Breakdowns

Top Returning Offensive Players in College Football

Top Returning Offensive Players in College Football

The 2022 NFL Draft has yet to commence, but Spring Football is officially back in the FBS as Western Michigan and San Jose State kicked off their Spring Games on March 26. As the hype toward the upcoming NCAA season mounts, we take a look at some of the most productive returning offensive players from last season.

Quarterback

  • Bryce Young — Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Will Rogers — Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • Brennan Armstrong — Virginia Cavaliers

(Regular + Postseason)

Player Passing Yards Passing TDs INTs Passer Rating PFF Grade
Bryce Young 4860 47 7 125.4 92.0
Will Rogers 4687 36 9 103.9 90.0
Brennan Armstrong 4429 42 7 105.1 90.3

Bryce Young

Bryce Young is the next star quarterback in Alabama’s recent streak beginning with Jalen Hurts. Last year, he was one of college football’s finest as a sophomore. As a freshman, Young was Mac Jones’ backup. He watched Jones, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle, and Steelers running back Najee Harris dominate their way to a national championship. The following year, as the starter, Young set the Crimson Tide’s record for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a single season, including the postseason. (4,860 and 47, respectively). In the process, he won a laundry list of rewards which included:

  • Heisman Trophy
  • Davey O’Brien and Manning Trophies (Both are for best QB in college)
  • Associated Press Player of the Year
  • Maxwell Award
  • Consensus First-Team All-American
  • SEC Offensive Player of the Year
  • First-Team All-SEC

Will Rogers

Will Rogers will be entering his junior season for the Bulldogs this fall after a successful sophomore campaign that saw him trail only Bryce Young in passing yards among returning quarterbacks in the FBS (and Rogers actually averaged more than Young on a per-game basis [360.53 to 324]).

A three-star recruit out of Mississippi, Rogers chose to stay home and attend Mississippi State. He made a difference immediately and started games for the Bulldogs in his freshman season after replacing incumbent K.J. Costello. In nine games, he completed 239 passes for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns. This past season, Rogers expanded upon an impressive freshman campaign. He will look to stay competitive in the uber-talented SEC as he potentially puts himself on the NFL’s radar. So far, he has been a difference maker for the Mike Leach-led Bulldogs, and it does not appear that will change.

Brennan Armstrong

Brennan Armstrong trailed only the two aforementioned players in passing yards this past season despite playing in fewer games. In fact, Armstrong averaged more passing yards per game than both of them with an astounding figure of 402.6 yards/game. Armstrong challenged Young for the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award as a semifinalist in each race. He also received Third Team All-ACC honors.

Armstrong enters the 2022 season as a redshirt senior, and some thought that he could enter this year’s draft, but announced that he would spend another year in Charlottesville. This past year he set the Virginia program record for most passing yards in a game with 554 against North Carolina. Armstrong will look to cap off his successful career at Virginia with another productive year that could see him being drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Running Back

  • Lew Nichols III – Central Michigan Chippewas
  • Sean Tucker – Syracuse Orange
  • Deuce Vaughn – Kansas State Wildcats
Player Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns Yards/Carry
Lew Nichols III 340 1846 16 5.4
Sean Tucker 247 1515 12 6.1
Deuce Vaughn 234 1,409 18 6

Lew Nichols III

Lew Nichols burst onto the college football scene this year as a redshirt freshman, racking up the highest rushing yardage total in the FBS by over 200 yards. Nichols also managed a hefty workload, carrying the ball 340 times. The next player was 2021 NFL Draft prospect Sincere McCormick with 298.

As a result, Nichols won the MAC Offensive Player of Year Award. Out of high school, Nichols was a three-star recruit out of his home state of Michigan. Despite receiving offers in the PAC-12, SEC, Big Ten, and ACC, Nichols stayed at home. Safe to say, Nichols has captured the attention of college football fans this past season and many are eager to see how he can build upon such an impressive campaign. 

Sean Tucker

Sean Tucker is one of the rare, feel-good stories in college football. Syracuse was the only school to offer Tucker a scholarship in 2020. Now, he can boast that he was one of the most productive running backs in the FBS in 2021. Tucker broke the Syracuse single season rushing record during the 2021 campaign on his way to a First Team All-ACC and AP Second Team All-American selections.

Tucker enters the 2022 season with buzz as one of college football’s finest rushers, where he will look to keep racking up the yards and maybe break a few more program records on the way.

Deuce Vaughn

As a former three-star recruit out of Texas, Vaughn took the reins as the lead back for the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2021 season as a sophomore after winning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2020. As a result, Vaughn earned the 9th most rushing yards in the FBS while also leading the FBS in receiving yards.

Vaughn displayed tremendous breakaway speed, recording 42 “Explosive Plays” (designed rushing attempts resulting in 10 yards or more), good for 7th in the FBS. Vaughn finished this season as a Consensus First-Team All-American and Second-Team All-Big 12. Vaughn will look to build on his early collegiate success and hopefully impress the NFL before potentially declaring the 2023 NFL Draft.

Wide Receiver

  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba – Ohio State Buckeyes 
  • Jordan Addison – Pittsburgh Panthers
  • Mitchell Tinsley – Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (Transferring to Penn State)
Player Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Targets Receptions Yards/Rec
Jaxon Smith-Njigba 1,595 9 112 95 16.8
Jordan Addison 1,353 17 144 100 15.9
Mitchell Tinsley 1,403 14 121 86 13.6

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

A former five-star recruit according to 247sports, Smith-Njigba chose to pursue a collegiate career at Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State. Despite the Buckeyes losing two potential first-round picks at the wide receiver position in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — not to mention Jameson Williams transferred from OSU to Alabama — they still arguably have the best returning player at the position.

Smith-Njigba capitalized on his opportunities in Ohio State’s explosive passing game, which ranked 3rd in the FBS for passing yards. Finishing in the top 10 for receiving yards in college football’s regular season, Smith-Njigba put an exclamation mark on the season with a 15 reception, 347 yards, and three-touchdown performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl. Although he ranked 9th in receiving yards before the bowl game, he vaulted himself to 3rd after the historic performance, which broke the Rose Bowl record for receptions and receiving yards. Smith-Njigba also tied the Rose Bowl record for receiving touchdowns. Olave and Wilson’s exit clears the way for him to take a big bite into Ohio State’s target share. Overall, Smith-Njigba enters the season as a prime candidate to challenge reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison for the award in 2022.

(Fun Fact: Smith-Njigba led the country in yards per route run among receivers with at least 93 targets with 4.01)

Jordan Addison

Speaking of Addison, Kenny Pickett’s favorite receiver returns to prove that he can put up elite numbers without a first-round talent at quarterback.

Addison’s performance this past season at Pitt was the best since Larry Fitzgerald in the early 2000s, placing himself in exceptional company. Addison set the single-season receptions record at Pitt with 100 while falling short of Fitzgerald’s career reception mark by one. Another 100-catch season would have Addison break Pitt’s current career reception record held by Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd. 

Addison’s 1,593 receiving yards through the postseason was good for 2nd most in a single season in Pitt history, below only Fitzgerald’s 1,672 in 2003. Addison notched 300+ more yards this season than Boyd did in his best season at Pitt in 2014. Currently, Addison has 2,259 yards to his name at Pitt, and a 1,200-yard season would put him atop Boyd for most in Pitt history. Similarly, Addison’s FBS-leading 17 touchdowns in 2021 rank 2nd for a single season in Pitt history behind Fitzgerald’s 22. 

Overall, Addison will look to build upon an already impressive resume that features numerous awards in his true junior season. He stands to benefit from former USC QB Kedon Slovis’ decision to transfer.  

Fun Fact: If Addison collects 1,200 yards, 100 receptions, and 14 touchdowns next season, he will be the new leader in Pitt’s record books for each significant receiving category.

Mitchell Tinsley

Western Kentucky’s offense, composed of 2022 NFL Draft prospects WR Jerreth Sterns and QB Bailey Zappe along with Mitchell Tinsley exploded for the Hilltoppers in 2021. The trio contributed to an offense that led the FBS in offensive yards.

Although Tinsley trailed his counterpart Sterns, he was no slouch. Tinsley ranked 7th in the FBS for receiving yards and was 5th in receiving touchdowns. It was likely this level of success that made the transfer portal an attractive option for Tinsley. Nevertheless, he will look to make a splash in a more competitive conference to prove that he’s up to snuff. 

Tight End

  • Brock Bowers – Georgia Bulldogs
  • Michael Mayer – Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  • Zack Kuntz – Old Dominion Big Blue
Player Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Targets Receptions Yards/Rec
Brock Bowers 882 13 71 56 15.8
Michael Mayer 840 7 95 71 11.8
Zack Kuntz 692 5 112 73 9.5

Brock Bowers

Bowers was a four-star recruit, No. 3 ranked tight end prospect, and 10th ranked prospect out of California. As a true freshman this past year, Bowers collected the 3rd highest receiving total behind only Isaiah Likely and Trey McBride while also leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns among tight ends on the way to a national championship with Georgia. Astoundingly, in his first season he broke the Georgia single-season tight end records for most receptions (56), receiving yards (882), and touchdowns (13).

Bowers will be a sophomore next year for the Bulldogs where he will look to expand upon an already impressive freshman campaign that saw him receive AP Second Team All-American, Coaches’ SEC Freshman of Year, and AP SEC Newcomer of the Year honors while also being rewarded with the Shaun Alexander Award, given to the best freshman in the country.

“Aside from being an exceptional talent and likely first-round pick, Bowers is also a great person,” said The 33rd Team Editor-in-Chief and Winnipeg Blue Bombers scout. Cyril Penn, who coached against Bowers at Napa High School and covered him extensively for the Napa Valley Register. “He’s a very humble, soft-spoken young man who earned a GPA above 4.0 in high school. All he knows is how to work hard. He has the goods to be a special NFL player with his talent and mindset.”

Michael Mayer

Mayer was a four-star recruit, and the second ranked tight end nationally, in the 2020 class. After a relatively uneventful true freshman season in 2020, Mayer made his presence known for the Irish this past season, collecting the 4th most receiving yards among tight ends. Mayer also caught seven touchdowns during his 2021 campaign on the way to receiving All-Independent First-Team honors. Mayer will look to build on a strong sophomore campaign for Notre Dame, who have been pushing out NFL tight end talent as of late.

Zack Kuntz

After spending the first four years of college at Penn State where he did not receive much playing time, Kuntz chose to enter the transfer portal and switch to Old Dominion University in Conference USA. Kuntz finished with 692 yards, good for 9th in the FBS. Also, Kuntz’s 73 receptions were second only to Trey McBride’s 91 in the FBS. As a result of his productive season, Kuntz was selected for the All-Conference USA First Team. Kuntz will continue to show the college football world what Penn State was missing out on.