Predicting the 2022 WVU Football Offensive Starting Lineup

WVU Offense Huddle
Photo by Robert Ovies

WVU isn’t seeing much turnover from the offensive side of the ball with only two senior starters leaving. However, the offense underperformed for much of the year, and it would not be surprising to see some new faces win battles for several offensive positions. If WVU wants to improve on its record, it will be more important than ever for Neal Brown to put guys in that expedite the offense’s output as 2023 will see many of WVU’s best offensive players graduate.

Left Tackle – Wyatt Milum

Redshirt Sophomore Brandon Yates started every game of the 2021-2022 season to date. However, he was by far the worst piece of the offensive line, getting beat often by more athletic defensive ends that WVU frequently sees in the Big 12. This season was a huge disappointment compared to his redshirt Freshman season where Yates was named All-Big 12 Honorable mention and did not allow a sack in 8 of WVU’s 10 games. Despite these accolades, he still did not grade out as an average offensive tackle per PFF with a 55.3 overall grade in 2020 and only a modest improvement to a 58.3 grade in 2021 to date.

Coach Neal Brown and his staff have prioritized recruiting quality offensive lineman during their tenure, and the tackle room is far from empty. Redshirt Sophomore Ja’Quay Hubbard and redshirt Freshman Chris Mayo were listed as Yates’ backup this season, so they will definitely be in line to compete for the job. Hubbard, a former 3-star out of Pennsylvania, played for the Virginia Cavaliers for a season before transferring to WVU. Mayo was recruited out of high school as a guard, and he was ranked as the 22nd rated guard prospect in all of high school football. Then there is Tomas Rimac, a true freshman from Ohio that has the prototypical build for a quality left tackle at 6’6” 280 pounds.

With all this being said, I think WVU goes a different direction here. The left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line, especially for pass heavy teams like WVU. I think WVU moves true Freshman Wyatt Milum to left tackle next season. Milum struggled early on this season, as most true freshman offensive lineman do. Though as the season went on, we saw why Milum was rated as a top 100 player and top 10 offensive lineman coming out of high school. He was physical and nasty in the run game and became a quality pass protector.

Left Guard – James Gmiter

James Gmiter is WVU’s most seasoned offensive lineman, starting 10 games as a redshirt freshman, 2 as a redshirt sophomore, and every game to date in 2021. He has also graded out as an above average guard every season per PFF, with grades of 65.8 in 2019, 69.3 in 2020, and 69.1 in 2021 to date. Going into his Senior year, it is unlikely that Gmiter loses his job to an underclassmen.

Center – Zach Frazier

Zach Frazier is WVU’s best offensive lineman. Going into his Junior year, Frazier will continue to be the quarterback of the offensive line. PFF graded him has the 23rd best center in all of college football, giving him a grade of 75.7 for the 2021 season. I would not be surprised to see Frazier test his draft stock after next season.

Right Guard – Doug Nester

Doug Nester was another highly rated offensive lineman coming out of high school. He started 17 games for Virginia Tech before coming home to West Virginia. Nester struggled early on due to a hand injury, but once he was fully healthy, he was dominant. In fact, this season has been his best season of his career to date. Per PFF, he had a 74.9 overall grade, which would rank him in the top 50 of all guards graded by PFF. Nester will not be replaced coming into next season.

Right Tackle – Chris Mayo

Since we moved Wyatt Milum to left tackle, the right tackle position is now up for grabs. Traditionally, you want a right tackle that is solid in pass protection but is much more of a road grader in the run game. The current backup at this position, Parker Moorer, does not fit this play style, so we will need to look elsewhere. I believe Ja’Quay Hubbard and Chris Mayo would have the inside track here as both of them are physically built to handle this type of role, as both stand at 6’4”+ and weigh in at 320+ pounds. I also considered Brandon Yates here, but I think it would be odd if he and Milum just switched sides. Given that Hubbard was not able to unseat Yates this year, I would not be surprised to see the Mayo come out on top of this position battle.

Tight End – Mike O’Laughlin OR T.J. Banks

Mike O’Laughlin had a solid junior year before injuries serving as a reliable security blanket for Doege underneath. In O’Laughlin’s absence, T.J. Banks filled in admirably showing off his physicality after the catch and impact as a lead blocker. While O’Laughlin may have a fraction of a lead on Banks, I think Banks has earned at least a split of the snaps, and thus, I would expect O’Laughlin and Banks to share the starting role.

X Wide Receiver – Bryce Ford-Wheaton

I was kind of torn on this one. Bryce Ford-Wheaton has always been talked up for his upside ever since he stepped foot on campus. This year, we saw a few games where he lived up to that upside with his performances in the Oklahoma (8 catches, 93 yards) and Iowa State (6 catches, 106 yards and 2 TDs) games. However, there is definitely a floor with him. He’s had 2 games with under 30 yards receiving and only two games with over 70 yards receiving. While I was tempted to put Kaden Prather here, I think Ford-Wheaton has not done enough negative things to lose his spot as the starting X receiver.

Z Wide Receiver – Kaden Prather

Kaden Prather is the next great wide receiver at WVU. He has the size (6’4” and 210 pounds), speed, and leaping ability to be a mismatch regardless of matchup. His main competition here will be Sean Ryan, who has had a solid season, especially run blocking (PFF grade of 80.4), but I don’t see Ryan has having the impact ability that Prather can.

Y Wide Receiver – Winston Wright Jr.

There are no question marks about this position at all. Winston Wright is the best wide receiver on the team with 643 yards and 3 TDs as of the writing of this article. Wright has elite tight space agility, and the ability to go from stop to start (and vice versa) at a moments notice. He is in line to put up great numbers in his senior year as the starting slot receiver for WVU.

H Wide Receiver – Sam James

I think this position could be up for grabs, at least partially, if WVU had another receiver worthy of seeing playing time (**cough** Sam Brown **cough**). However, Reese Smith does not have the athletic talent to be more than a spot player, and the other 3 options are either walk-ons or former walk-ons. While WVU does have a talented young receiver coming in next year in Jarrell Williams, the coaching staff does not have a track record of playing or trusting young talent at skill positions. So, through deductive reasoning (my dear Watson), Sam James will be your starting H receiver.

Running Back – Lyn-J Dixon OR Jaylen Anderson

HOT TAKE ALERT! I don’t think Lyn-J Dixon is an every down running back. While immensely talented an explosive, he has only seen spot duties during his time at Clemson, mostly due to sharing the backfield with 1st round draft pick Travis Etienne. However, coming into this season, he should have been a shoo in for the starting job, but instead, he ended up in Dabo’s doghouse and saw very limited playing time. I do think Dixon will have a large role on this offense, but based on Neal Brown’s play style, he prefers physical, one cutbacks that can bang inside the tackles, which is not Dixon’s game. Additionally, Neal Brown does not seem to put up with drama or non-sense, so Dixon will need to be on his best behavior to earn a share of the starting job.

This is where Jaylen Anderson comes in. No offense to Tony Mathis, but Jaylen Anderson checks all the boxes. Anderson was a very late arrival to the 2021 recruiting class, not showing up on campus until September. He may be the most ready-made player for Neal Brown’s offense though. He is a highly recruited player coming out of high school with numerous power five offers including: Florida, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Iowa State, and Iowa to name a few. He has the build to handle the role coming in at 6’0” and 210 pounds. He’s not only big, but he is quick as well, posting a 4.32 20-yard shuttle time in 2019, which would be considered average for a running back going into the NFL draft. Production? He’s got that too, running for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns in a shortened senior season and 1,086 yards rushing and 833 yards receiving for a total of 27 touchdowns his junior year. All this cumulated into being ranked as the 6th best all-purpose back in the nation by 247 sports.

I think Dixon will split carries with Anderson, and possibly even take an edge on total carries early on in the season. However, as the season progresses, I expect Anderson to begin to see at least 15 touches a game and split snaps with Dixon. Then in 2023, it will be the Jaylen Anderson show.

QuarterbackWill Crowder….

….will not be the starter. It will be Jarret Doege. There’s no point in discussing this. He is inevitable.

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