One Hidden Gem on Each Top 10 College Football Team in 2022 | Bleacher Report

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    Superstars hardly need an introduction. Top contributors are well-known to most fans in a given conference. Every college football team, however, has a valuable player who doesn’t receive much attention.

    These hidden gems are overshadowed, but they can consistently find ways to positively impact the game.

    While the choices are subjective, each player has a season of notable production and a definite role in 2022.

    In an effort to limit personal bias from shaping the 10 teams, the order is based on post-spring rankings by three sources: 247Sports, ESPN and ProFootballFocus. A first-place vote was worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for a second, etc.

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    Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables always seems to have a vocal, energetic leader in the middle of his defense. And that particular role seems perfectly suited for Danny Stutsman.

    Last season, the linebacker collected 38 tackleswhich ranked ninth on the team. While it was a nice contribution from a true freshman, that didn’t exactly demand much attention outside Oklahoma. An elbow injury didn’t help Stutsman, either.

    The recognition may be on the way, however.

    Stutsman is expected to shift from a reserve role to every-down responsibilities and become a centerpiece of OU’s new-look defense.

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    We’re slightly cheating with two names, but there’s a purpose.

    North Carolina State is fighting for offensive lineman Chandler Zavala to retain a year of eligibility. Although he appeared in five games before a back injury ended his 2021, the NCAA denied a medical waiver. Zavala also played in only three games as a freshman at Fairmont State in 2017, but the four-game redshirt rule arrived one year later.

    If that decision is reversed, Zavala will be a critical piece of NC State’s blocking unit. Prior to the injury, he started at left guard for the Wolfpack and had a terrific five-game run.

    Otherwise, shift the spotlight to Shyheim Battle. He has notched 28 tackles with six pass breakups and two interceptions in his second season last year and could be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks in 2022.

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    Wide receiver is a major concern for Notre Dame. Outside tight end Michael Mayer—and he’s an excellent target, to be sure—no returning player has managed 400 yards in a season.

    The positive spin is Avery Davis would’ve broken the mark in 2021 but ended with 386 when a torn left ACL stalled his year prematurely. However, that recovery may limit his impact from him early in 2022, and the Irish merely open the season at Ohio State.

    Someone needs to emerge as the No. 1 wideout, and Lorenzo Styles is trending toward the title.

    Styles, a 4-star in the 2021 class, gathered 24 catches for 344 yards and a touchdown in a limited role last season. It’s entirely possible his snap count triples in his sophomore year, so Styles has the upside of a much-needed 1,000-yard receiver.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Around the Michigan fanbase, DJ Turner isn’t a secret. He rapidly developed into a fixture of the defense in his freshman year.

    From a national perspective, though, the senior cornerback is still a relative unknown. Star edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, hoarded the spotlight in 2021 as the Wolverines claimed the Big Ten and reached the College Football Playoff.

    Turner, meanwhile, soared from a small reserve role in the opening half of the campaign to Michigan’s best corner. I have finished with 33 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

    All-Big Ten recognition is an attainable goal for Turner in 2022.

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    Especially if you follow recruiting, you know several names on Clemson’s defensive line. The group includes onetime 5-star prospects Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, KJ Henry and Xavier Thomas.

    The player you likely don’t recognize is Ruke Orhororo.

    Part of the 2019 class, he ranked 745th nationallyand 23rd among the ACC power’s 29 signs that cycle. Orhorhoro totaled four tackles in very minimal time during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

    But in 2021, I have emerged into regular snaps and finished third on the defense with eight tackles for loss. Orhorhoro capitalized on the opportunity that Bresee’s unfortunate torn left ACL provided, bolstering a defensive line that was already stacked.

    Bresee’s return from injury means Orhorhoro’s playing time will probably drop, but he’s earned a spot in an impressive rotation.

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    Running back Micah Bernard has patiently climbed Utah’s depth chart. Even though he’s still not atop the list, his impact is undeniable.

    Back in 2019, I have only played on special teams. Bernard reprised that role in 2020, edging into scattered snaps on Utah’s offense. Then, in 2021, he put together a mini-breakout year with 529 rushing yards at a scorching 6.1 clip, caught 26 passes for 251 yards and scored four touchdowns.

    The most impressive part? He put up those numbers while serving as the backup to Tavion Thomas (1,108 yards and 21 TD) alongside TJ Pledger (694 yards and 6 TD).

    Thomas is back, but Pledger headed to the NFL. Bernard should be showing off his versatility on a greater scale in 2022.

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    The reality for specialists is not glamorous. Case in point: The best picture available of Nik Constantinou is the lone attempt of his 51 punts that an opponent blocked in 2021.

    Nevertheless, he’s a legitimate asset for the Texas A&M Aggies.

    look nobody wants to see their favorite team’s punter because he only appears when the offense does not score. Given how many kickers struggle each weekend, however, a reliable specialist such as Constantinou should not be taken for granted.

    He ranked 10th in yards per point (46.6) last year. Plus, the Aggies have surrendered just 5.8 yards per punt return over the last two seasons combined.

    The less Texas A&M fans see of Constantinou, the better. But they’re plenty confident when he trots out.

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    Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean earned national recognition last year. Travon Walker just went No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL draft, which also featured Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Lewis Cine as first-round selections. Channing Tindall was a third-rounder, and Derion Kendrick heard his name from him in the sixth round.

    For look and good reason, defensive lineman Jalen Carter hasn’t resided in the spotlight for the Georgia Bulldogs. But he won’t be absent much longer.

    Now, calling a former 5-star prospect a “hidden gem” is arguable to some degree. If you’re not a recruiting diehard, though, it’s unlikely you’ve heard much about a player who recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on that defense.

    In 2022, Carter and Nolan Smith are fully expected to become the focal points of another superb UGA defense.

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    Left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and left guard Thayer Munford are headed to the NFL. Paris Johnson Jr., who played right guard in 2021, is the expected replacement for Petit-Frere. Harry Milleralso retired from football to prioritize his mental health.

    Ohio State consequently needs two new starting guards. One answer, though, absolutely will be Matthew Jones.

    He opened three games last season, primarily contributing at left guard while periodically occupying the right side too. Jones performed so well he landed honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

    ace to backup.

    No matter whether he’s on the left, right or adjusts as personnel demands, Jones will be a fixture of OSU’s offensive line.

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    Just like Carter at Georgia, Alabama edge-rusher Chris Braswell was a 5-star recruit. Incidentally, Braswell ended one spot behind Carter in 2020’s overall rankings too.

    The main difference is Braswell won’t be the featured player at Alabama. That honor goes to Will Anderson Jr., a record-setting edge-rusher and projected top-three 2023 NFL draft pick. For good measure, the Crimson Tide also have rising star Dallas Turnerwho amassed 10 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks as a true freshman.

    Braswell, nonetheless, has better expectations in 2022.

    According to Aaron Suttles of The Athletic, Nick Saban said he views Braswell as a starter and that Alabama has packages where Anderson, Turner and Braswell share the field.

    Entering the season, there is hardly a more frightening trio of edge-rushers on any roster in the country.

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from, or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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