends, but Marshall is the type of field-stretching weapon they need to rev up the offense. The 6'1", 180-pound Stockton, California, native is a blazer who is committed to UCLA's football and track teams.
It's that type of game-breaking speed that can make him someone Kelly can't keep off the field, and he looks like one of those playmakers from the coach's Oregon days.
"Sometimes you get really nervous because you are going, 'No, no, no,' and then he makes amazing things happen," Marshall's high school offensive coordinator Doug Carruesco told the Record's Justin Frommer after one of Marshall's recent high school games.
Addison Nichols, Tennessee Offensive Tackle
With an ongoing internal investigation and a roster gutted from the transfer portal, Tennessee wasn't expected to do much on the field this year.
But the Vols are 4-3 and had close losses to ranked opponents Pittsburgh and Ole Miss. While things will get tough for head coach Josh Heupel's bunch in the next few weeks thanks to matchups with Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia, a bowl game isn't out of the question, and recruiting could see an uptick thanks to the competitive on-field product.
One player the Vols have in the fold who'll be a huge help in 2022 is 4-star offensive tackle Addison Nichols.
The Greater Atlanta Christian School product is a 6'5", 318-pound mauler who had 30 offers from schools that included Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, USC and others. He also has ties to the Vols.
And with UT's best offensive lineman, Cade Mays, possibly testing the NFL waters after the season, there could be an open spot in the rotation. The Vols are also extremely shallow along the offensive front and have been decimated with injuries recently.
Nichols would be a perfect cure for those depth issues, and he could be more than just Band-Aid in 2022 while helping this year's sixth-ranked rushing attack hold strong.
Gi'Bran Payne, Indiana Running Back
The Indiana Hoosiers were expected to compete in the Big Ten this year after a short season that nearly saw them reach the 2020 league title game.
Instead, they're 2-4 and coming off a disappointing 20-15 loss to undefeated Michigan State. Had they been able to generate any offense whatsoever, the Hoosiers could have gotten a season-turning win.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is battling a shoulder injury, and IU hasn't scared anybody on that side of the ball. But the biggest reason is a nonexistent rushing attack.
The 97th-ranked running game averages just 124 yards per contest, which is a regular problem for Tom Allen-coached teams. With USC transfer and leading rusher Stephen Carr departing after this season, the door is wide-open.
Gi'Bran Payne is a perfect candidate. The 4-star prospect is 5'10", 190 pounds and drew the attention from Alabama, hometown Cincinnati, Boston College, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Penn State, Notre Dame and others.
Everybody sees the potential Payne has, and he's heading to Bloomington to help fix those running issues. Look for him to assist in getting IU back in the rankings conversation.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.