Projecting which 10 SEC signees will have the biggest impact in 2022
So you want to star as a true freshman in the SEC, huh?
Not everybody walks into the league and becomes Derek Stingley Jr. or Minkah Fitzpatrick. Shoot, even Bryce Young, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel had to wait a year to become stars.
This year’s crop of SEC true freshmen will attempt to do something that so few do. That is, become a legitimate contributor in the toughest league in the sport. That’s equal parts talent and opportunity.
These 10 new SEC signees will have the best chance to do just that:
10. Connor Weigman, Texas A&M QB
Yeah, I know Max Johnson is going to A&M. I know Haynes King is still there, too. It’s going to be a 3-way quarterback battle in College Station. So why would Weigman really be in position to make an impact?
Listen to Jimbo Fisher talk about Weigman and tell me that this is just your standard quarterback recruit:
“Those guys are all great players, but I’ve invested in (Conner Weigman) and I think this guy’s the best guy in the country.”
— 247Sports (@247Sports) December 15, 2021
Even if Johnson is the outright starter for Week 1, I wouldn’t be so sure that King automatically has a leg up in Weigman with those extra years in the system. Fisher went with the younger option in 2018 when he picked Kellen Mond over Nick Starkel, and he favored Jameis Winston over Jake Coker in 2013. Granted, Mond and Winston were both second-year guys, as was Deondre Francois when he ran away with the starting job following Sean Maguire’s injury (Maguire is now an analyst on Fisher’s A&M staff). Don’t be surprised if Fisher turns to Weigman, who already has the size and skill set to operate the complicated offense, during his true freshman season … and not necessarily because of desperation.
9. Kiyaunta Goodwin, Kentucky OT
His recruitment ended up being a roller-coaster ride at the end, but all’s well that ends well. Goodwin is joining the Big Blue Wall as soon as Darian Kinnard is leaving it. At 340 pounds, I’m guessing Mark Stoops would like to showcase the first 5-star recruit he ever signed. That’s an extremely tall ask to have a true freshman tackle with all the talented, NFL-ready edge rushers that play in the SEC. Still, though, Kinnard played immediately and eventually became a starting left tackle by the end of his true freshman season. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of Goodwin doing the same.
8. Jake Johnson, Texas A&M TE
Over or under 2.5 catches into Jake Johnson’s career until we get a “Johnson & Johnson” reference? I’ll take the under, assuming there’s a good chance that he’s catching passes from his brother, LSU transfer Max Johnson. One of the reasons Jake Johnson has the ability to emerge right away is that baked in chemistry with a potential starting quarterback, but also the fact that Jalen Wydermyer is likely off to the NFL. It was Wydermyer who blossomed into a stud as a true freshman in 2019. Don’t be surprised if Johnson, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the 2022 class, does the same.
7. Bryce Anderson, Texas A&M S
The Aggies are losing a ton of production defensively, including Leon O’Neal Jr. and likely Demani Richardson, both of whom have seemingly been in College Station forever. No other A&M safety played 150 snaps last year (remember that Antonio Johnson is technically a corner now). That should bode well for Anderson, who certainly has the speed to play the position in the SEC. There will be questions about his size and instincts making the full-time transition to safety (he was also a dynamic quarterback in high school). But with a new defensive coordinator, Anderson’s path to playing time should be there from the jump, just as it was for O’Neal and Richardson back when they were true freshmen.
6. Tavorus Jones, Mizzou RB
You had me at “Eli Drinkwitz running back.”
I’m assuming that Tyler Badie is off to the NFL after his monumental workload. Like Larry Rountree, Badie essentially was the offense. He didn’t need to be some 230-pound behemoth, either. Jones can be that dude in Drinkwitz’s pro-tempo system. And even if he isn’t a high-volume guy as a true freshman, I’m sure Drinkwitz can find some way to use his versatile skill set.
— Hudl (@Hudl) December 15, 2021
Badie was Mizzou’s only tailback who had more than 100 snaps in 2021. The opportunity is there for either Jones or Elijah Young. Remember that Jones played at the highest level of football in Texas, and in non-pandemic seasons, he showed off those receiving skills, as well. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Drinkwitz turn him into his high-volume guy at some point in 2022.
5. Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, Texas A&M DL
Man, the Aggies have to be glad that there was so much coaching carousel movement at big-time programs. One of those was Oklahoma, which was where Brownlow-Dindy was committed to. But a December flip by the Central Florida native allowed the Aggies to swoop in and land a potential DeMarvin Leal replacement. To be fair, nobody should be expected to replace the ever-versatile Leal. But the Aggies lost basically that entire defensive line with Tyree Johnson, Michael Clemons and Jayden Peevy all expected to be off to the NFL. Consider that a prime opportunity for a 5-star, 280-pound stud like Brownlow-Dindy to carve out immediate playing time. He’s not the only Aggies defensive lineman who could do just that (more on that in a minute).
4. Jeremiah Alexander, Alabama OLB
It’s no longer a rarity to see true freshmen front-7 players at Alabama. That 2019 group really changed that for Saban. A certain Will Anderson dominating as a true freshman in 2020 only added to that youth movement in Tuscaloosa. Alexander, perhaps either rotating in with Anderson or playing opposite of him, should play immediately. He’s got the size at 235 pounds. His ability to play won’t be dependent on him getting into a strength program. It’ll be about developing those instincts and refining his craft as an edge-rusher. Fortunately for him, he can learn from one of the best edge runners the sport has had in the 21st century.
3. Walter Nolen, Texas A&M DT
Go figure that Nolen is technically the highest-graded FBS signee with No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter making the stunning flip to FCS Jackson State. For all the reasons outlined with the aforementioned Brownlow-Dindy, A&M’s major defensive line turnover should create a path for the other 5-star defensive lineman heading to College Station. And if he can’t play there, well, make him a Wildcat QB:
— Overtime (@overtime) November 6, 2021
It’s crazy that Powell High School (Tennessee) legitimately turned to the 325-pound interior defensive lineman in those spots. My guess? Fisher won’t go that route and he’ll instead have Nolen get an early opportunity to blow up SEC backfields. We’ll see Nolen working on that tackle rotation with Isaiah Raikes and the rising McKinnley Jackson. Nolen is going to be a game-changer for A&M new-look defense.
2. Kamari Wilson, Florida S
One of the biggest victories by any coach last week was Billy Napier landing Wilson, AKA the 5-star safety out of IMG Academy. I would assume Trey Dean isn’t sticking around for Year 5, and if that’s the case, Rashad Torrence is the only locked in starting safety. Donovan McMillon and Mordecai McDaniel might have a leg up on the 5-star true freshman with experience, but neither graded out particularly well as second-year guys in 2021. I have to imagine that Wilson, who has the physicality to play near the line of scrimmage, is going to be a building block immediately for the Napier era. Dan Mullen was criticized for not landing elite talent. Napier wants to not only land elite talent, but showcase it. Wilson can be just that.
1. Luther Burden, Mizzou WR
Burden checks all 3 boxes you’d want for “breakout true freshman.” Is he ridiculously talented? Yes. The No. 1 receiver in the 247sports composite could’ve picked anywhere in the country and he picked Mizzou. Why did he pick Mizzou? That’s box No. 2. Sure, staying semi-local and playing for Eli Drinkwitz was part of it for the East St. Louis (Ill.) native, but he’s got a legitimate opportunity to become Mizzou’s No. 1 receiver as a true freshman. And what’s box No. 3? He’s super versatile. At 6-0, 200 pounds, Burden can line up in the slot, he can line up outside and he can attack downfield. His new coach is well aware of that, too.
— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) December 15, 2021
That’s the trifecta. That’s why he’s No. 1 on this list.