Top 2022 college football recruits who remind us of current stars

NCAA Football

The release of the 2022 ESPN 300 marks our 17th class ranking high school football prospects. We have seen a lot of great players in that span, and it is quite enjoyable comparing current prospects to another active college football player.

Whether it’s measurables, style, tenacity or simple body movements, there can be a multitude of reasons why one player might compare to another. We often try to make these assessments to give readers an idea of what prospects might look like at the next level with a hint of the early impact.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the top prospects in the 2022 ESPN 300 and the recognizable college players to whom they compare.

DT Walter Nolen
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 2
Notable schools considering: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State
Player comparison: Tyler Davis, Clemson Tigers

The 6-3, 300-pound Nolen possesses a little better length and overall size than Davis (6-2, 300), and the disruption they create once the ball is snapped is attention grabbing.

Among the top defensive tackles in the 2019 class, Davis was a quick contributor for the Tigers, starting 13 games as a freshman. Allowing him to make an instant impact was his blend of initial quickness and his ability to play with power and leverage.

Nolen, a five-star, is arguably even more disruptive and also demonstrates the ability to consistently win the leverage battle and violently shed blocks. Both are big men with very good agility and marry that with a strong motor.

When healthy, Davis quickly has proven to be among college football’s top defensive linemen, and Nolen demonstrates similarities — and in some areas, he is slightly more talented.

DE Shemar Stewart
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 3
Notable schools considering: Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Miami
Player comparison: Myles Murphy, Clemson Tigers

A five-star in the 2020 class, expectations were high for Murphy when he signed with Clemson. Thus far, he has met them, being named ACC Co-Newcomer of the Year. Murphy established himself as one of the top prospects in his class with size, speed and agility, and it quickly transferred to the college level.

Stewart, the No. 3 player in this cycle, shares many similar traits. He possesses a 6-5, 255-pound frame and has continued to fill it out while maintaining great edge speed and explosiveness.

Each player can work past blockers and run down ball carriers, but they can also be a powerful presence at the point of attack with their strength and flexibility. Stewart is still uncommitted, with Clemson among the schools in the mix, but regardless of where he lands, we envision him coming in and making his presence known immediately as well.

CB Domani Jackson
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 5
Committed to: USC Trojans
Player comparison: Tony Grimes, North Carolina Tar Heels

The value of tall, physical corners with length cannot be understated, and both Jackson and Grimes have strength and sturdy builds reminiscent of free safeties.

Grimes, a 2021 prospect who re-classified to the 2020 class as a former five-star, started to come on last fall. He was able to quickly make the transition and has huge upside to become one of college football’s best corners in the next two years.

We believe the 6-1, 190-pound Jackson could have the same impact as a five-star prospect poised to step on the field for USC as a true freshman. These guys can match up with today’s big, physical 50-50 ball receivers.

WR Evan Stewart
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 8
Notable schools considering: Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Texas A&M
Player comparison: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State Buckeyes

We have a great appreciation for young receivers that are natural and accomplished route runners. Most young receivers are talented but lack the nuances of the position that differentiate the good from the great.

Both Wilson and Stewart are fast and sudden, but also know how to set up defenders, tempo their feet, separate in tight quarters and eat up cushion in man-to-man coverage. They have awareness of coverage around them and have a knack for attacking leverage and creating a bigger window for their QB to fit the ball into.

A lot can be said for size — Stewart is 6-0, 175 pounds, while Wilson is 6-0, 193 pounds — and speed, but having a feel for the position is what separates them from simply being fast.

OLB Harold Perkins
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 10
Notable schools considering: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, USC
Player comparison: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners edge player has developed into one of the premier defenders in the Big 12, and while he is first thought of as a menacing pass rusher, he is productive in coverage as well. A player that blends nice length with initial explosiveness, quick feet and good range, Bonitto is a well-rounded playmaker.

In Perkins, teams see a prospect with every bit the ability to be a problematic presence on the edge as well. The five-star is equally as explosive and agile to develop into elite edge rusher.

Where he could exceed Bonitto is in impact. The top-rated linebacker prospect possesses even better pure speed and range. Perkins arguably will enter college with a little greater upside, as he’s just scratching the surface of his raw abilities.

WR Shazz Preston
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 14
Notable schools considering: Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Texas
Player comparison: Kayshon Boutte, LSU Tigers

Today’s offensive game is played more spaciously, and it’s more difficult than ever to not only just cover, but more importantly to tackle.

The open field is where Preston and Boutte shine. Boutte is in line to be LSU’s next great wide receiver, following in the footsteps of Jarvis Landry, only faster. Landry shredded defenses with know-how and route-running skills. Boutte has the same ability; he’s a problem in the slot and on quick hitters, as is Preston.

With the two of them, bubble screens, jet sweeps and underneath routes can quickly turn a 5-yard catch into an 80-yard touchdown. Add the element of the return game, and they are two players that can flip field position in a hurry.

QB-DT Walker Howard
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 28
Committed to: LSU Tigers
Player comparison: Brock Purdy, Iowa State Cyclones

Call them riverboat gamblers or gunslingers; some players just have that intangible “it” factor that coaches want at the position. Howard and Purdy play with confidence and a short memory, and they just let it rip.

With that mentality can come risk and danger, which has shown up in Purdy’s game at times, but some coaches would rather have a quarterback that doesn’t dwell on the last play and thinks he can make every play than the other way around.

The 6-1, 180-pound Howard may be a better athlete overall, but Purdy can extend plays well too. These two guys are players that walk into the huddle and make everyone else better.

QB-PP A.J. Duffy
ESPN 300 ranking: 33
Committed to: Florida State Seminoles
Player comparison: Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels

Duffy is slightly taller (6-2 vs. Howell at 6-1), but both are stout, sturdy passers who can withstand the rush. Howell can turn it loose, and we’d make the argument that at the same stage coming out, Duffy has the stronger arm.

What gets overlooked are both players’ ability to extend plays, buy time and make plays with their feet. Both signal-callers are polished and technically consistent, which is why they are accurate passers, even when throwing off platform.

Howell and Duffy are drivers of the football. The ball carries and finishes which are true indicators of natural arm strength.

OT P.J. Williams
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 54
Committed to: Texas A&M Aggies
Player comparison: Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State Buckeyes

As a prospect in the 2018 class, it was easy to be excited about Petit-Frere’s upside. Tall (6-5) with tremendous length, he also demonstrated good body quickness, solid feet and high effort.

Spin it to the 2022 class, and the Texas A&M commit Williams is a promising tackle prospect with similar physical traits and a high ceiling for development too.

The current Buckeyes starter initially redshirted, which was not surprising as he came into college with a leaner build and room to further develop and maximize his natural strength. A few seasons in though, he is coming into his own and as anticipated developing into one of college football’s top tackles.

The 6-4, 250-pound Williams, who has good natural bend and footwork, also needs to further fill out his frame, but once he does, we believe he’ll quickly ascend to being among the game’s top tackles as well.

OLB Marvin Jones Jr.
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 107
Notable schools considering: Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma
Player comparison: BJ Ojulari, LSU Tigers

A lengthy edge defender with good initial quickness, active hands and good pursuit speed, Ojulari made an impact as a freshman for LSU and continues to show growth as a player.

Ranked similarly in the ESPN 300 to the current Tigers young standout (Ojulari was ranked No. 122 overall in the Class of 2020), Jones is a prospect with the physical tools to be a disruptive edge rusher as well.

He possesses a quick first step and is agile in his movements. With continued development in bend and technique, Jones could start chasing down quarterbacks immediately, similar to Ojulari.

Like Ojulari, he does need to continue to fill out his 6-4, 220-pound frame and grow as a run defender, but with flashes of quick, strong hands, the physical tools are certainly there. Players that can create havoc off the edge are always in demand, and like Ojulari, Jones will be a coveted prospect with ability to create problems for blockers at the college level.

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