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College football’s hottest position battles with Devy implications

Spring practices are coming to a close and @FF_Hulsey is here to give you seven of college football's hottest position battles with Devy implications.

As spring practices come to a close, there are still several unresolved position battles at marquee programs ahead of the 2022 college football season. Spring ball has given us a certain degree of clarity with many of these. Others, however, remain a toss-up as teams begin to transition to summer schedules next month. Many of these have significant implications for Devy managers. The direct competition in practice leading up to each team’s spring game has given us a preview of how depth charts could shake out. Here are seven of college football’s hottest position battles to watch leading up to the 2022 season.

North Carolina QB- Drake Maye vs. Jacolby Criswell

Mack Brown has two talented signal-callers to choose from as he looks to fill the void left by Sam Howell’s departure. Both QBs took turns directing quick scoring drives in North Carolina’s spring game. Maye completed 9-of-12 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. My key takeaway from his drives was the apparent chemistry with star WR Josh Downs. Criswell made it look easy, too, finishing the day 6-for-6 with 104 yards and a score. The coaching staff made it clear that a determination had not yet been made, and the battle will likely linger into August.

While Criswell has more collegiate experience, Maye was an early enrollee last season after being recruited as a Howell replacement. There is no question in my mind that Maye is the higher-upside option. The former Alabama commit is a pure pocket passer with sneaky athleticism, major arm talent to all levels, and more pedigree than his counterpart. In his lone start in 2021, Maye went 7-for-9 for 89 yards, one touchdown, and added 38 yards on the ground. If Maye wins the job, he could be one of the biggest Devy risers at the position over the next twelve months.

Prediction: Drake Maye | 6’5” 216 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Michigan QB- J.J. McCarthy vs. Cade McNamara

McNamara got Michigan to the dance last year, but his job is in serious jeopardy heading into the 2022 season. His upside is limited, and Michigan will need more than a game manager if this team is going to take the next step. The switch to McCarthy seems inevitable, but questions linger about the injury status of the former five-star recruit. McCarthy was limited throughout the spring as his right throwing shoulder recovers from an undisclosed injury. The extent of his involvement in the team’s spring game was holding kicks. McNamara took part in four drives, completing 3-of-7 passes for 16 yards. It certainly wasn’t the type of performance that would cement his role as the starter.

I believe McCarthy will take over as Michigan’s full-time QB1 in 2022, but it’s becoming increasingly likely that his absence lingers into the summer. We may have to wait to see why he is one of the top Devy assets in the 2024 class. This may provide managers with an interesting buy opportunity over the next few months. McCarthy was a fifth-round pick in most startups before his status became more uncertain. As for McNamara, he may have lucked into one last chance to show that he can be a high-impact player at this level.

Prediction: Cade McNamara | 6’1” 212 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Clemson QB- DJ Uiagalelei vs. Cade Klubnik

Something tells me I will be writing about the Clemson QB situation until I am blue in the face this fall. I have been vocal about still buying into Uiagalelei despite his disappointing 2021 season for reasons outlined in my recent Devy Quarterback Landscape piece. Reports from Clemson this spring indicate he is healthier and has taken a step forward with his accuracy. However, there are concerns, especially with an early-enrollee five-star freshman ready to take his shot.

Klubnik is one of the only QB recruits in recent memory that can compare to DJU in terms of pedigree. His decorated high school career ended with back-to-back 6A state championships in Texas and a 27-0 record as an upperclassman. Dabo Swinney has commented on how impressive Klubnik has been but expressed concerns with his size (188 lbs). Klubnik made headlines in the Clemson spring game by going 15-for-23 for 106 yards, no turnovers, and the game-winning TD pass. His timing was impressive, and he appeared to be very comfortable. In a scene that reminded many of Oklahoma last fall, Klubnik received a standing ovation from the fans in attendance. DJU finished 17-of-36 for 175 yards, no touchdowns, no turnovers, and no standing ovation. If he holds onto the starting role, he will need to perform at a high level to fend off Klubnik. We should see a slimmed-down, healthier DJU who will likely be playing for his future as a pro prospect.

Prediction: DJ Uiagalelei | 6’4” 250 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Texas A&M QB- Haynes King vs. Max Johnson

The Aggies just signed a historic recruiting class, they have returning talent at nearly every position, but a huge question mark remains at the QB position. A tense battle for the QB1 job will continue through the summer leading up to a highly anticipated 2022 season for Texas A&M. This will likely come down to King, a returning redshirt sophomore, and LSU transfer Johnson. The most talented QB on the roster is freshman Conner Weigman, one of eight five-star recruits that Texas A&M signed from the 2022 class. Jimbo Fisher does not typically throw true freshmen into the fire, at least not to open the season. Weigman is a name to monitor in this battle. He is undoubtedly the top Devy asset of the bunch.

The Texas A&M spring game featured all three QBs extensively. All of them struggled to throw the ball in 30 mph winds. Johnson impressed me the most, completing 13-of-31 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 69 rushing yards, which was part of his game as a freshman at LSU in 2020. Johnson can make any throw look effortless, but there are some accuracy concerns. This team is a QB away from being a true contender.

Prediction: Max Johnson | 6’5” 220 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oregon RB – Byron Cardwell vs. Noah Whittington

I highlight this battle because I think both of these prospects are skilled. They now have a path to being impact players in 2022 after the departure of Travis Dye and CJ Verdell. Oregon’s QB battle seems to be sorting itself out. Bo Nix is the favorite to win that job, but now the focus is on which of these RBs will emerge with the lead role. Historically, Oregon RB is a position that produces quite well and has led to several NFL players. Cardwell had a productive freshman season, rushing 61 times for 417 yards. He did not participate in the Oregon spring game for precautionary reasons, but all indications point to there being no lasting injury concerns. Cardwell is a patient, powerful runner with burst.

There is a group of backs he is competing against for the job, including Noah Whittington, Sean Dollars, and Jordan James. Whittington, a transfer from Western Kentucky, is likely to emerge from that group to challenge Cardwell. He stood out in the spring game with plenty of work, rushing for 84 yards on 11 carries and being involved in the passing game. Whittington was recruited as a WR and should provide versatility as a hybrid back to the offense. One of these guys is a clear Devy riser, in my opinion.

Prediction: Byron Cardwell | 6’0” 209 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

USC WR – CJ Williams vs. Gary Bryant Jr.

USC has become a WR factory for the NFL, and they have one of the deepest units in the country in Lincoln Riley’s first season. Mario Williams is the favorite to be the WR1 for star quarterback Caleb Williams, but the roles are entirely up in the air after that. CJ Williams, Gary Bryant Jr., Terrell Bynum, Tahj Washington, and Brenden Rice are all in the mix. Williams, a true freshman, was one of Riley’s first big splashes on the recruiting trail. He is a big play waiting to happen with good hands and serious physicality. That kind of profile may sound familiar in Pasadena.

After Drake London’s injury last fall, the Trojans’ leading receiver was Gary Bryant Jr., and an expanded role is possible. Bryant dressed out for the spring game but did not play following a minor injury during practice last week. He hauled in 44 passes for 579 yards and seven TDs in the 2021 season. You have to think that kind of production puts him in the driver’s seat. Bryant is a dynamic, polished route runner with 4.4 speed.

Prediction: Gary Bryant Jr. | 5’11” 180 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ohio State WR – Emeka Egbuka vs. Marvin Harrison Jr.

This isn’t your traditional position battle because Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud has already shown the ability to support three elite WRs. Neither one of these guys are at risk of losing playing time. It is a toss-up for who will be the preferred target after Jaxon Smith-Njigja. This is a battle of significant interest in Devy/C2C circles, as both players are being drafted top-40 in startups. Harrison’s 6-71-3 performance in the Rose Bowl sent his stock to the moon, but Egbuka was the better prospect coming out of high school last year. Many forget that Egbuka outproduced him statistically last season, even though it was Harrison who shined in the final game.

Both profile as future NFL players and should have no problem transitioning to an impact role in Columbus. Harrison is an elite route runner with prototypical size and will dominate in the red zone. Egbuka is a versatile, smooth playmaker who saw more action than Harrison in the spring game. It is by a razor-thin margin if either of them has an edge right now for the WR2 role.

Prediction: Marvin Harrison Jr. | 6’3” 205 lbs | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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