The 2021 season had for the Mountaineers had a lot of ups and downs. West Virginia started the season with a rough performance against the Terrapins in Maryland and ended it with one in the Bowl Game. Neal Brown and company lost a lot of talent to either graduation, the NFL Draft, or the transfer portal from last year’s team. Who on the WVU roster will look to breakout next season to try and help replace what the team lost?
Tony Mathias Jr., RB
We will start out with the more obvious choice here, in running back Tony Mathias Jr. The redshirt sophomore running back only finished the season with 312 yards, but it was what he did against Kansas that sets him up. Against Kansas in the last regular season game, Mathias was a beast gaining 118 on 22 carries.
It was Mathias ability to let holes develop and drag would be ball carries that made his performance impressive. With Leddie Brown gone, look for Mathias to be the next 1,000-yard rusher for the Mountaineers. If the offensive line can find some continuity, Mathias could be in for a huge year in Morgantown.
Reese Smith, WR
Reese Smith may not be the kind of guy on paper you look at and think breakout. However, in this system with the weapons that the Mountaineer offense have at receiver, Smith has that ability. Big 12 defenses will have their hands full with Sam James in one slot, and Kaden Prather and Bryce Ford-Wheaton on the outside, which leave Smith with a lot of opportunities. Reese Smith is a possession receiver, with great hands and his skill set could pay huge dividends this fall in Graham Harrells offense. Whichever QB is running the offense in 2022, there will be plenty of offensive weapons to throw the ball too.
Lee Kpogba, LB
Lee Kpogba did not have the normal route to WVU, but his presence will be felt this fall. Kpogba has tremendous upside and has the opportunity to be a great linebacker in the Big 12 next season. Kpogba originally committed to Syracuse, and after two years with Orange the linebacker left for East Mississippi Community College. It was at East Mississippi that Kpogba was able to make tremendous strides and help lead a defense that led all of NJCAA in scoring defense. Kpogba led the Lions with 84 tackles, and 5.5 sacks. With Josh Chandler-Semedo, last year’s leader in the second level gone, Kpogba will fill that void for the Mountaineers.
Jordan Jefferson, DL
Jordan Jefferson will have to play a big role for the Mountaineers, with the transfer of Akheem Mesidor. Jefferson had a productive 2021 season, even if it was not recognized by many, Pro Football Focus named the redshirt junior to their All-Big 12 Third Team. The nose-guard has the ability to line up at the three-technique or the four-technique and has the ability to clog the middle. Jefferson will have the luxury of offensive lines paying a lot of attention to Dante Stills, and this could create opportunities for him this season. Look for Jefferson to play a key role for the Mountaineers in 2022.
The final spot came down to the entire secondary, or the offensive line. With the offensive line being the elder statesman with the experience coming back, they should have a good season. With the lack of known commodities in the secondary, they could have a big year in 2022. Charles Woods was really good last season, will have a larger role this season.
The secondary is where the Mountaineers really focused this offseason on adding experience and depth through the portal and recruiting. The additions of Rashad Ajayi, Wesley McCormick, Hersey McLaurin, and Jasir Cox will pay huge dividends in 2022. Cox comes from a winner in North Dakota State and has a lot of experience in the FCS ranks.
McCormick comes from James Madison and has shown to have a nose for the ball when it is in his vicinity. Ajayi could be the difference maker with his experience coming from Colorado State. McLaurin is the question mark, coming from junior college, but all signs point to him seeing significant time this fall. In the pass heavy Big 12 conference, the Mountaineer secondary, will need to step up this fall.
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