Every college football season produces its share of new faces on the scene, as breakout players or rising stars play a huge role in determining the four playoff teams and the conference champions. While these players are instrumental to the success of any team, projecting breakout players for any given season is no easy task. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races - and that's certainly going to hold true for the 2022 season.
With kickoff for the 2022 season less than 20 days away, Athlon Sports is taking a look at 50 players who could be poised for a breakout year from the Power 5 conferences, Notre Dame or the Group of 5 ranks. Players from every position and all 10 conferences were included. Also, a few freshmen cracked the list.
Note: Players are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
College Football's Top 50 Breakout Players for 2022
Shyheim Battle, CB, NC State
Battle quietly had a strong season in 2021 but only earned honorable mention All-ACC honors. The North Carolina native played in all 12 games for the Wolfpack and limited opposing receivers to just 16 receptions on 34 targets per Pro Football Focus. Battle also registered 28 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions.
Cole Bishop, S, Utah
Bishop seemed to get better and better with each snap last season, emerging from true freshman to starter for Utah's final six games. The Georgia native tallied at least seven tackles in each of the last five contests to finish with 55 on the year, while also tallying three sacks and five pass breakups.
Brandon Brown, DL, UTSA
Brown was a part-time starter on UTSA's standout defense last year but played well enough to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. The Texas native effectively manned the middle of the Roadrunner front, recording 23 tackles (three for a loss) and a forced fumble. Don't be surprised if Brown emerges as one of the top linemen in Conference USA this year.
Calen Bullock, S, USC
It's no secret USC is going to score its share of points under new coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams. However, the Trojans need to make big strides on defense to have any shot at winning the Pac-12. Bullock is one of the defenders new coordinator Alex Grinch is counting on for more help. The California native recorded 40 tackles, two picks and three pass breakups as a true freshman last fall.
Luther Burden, WR, Missouri
Burden ranked as the No. 1 receiver prospect by the 247Sports Composite in the 2022 recruiting class. Expect the East St. Louis native to make his presence known right away to help bolster Missouri's passing game.
Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama
Bryce Young needs new weapons to emerge with John Metchie III and Jameson Williams departing Tuscaloosa. Burton transferred to Alabama after catching 53 passes for 901 yards and eight scores in two years at Georgia. He's primed to become the go-to receiver for Young. Sophomore Ja'Corey Brooks is also another name to watch.
Stefan Cobbs, WR, Boise State
Replacing Khalil Shakir (77 catches for 1,117 yards) won't be easy for Boise State. However, Cobbs is ready to assume the No. 1 role for quarterback Hank Bachmeier after catching 34 passes for 421 yards and five scores last season.
Jadon Canady, CB, Tulane
Canady manned the nickel spot for Tulane last year but is slated to move to cornerback for 2022. The Florida native only allowed one touchdown in coverage per PFF and recorded 55 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions over 12 appearances.
Junior Colson, LB, Michigan
Michigan's defense is looking for new faces to emerge with just three returning starters in place for 2022. Expect Colson to make a name for himself after recording 61 tackles as a true freshman last year.
Omarion Cooper, CB, Florida State
Florida State's defense showed progress in the second half of last season, and Cooper's emergence in the secondary in November certainly aided that improvement. According to PFF, he was targeted 12 times over Florida State's final three contests and surrendered just four catches for 41 yards. With a year of experience under his belt, Cooper seems primed to emerge as one of the ACC's top defensive backs.
Lavel Davis Jr., WR, Virginia
With Billy Kemp IV, Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson all returning, Virginia isn't hurting for options at receiver. However, this group will get even deeper thanks to the return of Davis. The 6-foot-7 target played in eight games as a freshman in 2020 and grabbed 20 receptions for 515 yards and five scores. However, he missed all of '21 due to an ACL tear.
Jamon Dumas-Johnson, LB, Georgia
Dumas-Johnson is likely to be tasked with helping to replace Nakobe Dean's presence and production at inside linebacker this fall. Although filling Dean's spot won't be easy, Dumas-Johnson shined as a backup last year by recording 21 tackles, two sacks and one interception.
Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan
With Hassan Haskins off to the NFL, coach Jim Harbaugh will lean on Blake Corum to handle the bulk of the carries. However, similar to last season, Harbaugh and co-coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore are going to get a second running back involved. Edwards is an easy pick for more opportunities this fall after running for 174 yards and three scores and catching 20 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last season. Edwards is too talented to be on the sidelines and will be heavily involved in the offense.
Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas
After one season (and playing two snaps) at Ohio State, Ewers transferred to his home state of Texas. The Longhorns have question marks up front, but Ewers should benefit from a quarterback-friendly offense run by coach Steve Sarkisian, along with the Big 12's best skill talent including running back Bijan Robinson and receivers Xavier Worthy and Isaiah Neyor. Ewers is one of the top quarterback recruits of the modern era and he should start to realize that potential in '22.
Dequan Finn, QB, Toledo
The 2021 season marked Finn's first opportunity for extended snaps at the control of Toledo's offense. The Detroit native showed room for improvement as a passer (57.6 percent) but also threw for 2,044 yards and 18 touchdowns. Combine Finn's expected improvement through the air, and dynamic rushing ability (505 yards and nine scores), the tools are in place to rank as the MAC's top quarterback for '22.
Blake Fisher, OT, Notre Dame
Fisher was on the cusp of a breakout year in 2021 by winning the starting left tackle job as a true freshman for the opener against Florida State. However, he suffered a knee injury that game and could not return until the Fiesta Bowl versus Oklahoma State.
Justin Flowe, LB, Oregon
Injuries have robbed Flowe of playing time for two consecutive seasons, but with the former five-star recruit expected to be at full strength in 2022, a breakout year is within reach. In Flowe's only appearance in '21, he recorded 14 tackles (and a forced fumble) in Oregon's win over Fresno State.
Bryce Foster, C, Texas A&M
It's not easy to start as a center in the SEC as a true freshman, but that's exactly what Foster did in 2021. He started all 12 games for the Aggies and allowed only three sacks on 752 blocking snaps per PFF. Look for Foster to only get better in year two in the middle of Texas A&M's line.
Matthew Golden, WR, Houston
The Cougars already have one of the nation's top receivers in Nathaniel Dell, but Golden already seems ticketed for a starting role and is poised to become a major factor as a true freshman in 2022.
Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
The Buckeyes lost two first-round picks at receiver (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave), but there's no concern about this group in 2022. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (95 catches in '21) is one reason why, but Ohio State also has a talented collection of receivers ready to emerge. Harrison, the son of the Pro Football Hall of Famer receiver, is one of those targets. The younger Harrison made a strong impression in the Rose Bowl (six catches for 71 yards and three scores), which was his first chance at extended playing time.
Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
Hyatt earned a mention on breakout lists prior to last season, but an early injury in Week 2 against Pitt slowed his progression. However, he still nabbed 21 receptions for 226 yards and two scores, which upped his career total to 41 receptions. With Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton departing Knoxville, the Volunteers need Hyatt to deliver to take some of the pressure off of Cedric Tillman.
Broderick Jones, OL, Georgia
Jones shined when he stepped into the starting lineup to replace an injured Jamaree Salyer last season and is poised to become one of the SEC's top linemen as the blindside protector for quarterback Stetson Bennett. According to PFF, Jones allowed just two sacks over 438 snaps last year.
Jason Marshall Jr., CB, Florida
Marshall ranked as a five-star prospect in Florida's 2021 class and didn't disappoint in his first year on campus. Per PFF, he was targeted 38 times over 634 snaps and allowed just 14 receptions in 13 games. The Miami native also recorded 23 tackles, one interception and three pass breakups. Marshall is already on his way to a spot among the top cornerbacks in the SEC.
Damien Martinez, RB, Oregon State
Martinez could follow in the footsteps of another three-star recruit from the state of Texas (Jacquizz Rodgers) to make an impact as a freshman at Oregon State. The Beavers have a vacancy in the backfield with B.J. Baylor off to the NFL, and Martinez has made plenty of noise in workouts to solidify his place as a key piece for coach Jonathan Smith in '22.
Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina
Maye has to hold off Jacolby Criswell in a tight battle for the starting quarterback spot in Chapel Hill. But assuming Maye wins the job, the ceiling is high for the North Carolina native directing this offense in 2022. The top-100 recruit took a redshirt year last fall after recording snaps in four games. Maye's sample size was small, but the limited work was impressive (7 of 10 for 89 yards and a score and 62 rushing yards on six attempts).
Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford
Stanford's best chance to rebound from a disappointing 3-9 season in 2021 starts with the right arm of McKee. After knocking off the rust from serving on a two-year LDS mission (2018-19), McKee emerged as the No. 1 quarterback on the Farm and threw for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns. With one of the Pac-12's top receiving corps at his disposal, look for McKee to take a big step forward this fall.
Taye McWilliams, RB, Baylor
Baylor's backfield is starting over with Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner departing Waco. However, McWilliams looks poised for a feature role after rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries last year.
Clay Millen, QB, Colorado State
Millen transferred from Nevada to Colorado State to continue playing under Jay Norvell. The Washington native inherits one of the Mountain West's top receiving corps and shined during the Rams' spring game. Don't be surprised if Millen pushes for all-conference honors at the end of '22.
Kendre Miller, RB, TCU
New coach Sonny Dykes may not need Miller to handle 200 carries this season, but he's certainly earned a longer look with Zach Evans transferring to Ole Miss. Over the last two seasons, Miller has recorded 137 carries for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. His yards per carry sits at 7.4 over those attempts, and he posted three 100-yard efforts in '21 despite the limited workload.
Wyatt Milum, OT, West Virginia
Milum emerged as a key piece of West Virginia's offensive line as a true freshman last year. The West Virginia native recorded eight starts and allowed just three sacks (per PFF) in 621 blocking snaps. After playing on the right side last season, Milum is going to kick to left tackle for 2022.
Andrew Mukuba, S, Clemson
The Tigers have some turnover at cornerback, but it's hard to get too worried about the secondary when a player of Mukuba's caliber is back to anchor this group. The Texas native earned ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last fall after recording 48 tackles (two for a loss) and seven pass breakups in 13 games.
Myles Price, WR, Texas Tech
New offensive coordinator Zach Kittley was the architect behind WKU's high-powered passing game (433.7 passing yards a game) last year. Price is the Red Raiders' most proven option at receiver after he grabbed 37 receptions for 520 yards and two touchdowns in '21. There should be no shortage of targets coming Price's way in '22.
Jalen Redmond, DL, Oklahoma
Considering the track record of new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables in producing standouts along the defensive line, it's safe to assume the Sooners will have a couple of all-conference candidates at the end of 2022. Redmond is our pick to shine, as he has accumulated 21.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks over 24 games since '18.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Talent and upside aren't lacking for Richardson, and the hope in Gainesville is new coach Billy Napier can help the sophomore develop more overall consistency for 2022. Richardson showcased big-play ability (8.1 yards per play) but also needs to cut down on the mistakes (five picks on 64 attempts). The guess here is Napier elevates Richardson's play this fall.
Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and staff have excelled at mining the portal for help over the last two seasons, and Sanders should be another instant impact pickup. The Texas native ranked as a five-star prospect in the 2020 signing class and was primed to become a key contributor to Alabama's defense before an injury in early October last year. Sanders still accumulated 24 tackles (2.5 for a loss) and one sack for the Crimson Tide in '21. Expect coordinator Barry Odom to get the most out of his talent this fall.
Collin Schlee, QB, Kent State
Kent State's "Flash Fast" offense needs a new pilot after Dustin Crum finished his eligibility following the 2021 season. Although Schlee has yet to make a start, his limited snaps (11 games) showcased his upside. The Maryland native connected on 24 of 37 throws for 351 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 212 yards and four scores as Crum's backup.
Nick Singleton, RB, Penn State
Penn State's ground game desperately needs a spark after averaging less than three yards per carry in Big Ten games last fall. Some of the sluggish performance from the rushing attack is due to subpar offensive line play, but there's optimism up front for the Nittany Lions going into '22. Singleton - a five-star recruit in the '22 haul - could be another part of the solution this season, as he's too talented to not make a big impact right away.
Maason Smith, DL, LSU
Smith may not post huge statistics as the anchor in the middle of LSU's defensive line, but the trajectory of his career in Baton Rouge is clearly pointing up. The Louisiana native impressed with 19 stops (five for a loss) and four sacks in nine games as a true freshman last fall.
Titus Swen, RB, Wyoming
Xazavian Valladay left Laramie to tote the rock at Arizona State, leaving Swen as the No. 1 back in a run-first offense. Swen flashed potential last year behind Valladay, recording 785 yards and seven scores on 132 attempts. He's poised to build on those numbers as the top option for the Cowboys this fall.
George Takacs, TE, Boston College
With Michael Mayer entrenched as the top target and tight end at Notre Dame, Takacs will have a chance to shine at Boston College after transferring from South Bend this offseason. The Florida native played in 29 games over three years but only caught eight passes in that span. Look for Takacs to be much more involved with the Eagles as a nice safety valve for quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Jaheim Thomas, LB, Cincinnati
The next wave of stars is on the way for Cincinnati's defense. Thomas recorded 23 tackles in limited snaps last year and is poised to take on a bigger role for the Bearcats this fall.
J.T. Tuimoloau, DL, Ohio State
Pencil in Tuimoloau or Jack Sawyer to make an impact as a breakout player for Ohio State's defense in 2022. Tuimoloau flashed the potential that made him a five-star recruit in '21 with 17 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 2.5 sacks in limited snaps last fall.
Dallas Turner, LB, Alabama
With Will Anderson Jr. on one side, and Turner emerging on the other, good luck to opposing offensive lines trying to block the Alabama pass rush in 2022. Turner - a five-star prospect in the '21 class - came on strong last fall by recording nine tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks after November.
Lukas Van Ness, DL, Iowa
Van Ness shined in a backup role as a redshirt freshman for the Hawkeyes last year, recording 33 tackles (8.5 for a loss) and seven sacks over 462 snaps. With another offseason to develop and learn under coordinator Phil Parker, expect Van Ness to emerge as one of the top linemen in the Big Ten.
Justin Walley, CB, Minnesota
Walley was one of the top freshmen defensive backs in the nation last year, recording 29 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception over 13 games. The Mississippi native started the final six contests for a standout secondary but is primed for an even bigger role in '22.
Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State
Ward has generated plenty of buzz this offseason after his transfer from FCS Incarnate Word to Washington State. Although his passing numbers at UIW (6,908 yards and 71 touchdowns) almost make him too qualified for this list, we think he becomes a household name after playing at a high level.
Christian Wells, WR, Appalachian State
Appalachian State needs to restock its receiving corps after Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams all departed after the 2021 season. Wells has flashed big-play potential in limited time over the last three years, including a 12-catch season (243 yards and two scores) in 2021. The junior will have an increased opportunity for snaps and targets, and his numbers should increase as a result.
Camar Wheaton, RB, SMU
Wheaton ranked as a five-star prospect in the 2021 signing class at Alabama. However, a knee injury prevented him from getting into the mix, and with plenty of other names competing for carries in Tuscaloosa, Wheaton returned home to the state of Texas to play at SMU.
Hunter Wohler, S, Wisconsin
The Badgers only return three starters from a unit that held teams to 16.2 points a game last year. However, the overall concern level should be low, as coordinator Jim Leonhard will find the right answers. Wohler should be one of those players poised to emerge in 2022 after recording 17 tackles (three for a loss) and one sack as a true freshman last season.
Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami
Once Van Dyke settled into the starting role to replace an injured D'Eriq King, the Connecticut native showcased why he could be the ACC's top quarterback in '22. Over the last six games, Van Dyke threw for 2,194 yards and 20 touchdowns to just three picks. And over 10 appearances, he connected on 62.3 percent of passes and averaged nine yards per attempt.