Ranking the Top 10 Juniors for the 2022 College Football SeasonApril 7, 2022
Ranking the Top 10 Juniors for the 2022 College Football Season
In case you needed a reminder of the ridiculous level of talent on the Alabama roster, this should sum it up nicely.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young and unanimous All-American edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. headline 2022's crop of top juniors in college football. They're joined in the top 10 by a new teammate, Eli Ricks, who transferred from LSU.
Plus, new running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who transferred from Georgia Tech, is among the near-misses. Other notable players in that category are LSU wideout Kayshon Boutte, Ole Miss running back Zach Evans and Utah quarterback Cameron Rising.
One valuable note: The eligibility pause in 2020 has thrown a twist into class standing. In the interest of consistency, we're using the team-provided year on official rosters.
10. Peter Skoronski, LT, Northwestern
Peter Skoronski headed to Northwestern with major expectations, but he found an even larger spotlight than expected.
Star left tackle Rashawn Slater opted out of the 2020 campaign, leaving Skoronski as the blind-side protector in his first season. While, sure, the Wildcats would've preferred to have both players, they ended up with a new cornerstone of the offensive line.
Skoronski landed second-team All-Big Ten honors and ended the year as Pro Football Focus' highest-graded true freshman in the conference. He followed that up with first-team All-Big Ten recognition in 2021.
9. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Entering the 2021 season, Bijan Robinson seemingly appeared on every list of breakout candidates.
And he certainly lived up to the hype.
Robinson was a bright spot on a disappointing Texas team, scampering for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also reeled in 26 passes for 295 yards and four scores. Robinson ranked seventh in the FBS with 142.2 yards from scrimmage per game.
He also collected 703 rushing yards, 15 catches for 196 yards and six total touchdowns as a freshman in 2020.
8. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
Eli Ricks soared onto the national radar as a true freshman in 2020, picking off four passes and returning two for touchdowns. The cornerback earned third-team All-America honors that season.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury ended his 2021 campaign after six games. Ricks managed 11 tackles and one interception, though a couple of numbers can't explain his real impact. Opposing quarterbacks rarely even targeted Ricks' man in coverage.
After the season, the 6'2" corner elected to transfer and picked the rival Crimson Tide. Ricks is expected to join the starting lineup immediately in Tuscaloosa.
7. Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State
Listed at 5'6" and 176 pounds, Deuce Vaughn is not close to prototypical size. That undeniably favors someone like Robinson, who checks in at 6'0" and 221 pounds.
But with production like this, who cares?
Vaughn began his Kansas State tenure with a strong freshman year. He scampered for 642 yards and made 25 catches for 434 yards, totaling nine touchdowns for the Wildcats.
Last season, he shredded defenses for 1,404 yards and 18 scores on the ground, both of which were top-10 marks in the FBS. Vaughn also grabbed 49 passes for 468 yards and four touchdowns. The first-team AP All-American finished fifth nationally with 144.0 scrimmage yards per game.
6. Jordan Addison, WR, Pitt
Also a first-team All-American in 2021, Jordan Addison took home the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver too.
The big-play threat established himself as the favorite target of third-place Heisman finisher Kenny Pickett. Addison pulled in exactly 100 receptions, racking up 1,593 yards and tying Western Kentucky's Jerreth Sterns for an FBS-high 17 receiving touchdowns.
That breakout season more than doubled a quality freshman year in which he posted 60 catches and totaled 724 scrimmage yards.
Addison will be catching passes from a different player—potentially USC transfer Kedon Slovis—in 2022, but his expectations are hardly dropping after Pickett's departure.
5. Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina
Thanks to Coastal Carolina's 11-0 regular season in 2020, you've probably heard of Grayson McCall. He's guided the Chanticleers to consecutive 11-win campaigns.
And he's flirted with history in the process.
McCall's total production is impressive. He threw for 2,488 yards with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions while running for 569 yards and seven scores in 2020. Last year, he registered 2,873 passing yards and 27 touchdowns to three picks with 290 rushing yards and four trips to the end zone.
However, he's also picked apart defenses for 10.9 yards per attempt in his career. Since 2000, McCall only trails two former Alabama stars—Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones—in passing efficiency rating.
4. Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest
Sam Hartman's career has been fascinating.
As a true freshman in 2018, he won the starting job. But then, he took a redshirt in 2019 while serving as Jamie Newman's backup. Newman transferred to Georgia, vacating the spot for Hartman to lead the Demon Deacons during the 2020 season.
Last season, Hartman obliterated single-season program records with 4,228 passing yards and 39 touchdowns. He propelled the Deacs to their first ACC Championship Game appearance in 15 years.
And still, he's only considered a redshirt junior in 2022.
Hartman will be without NFL-bound Jaquarii Roberson, but fellow standout junior A.T. Perry will lead a strong receiving corps.
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
It hardly seems fair to consider Jaxon Smith-Njigba the third wheel of Ohio State's receiving corps in 2021. After all, he entered the Rose Bowl pacing the team in receptions and yards.
Nevertheless, he spent the season in the shadow of coveted NFL prospects Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. As expected, they both declared for the 2022 draft. And that leaves Smith-Njigba in his well-deserved spot as Ohio State's unquestioned featured target.
Smith-Njigba amassed 95 receptions for 1,606 yards—third-most nationally—and nine touchdowns. He memorably closed the campaign with 15 catches, 347 yards and three scores in the Rose Bowl.
Most impressively, he put together that fantastic season after catching just 10 passes for 49 yards as a true freshman.
2. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
First-team All-SEC. Consensus All-American. First-ever Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.
Not a bad debut season for Bryce Young, you know?
Although the Crimson Tide would've loved to put an exclamation point on 2021 with a national title, they're heading into 2022 as the championship favorite thanks to Young. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 547 attempts.
Alabama's primary goal will be reclaiming the championship, but Young has a shot to join Ohio State's Archie Griffin (1974, 1975) as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winners ever.
1. Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama
Among the numerous ways to explain the Alabama star's dominance, this might be the most efficient one.
"Will Anderson leads all edge defenders with 141 pressures over the last three seasons," PFF said. "But he's only played two seasons."
In his freshman year, Anderson tallied 52 tackles with 10.5 for a loss and seven sacks. Last season, he collected a preposterous 101 tackles, setting the official FBS record with 34.5 takedowns in the backfield while registering a nation-best 17.5 sacks.
If he were eligible for the 2022 NFL draft, Anderson would very likely be the first overall pick. Instead, he'll be playing one more season with Alabama before he presumably heads to the pros.
Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.