5-Star College Football Players Stepping into Much Larger Roles in 2022
Whenever a college football team sign a 5-star prospect, the hype train typically starts screeching down the tracks. The dreams of first-year superstardom are prevalent.
In reality, though, a majority of elite talents spend a season or two adjusting to the college game. The attention they received as high schoolers will dissipate, and, from a national perspective, some players even become relatively forgotten.
Because of personal development, NFL departures, transfers or other reasons, though, 2022 may finally be the season that the previous 5-star recruit becomes a key player.
This collection of players is intentionally narrow. While others may have greater production next fall, their role—think snap counts—will not necessarily have increased. Additionally, only 5-stars from recruiting classes in 2020 and earlier are considered.
Logan Brown, OL, Wisconsin
Of the players featured, Wisconsin blocker Logan Brown faces the toughest path to a substantial role in 2022. Left tackle Tyler Beach elected to return for a sixth year, so only the right side may be available.
But if Brown demands a spot, the Badgers will gladly adjust. They've been waiting for a breakout year.
When he enrolled in 2019 as the No. 17 overall prospect, it seemed like a match made in football heaven. Wisconsin is known for developing its offensive linemen, and Brown was the second-best prospect in program history at the time.
However, he's spent the last three seasons in a deep reserve role and typically playing only in decided games. Brown has a clear opportunity to change that usage in the fall.
Jordan Whittington, WR, Texas
Also a member of the 2019 class, Jordan Whittington headed to the Longhorns as the No. 34 prospect in the cycle. Fans hoped to see him immediately thrive in a Sam Ehlinger-led attack.
Injuries, unfortunately, have derailed those visions.
Whittington managed one appearance in 2019 because of a groin injury, and a hamstring issue limited him to five games in 2020. Last year, he provided a mini-breakthrough with 24 catches for 359 yards before a clavicle injury again shortened his season.
Texas will be expecting Whittington to hold a leading role in the receiving corps next fall—and hoping he stays healthy, too.
Julian Fleming, WR, Ohio State
As if the 2021 regular season didn't supply the evidence already, the Rose Bowl confirmed Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be Ohio State's top receiver in 2022.
But that victory over Utah also provided an initial look at the receiving corps without NFL-bound wideouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Along with Marvin Harrison Jr., those vacated snaps will primarily belong to prized 2020 signee Julian Fleming.
Fleming, who ranked No. 3 overall in that cycle, has contributed in a minor capacity over the last two seasons. He's totaled 19 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman, RBs, Florida
Florida must replace top running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis next season. Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Davis scampered for 489 and five, respectively.
Nay'Quan Wright held a regular role in 2021, so he's the most experienced option. However, the Gators have a pair of 5-star transfers—Demarkcus Bowman from Clemson and Lorenzo Lingard from Miami—who are expected to shoulder a heavier load.
Bowman is the more recent prospect, ranking No. 20 in the 2020 cycle. Lingard finished No. 25 in the 2018 class.
It's possible this is an either/or situation. Wright could be the lead runner, leaving rotational snaps for just one of Bowman or Lingard. Still, one of them should be a greater factor in 2022.
Broderick Jones, LT, Georgia
National champion Georgia saw plenty of Broderick Jones in 2021, but he'll be a fixture all next season.
Labeled the No. 11 prospect in the 2020 class, he only played in a couple of blowouts as a true freshman. Jones held a backup spot until November 2021, when left tackle Jamaree Salyer missed four games with a foot injury. Salyer's absence gave Jones a chance in the lineup, and he generally performed well.
And now, Salyer is headed to the NFL.
Fortunately for Georgia, this should be a straightforward transition. Barring a major surprise or injury, Jones will be holding down the left side of UGA's offensive line in 2022.
Chris Braswell, Edge, Alabama
Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner will be Alabama's top edge-rushers next season, but the rotation will look a little different.
And it's going to include more Chris Braswell.
Linebacker Drew Sanders transferred to Arkansas, marking the obvious path for additional snaps, and LaBryan Ray could choose the NFL over a sixth year at Alabama. If he leaves too, then Braswell, the 19th-ranked player in the 2020 class, will be all but assured of an increased role.
Braswell didn't play in his first season at 'Bama but contributed 13 tackles (one for loss) with two hurries in 2021.
Sav'ell Smalls, OLB, Washington
Washington has shifted from simply hoping Sav'ell Smalls makes a greater impact in 2022 to truly needing more from him.
Sixth-year senior Ryan Bowman has exhausted his eligibility, so more playing time will be available. Because of Washington's coaching changes, however, Cooper McDonald transferred to San Diego State. He ranked second on the team in tackles for loss during the 2021 season.
It's time for Smalls, the No. 30 prospect in 2020, to hold a consequential place in the rotation. Zion Tupuola-Fetui should be the featured player, but Smalls will be competing with Jeremiah Martin and Bralen Trice, among others, for more snaps.