NCAAF

Who are the strongest and fastest true freshmen? Superlatives for 2022 recruits

High school yearbooks for 2022 graduates have been handed out, with many of them including a section on class superlatives.

While most include an award for best hair, we found it fitting to recognize college football’s 2022 recruiting class for its collective talent on the gridiron, singling out categories such as best hands and hardest hitter.

Our award winners are already on college campuses, so we also provided analysis on what each player can do early on as freshmen.

Which prospect is the fastest?

ATH Jordan Anthony
ESPN 300 ranking: unranked (four stars)
Kentucky Wildcats

Anthony is one the fastest high school athletes in the history of track and field. He ran a blazing 10.14 100-meter and 21.35 200-meter as a senior and backed it up in a football setting, running a 4.46 at the Atlanta Under Armour camp as a junior. With pads on, we clocked his play speed at 22.67, which is on par with Tyreek Hill. Anthony is a difference-maker on offense and a good corner defensively.

How he fits at Kentucky: Anthony is currently enrolled and training for both football and track. He will make the transition to receiver full time and will have to bulk up his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame to withstand SEC physicality. He has the build and big-play speed reminiscent of DeVonta Smith out of high school.

Who is the strongest prospect?

RB Branson Robinson
ESPN 300 ranking: 36
Georgia Bulldogs

Many likely expected to see a lineman listed here. Not this year. Robinson emphasizes the “power” in power back. The top-rated running back in his class, he blends good speed and agility with a strong, physical running style. A competitive lifter in high school, Robinson set state records for his weight class in Mississippi. At 5-10, 220 pounds, he deadlifted 720 pounds and squatted 630, evidence of his ability to break tackles as well as punish defenders.

How he fits at Georgia: Robinson looks like a beautiful fit, as he reminds us of former Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb, who was a powerful runner and state record-setting competitive weightlifter himself. With his work in the weight room, Robinson is physically mature, and like Chubb, he should be able to contribute in year one.

Who is the best pass-rusher?

DT Walter Nolen
ESPN 300 ranking: 1
Texas A&M Aggies

The No. 1 overall player in the 2022 class, Nolen may be an interior player but can still make a quarterback’s life as miserable as any edge player. An explosive 300-pounder, his agility allows him to work around blockers. The big man can also win with power, making him a handful for any offensive lineman. Those physical traits, combined with a tenacious approach and a highly competitive demeanor, enable Nolen to disrupt the pass from anywhere along the defensive line.

How he fits at Texas A&M: The Aggies’ exceptional defensive line class is led by Nolen, who is the most well-rounded and ready to play of that talented group. The top-ranked prospect in the country, Nolen has the tools to be an impact defender likely to make his presence felt very quickly.

Who has the best hands?

WR Luther Burden
ESPN 300 ranking: 5
Missouri Tigers

The top receiver in the 2022 class has arguably the best set of hands in recent memory. Burden burst onto the scene at the Under Armour Future 50 event as a junior, winning the best hands competition and following it with an MVP runner-up performance at that game, breaking the contest open on the first play with a 65-yard touchdown (fifth-longest in game history). While he has great concentration and big, soft mitts to bring down the tough grab, his leaping and ball adjustment in the air make him special.

How he fits at Missouri: Burden reminds us of Dez Bryant at the same stage. He’s a highly competitive, ultra-skilled prospect who should be a day-one starter at Missouri as a true freshman.

Which quarterback is the most dynamic?

QB Walker Howard
ESPN 300 ranking: 42
LSU Tigers

Howard, the No. 3 dual-threat QB in 2022, checks all the trait boxes and could fit into any offense. He doesn’t have elite arm strength or running speed, but can consistently win. His throwing mechanics are very polished, and he is highly accurate from the pocket or on the run. He understands the mental side of the game as good as any in the class.

How he fits at LSU: Early reports from Baton Rouge match our scouting report. Walker isn’t wowing the LSU coaching staff with any one attribute, but he has been as consistent and versatile as anyone on the roster.

Which quarterback has the strongest arm?

QB Maalik Murphy
ESPN 300 ranking: 250
Texas Longhorns

At 6-5, 235 pounds, Murphy is a striking physical presence with fitting arm strength. A big, strong pocket-passer, Murphy can drive the ball down field with great velocity, make all the throws and fit the ball into tight targets. At Steve Clarkson’s QB retreat in May 2021, Murphy won the long ball competition with a 79-yard throw.

How he fits at Texas: We don’t expect Murphy to be in the mix this year with Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card ahead of him on the Longhorns’ depth chart. Arch Manning‘s commitment also does not help his future chances in Austin, but he certainly has Power 5 arm talent.

Who is the hardest hitter?

LB Shawn Murphy
ESPN 300 ranking: 37
Alabama Crimson Tide

A thickly built inside linebacker with good ability to read-and-react and close, the 6-2, 215-pound Murphy can punish ball carriers upon arrival. A defender who drives through on contact, he can deliver a powerful pop and knock opponents back. He is capable of the big hit, but more importantly, he is also a dependable tackler, and coupled with his physical style, he rarely allows leaky yardage after contact.

How he fits at Alabama: The Crimson Tide have recruited at a high level for many cycles, so getting on the field quickly will not be easy, but it is clear why they targeted Murphy in recruiting. The High School Butkus Award winner, he is a tough, competitive and instinctive player with the tools to develop into one of the next productive Bama linebackers.

Who is the best returner?

WR Aaron Anderson
ESPN 300 ranking: 69
Alabama Crimson Tide

Diminutive, but fast and slippery, the 5-10, 180-pound Anderson is a versatile player who can contribute out of the backfield, from the slot and, likely most immediately, in the return game. A decisive runner who can quickly change direction and tap into a second gear, Anderson has shown how dangerous he can be as a return specialist. Last fall in a nationally televised ESPN game, he returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns with over 200 yards. He added more return TDs during his senior season.

How he fits at Alabama: Alabama flipped Anderson from in-state LSU during the Tigers’ coaching change, and he could quickly have an impact for the Tide on special teams. Jameson Williams is gone, and while Alabama has plenty of talent to compete for return duties, there is no clear-cut returning ace, which could allow for Anderson to compete for touches in year one.

Which defensive back is the best against the run?

S Kamari Wilson
ESPN 300 ranking: 18
Florida Gators

Wilson plays safety like a linebacker with a DB’s size — kind of like how former Clemson standout Isaiah Simmons has developed. He isn’t far off from linebacker stature either (6-1, 205) and is very comfortable lining up in the box and bringing the boom as a tackler. He makes quick, instinctive reads on the quarterback and closes fast with an attitude. He is a punishing tackler.

How he fits at Florida: Given Florida’s depth at safety, Wilson may see his first action as a special teamer and should excel in that role given his fast and physical style of play. He may not make an immediate impact despite his strong football instincts, but we see Wilson racking up high tackles during his career. He brings an aggressive style of play in the back end that has been missing in Gainesville.

Which defensive back has the best coverage skills?

CB Travis Hunter
ESPN 300 ranking: 2
Jackson State Tigers

Hunter, the top-ranked corner and No. 2 overall prospect, could have won best hands as well. He has arguably the best ball skills we have ever evaluated and uses that trait to successfully defend any jump ball in his vicinity. Perhaps not the most polished in technical skill, he has terrific instincts when breaking on the ball in the air and closes ground extremely fast. He knows how to utilize his 6-1 height and length to press and reroute receivers. Tall corners are typically not as smooth and fluid through the hips as Hunter, allowing him to mirror receivers tightly in man-to-man.

How he fits at Jackson State: Deion Sanders and Jackson State signed Hunter in one of the biggest recruiting upsets in college football history. Coach Prime knows a thing or two about playing both sides of the ball and producing in the return game. JSU might be the only school to give Hunter a true shot at being a two-way player. If April’s spring game is any indication of his impact, the Under Armour All-American will soon need his own nickname. Hunter dazzled in his debut, hauling in two TD catches and picking off two passes as well.

Which running back is the most elusive?

RB Raleek Brown
ESPN 300 ranking: 64
USC Trojans

Brown is a 5-7, 170-pound lightning bolt and big play waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. He can torch defenses with top-level speed (4.43 40) or quick cuts in space (4.19 pro agility shuttle). His elite shuttle time shows the rare lateral burst and change-of-direction skill he has in shorts, and it should transfer to the gridiron. Whether he turns the corner with acceleration or jukes in the open field, the No. 5 overall running back in 2022 is going to cause headaches in the Pac-12.

How he fits at USC: Given his versatility as a runner, pass-catcher and returner, we expect Brown to play early at USC. He reminds us of former Pac-12 elusive star De’Anthony Thomas coming out of high school in size and explosive quickness. Lincoln Riley’s offense is a perfect scheme to align Brown for mismatches and to keep him healthy.

Who is most likely to win the Heisman?

QB Drew Allar
ESPN 300 ranking: 51
Penn State Nittany Lions

This is the first year we have rolled out the Heisman superlative, as it comes with the same unwanted pressure as “most likely to succeed.” The 6-foot-4 Allar reminds us of the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen regarding his blend of size, arm strength and mobility. It’s rare to inherit all those traits at the QB position and is extremely difficult to defend. Allar is also used to putting up big numbers, as he amassed close to 5,000 total yards and 57 touchdowns … in just his senior season.

How he fits at Penn State: Circumstance surrounds this selection as well. We feel the Nittany Lions are close to getting over the hump, and Allar is the perfect guy to carry them. It doesn’t hurt that he has star power coming in at the skill positions, including receiver Kaden Saunders.

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