Simply put, 2021 was an off-year for Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M.
The injury-plagued season had the Aggies finish a disappointing 8-4 after a 2020 season that saw them go 9-1 and roll into bowl season ranked No. 4 in the final AP poll. This forced them out (some may say snubbed) of the College Football Playoff picture. But Texas A&M got their redemption in 2021, knocking off reigning national champion Alabama in a thriller of a game that will have College Station talking for years to come. It's also possible that this game sparked the heated Saban vs. Fisher drama we've seen this offseason.
In 2022, Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies enter the season with a high-ranking defense that includes one of the best secondaries in the country. On top of that, Fisher put together the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, and not just No. 1 for this year. Some are calling it historic, the best ever, maybe. Time will tell if that class can be put to work in 2022.
Jimbo Fisher has this program poised for great things, and a College Football Playoff berth does not feel far off. There is excitement in College Station again. Here are a few players that will help the Aggies become a force in the SEC East this season.
Tyreek Chappell, DB
For Tyreek Chappell, 2021 was his breakout year in the 3rd-ranked Aggies defense. Chappell came on after injuries to both A&M starting cornerbacks and logged 40 tackles and a team-high nine pass deflections. He will be a focal point of an A&M secondary that aimed to be one of the best in the country this year.
Devon Achane, RB
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What might you expect from a college track star who is also the star running back at an SEC school? Speed, speed, speed. And that is just what the Aggies have with Devon Achane. Converting 20.8 percent of his runs into 10-plus-yard gains and 37.7 percent into a first down or touchdown in 2021, according to ProFootball Focus. Achane also has a 100-meter personal record of 10.12 seconds. This guy is human lightning. Aggies fans, we know you are excited to see more of the Human Highlight Reel, Devon Achane.
Walter Nolen, DT
If you have a historic recruiting class, you will probably have arguably the nation's No. 1 recruit as part of said class. Enter Walter Nolen. The five-star defensive lineman from Powell High School in Tennessee leads that historic recruiting class. Nolen boasts NFL size and quickness at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds with that of DeMarvin Leal in the NFL. With that said, it's obvious that Walter Nolen should see plenty of playing time early and often, especially considering he may be one of the most anticipated freshmen to watch in 2022.
Antonio Johnson, DB
Back to that top-ranked A&M secondary. In Antonio Johnson, the Aggies have one of the top defensive backs in the country. While lining up mostly as a nickel cornerback, last year Johnson was second on the team with 79 tackles. Coach Fisher said this offseason that he plans to also use Johnson as a free safety in certain packages, showing what Johnson's versatility adds to that top-ranked Aggie secondary.
Ainias Smith, WR
Ainias Smith is back as the No. 1 pass-catching option in the Aggies offense. In three years, he has amassed 1,321 yards and 15 touchdowns, but Smith should see a bump in production no matter who wins the quarterback battle. Be it Haynes King or former LSU standout Max Johnson, Smith is going to be the main target for the Aggies' aerial attack. The inconsistent play of backup Zach Calzada made it difficult for any receiver to stand out in 2021, so it goes without saying that Smith is about to break through in 2022.
MORE: The 10 Best Quarterbacks in Texas A&M History, Ranked
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