BYU is one week into Fall camp. With just over three weeks until the opener against USF, here are 10 of the most important players to BYU's success in 2022.
10. Jake Oldroyd
We kick off (no pun intended) our listed with veteran BYU placekicker Jake Oldryoyd. Oldroyd has been making critical field goal for the Cougars quite literally since he stepped on the field in 2016. Yes, it's really been six years since Oldroyd's infamous game winner against Arizona and he is only a junior on the roster.
You can't win a football game with a good kicker, but you can certainly lose one with a bad kicker. BYU is going to play in multiple one-score games and Oldroyd will play a critical role in those games.
9. Malik Moore
Free safety is one of the most important positions on the field, and BYU returns veteran Malik Moore at that spot. Moore is a ball-hawking safety that has tallied five interceptions during his BYU career. He makes BYU's defense better against the pass.
Against the run, Moore will be challenged by the staff to be more physical this season. BYU's defense struggled as a unit against the run last year, and it needs better individual tackling efforts to be a better run defense in 2022. Last year, for example, Moore missed 26% of tackles against the run. That's not to single out Moore - the rest of the starters need to be better as well. Seven BYU defenders missed more than 15% of tackle opportunities against the run (min. 200 snaps) last year.
At free safety, Moore can limit explosive running plays by taking good angles and being a sure tackler.
8. Puka Nacua
It took Puka Nacua a few games to settle into his role last season after transferring from Washington. Once he found his role, he was one of BYU's best players. Nacua ended the year as BYU's leading receiving with 805 yards on 43 catches. Nacua punishes single and even double coverage downfield - his ability to stretch the field is critical in BYU's offense.
7. Christopher Brooks
Starting running back Christopher Brooks has to fill the shoes of single-season rushing leader Tyler Allgeier. If BYU's offense is going to live up to the preseason hype, it needs a reliable running back like Brooks.
It's unfair to expect Brooks to produce record-breaking numbers like Allgeier did last season, but he is capable of being a 1,000+ yard rusher this season.
Brooks has turned heads since he arrived at BYU as a transfer from Cal and he has earned himself the starting job.
6. Blake Freeland
Blake Freeland is receiving NFL Draft hype and he plays one of the most important positions on the field: left tackle. Freeland is tasked with protecting the quarterback's blindside and that is where he excels. Last season, Freeland received a 91.6 pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus.
Freeland's talent combined with the critical nature of his position makes him one of the most important players to BYU's success this season.
5. Payton Wilgar
Payton Wilgar has been one of the best players on BYU's defense over the last three seasons. Wilgar received the top coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last season by a wide margin. BYU's defense suffered when Wilgar was out in 2021 - the Cougars need Wilgar for his production and leadership in 2022.
4. Tyler Batty
BYU's defense ranked 113 out of 130 FBS teams last year in sack rate. Tallying more sacks doesn't always translate to more success on defense, but sacks are correlated with good defense. Check out this chart from last year that looks at the relationship between sack rate and yards allowed per play. On average, the higher your sack rate, the better your defense.
If BYU is going to be a top 25 or even top 40 defense, it needs to pressure the quarterback. Perhaps nobody on BYU's roster is more equipped to pressure the quarterback than Tyler Batty. Batty has shown flashes of his potential as a pass-rushing defensive end, but injuries and inexperience have caused some inconsistent production. Last season, for example, Batty recorded a sack in the opener against Arizona. He didn't record another sack until the bowl game against UAB where he recorded three sacks.
If BYU's defense is going to improve in 2022, it needs experienced guys like Tyler Batty to more consistently cause disruption. Like the bowl game against UAB, Batty has shown that he can rack up sacks in a hurry when he's at his best. Of the 16 game appearances in his career, he has already recorded two three-sack games. In the other 14 games, Batty has recorded two total sacks.
3. Clark Barrington
Clark Barrington was the only outright starter on the offensive line when BYU released its offseason depth chart. Barrington's impact is felt on the field and off. Following Monday's practice, BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk called Barrington the leader of the offensive line room. “We haven't voted captains yet or anything but to me, Clark's the leader in our room," Funk said. "He's tough, he knows what he's doing, he practices right and he does all the right things. He'll be hard to unseat at that left guard spot.”
Barrington was the third highest-graded player on BYU's offense (minimum 100 snaps) last year behind Tyler Allgeier and Jaren Hall. As the leader of one of BYU's most important
2. Keenan Pili
Keenan Pili racked up 31 tackles and 1.5 sacks in just three games last year before he suffered a season-ending injury against Arizona State. The entire makeup of BYU's defense after Pili went down - the Cougars struggled to stop the run after Pili's injury, they blitzed less on passing downs, and they struggled to get off the field on third down. Getting Pili back to 2021 form and keeping him healthy is critical to BYU's success in 2022.
1. Jaren Hall
Quarterback has always been an important position at BYU and the same is true in 2022. Jaren Hall is undoubtedly the most important player to BYU's success this season. Hall has the potential to be great. And if he's great, BYU's offense has the potential to be historically great. BYU needs Hall to stay healthy to reach its potential this season.
Also considered: Gunner Romney, Chaz Ah You, Jacob Conover, Kaleb Hayes, Max Tooley, Earl Tuioti-Mariner, Lorenzo Fauatea, Caden Haws, Isaac Rex, Dallin Holker