65 Teams in 65 Days: Texas A&M Aggies

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher

Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Dickey

Defensive Coordinator: DJ Durkin

Conference: SEC

2021 Record: 8-4 (4-4)

2022 Non Conference Opponents: Sam Houston State, Appalachian State, Miami, UMass Key Additions: QB Max Johnson (LSU), WR Evan Stewart (High School)

Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at A&M has been very underwhelming thus far, as the Aggies have had non-stop struggles at quarterback and have yet to really compete for an SEC championship. Despite this, Jimbo has been killing it on the recruiting trail, and if a couple of his freshmen are able to compete at a high level early on, A&M could make some noise.

At quarterback, the Aggies have what is in my opinion the most up in the air quarterback battle in the nation between Haynes King and LSU transfer Max Johnson. King was the Aggies starter last season, but suffered an injury early on, so he only completed only one game. The game was against Kent State, and King put together a statline that had its pros and cons. The pros being he averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and an average depth per target of 10.7 yards, showing that he was not afraid to push the ball down the field despite it being just his first game. The con was that he threw three interceptions against a MAC school. This sample size is very small, and honestly, I like King as he possesses great dual threat ability and speed, making him a player defenses must account for in the rushing and passing departments. On the other hand, Max Johnson poses little to no threat as a rusher, as he rushed for only 161 yards last season. As a passer, he put up some fantastic stats a season ago, throwing for almost 3,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and only six interceptions. At LSU, he had a fantastic receiving corps at his disposal, and when looking at the fine print of his stats, that's what jumps off the page. Despite only throwing six interceptions, Johnson threw 19 turnover worthy passes. At A&M, he will have a much worse receiving corps, so if he wins the starting job, it will be interesting to see how much he regresses. At running back, the Aggies lose Isaiah Spiller, but I am not worried as they return Devon Achane, who was better than Spiller last season in terms of yards per carry, touchdowns, yards after contact per carry and breakaway percentage. He is also a force in the passing game, as last season he caught 24 of his 29 targets for 261 yards. With him being the workhorse back this season, his yards per carry mark will likely regress, but Achane has an elite mix of physicality, pass catching ability and athleticism that makes him one of the best backs in the nation. At receiver, the Aggies get their leader in targets from last season back in Ainias Smith. Smith’s ceiling is capped due to the fact that he primarily plays from the slot, but he does what is asked of him effectively and getting him back is big for the passing attack. While Smith was the leader in targets last season, I believe freshman Evan Stewart will give him a run for his money this fall. Stewart, a five star recruit in last year's class was a huge get for Jimbo and his staff, and he will undoubtedly make an instant impact. He possesses great lateral speed and quickness which will make him a huge threat after the catch. My only concern with him is his size, as he only weighs 175 pounds, meaning it may take time for him to adjust to the physicality and speed of the SEC. Outside of Smith, Achane and Stewart, the Aggies don’t have any other true pass catching options, making them one of the weakest corps in the SEC in terms of depth. On the offensive line, the Aggies return three starters in center Bryce Foster, right guard Layden Robinson and right tackle Reuben Fatheree II. All three were underclassmen a season ago and put together very respectable campaigns, as all three were vital in the Aggies explosive rushing attack and Fatheree only allowed 14 pressures, making him an elite pass blocker. Getting the right side of the line and their center back is huge for the Aggies, however the left size lacks experience, which could pose as a liability throughout the season.

The defensive line excelled at both stopping the run and rushing the passer in 2021, however they do lose a ton of production and the odds of them repeating what they did last season are very low. The lone returning starter is defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson, who struggled against the run greatly, opposed to his other teammates. He was below average in both stop percentage and average depth per tackle, but the glaring issue is his poor tackling, as he missed 30% of his tackle attempts a season ago. With him being the most experienced on the Aggie defensive line, Jackson will have to take a massive step forward if the Aggies are going to be stout against the run. Next to him will be sophomore Shemar Turner, who is primed for a breakout season. Turner is a former five star recruit and was fantastic in the limited playing time he got as a freshman, recording the same amount of stops as McKinnley Jackson despite playing less than half as many snaps, while also having an average depth per tackle of 1.9 yards. Over the offseason he had added more weight to his frame while still possessing the speed that made him a household name during high school. While I believe the Aggies run defense won’t be as elite as it was last season, I still think they will be capable with the amount of talent they have behind the starters and at linebacker with Edgerrin Cooper, one of the best linebackers in the nation. Last season, Cooper had an average depth per tackle of 2.1 yards and a stop percentage of 14%. On the contrary to the run defense, the pass rush is very worrisome. The Aggies lose their three leaders in pressures and sacks, and return no one who had more than two sacks a season ago. This season, the two starters at defensive end will be Tunmise Adeleye and Fadil Diggs, two players who will both be busts in my opinion. Adeleye has had a very odd career so far. In his junior year of high school, his stats regressed and in his senior year he opted to not play due to the pandemic. In his first season at A&M he redshirted, and now all of the sudden he’s supposed to step into a starting role as a redshirt freshman who hasn’t played competitively since 2019. Maybe I’m crazy but that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Diggs on the other hand has actually played a football game for A&M, and he recorded a sack last season. My main gripe with him is that he doesn’t have a variety of pass rushing moves and he tries to win with speed too often, which will amount to absolutely nothing in the SEC. In the secondary, the Aggies have a damn good cornerback room, led by nickelback Antonio Johnson. Honestly, I can’t stand that Johnson has a set position, as his stats and film show he is a truly positionless player. He can do it all, defend the run, tackle, rush the passer and cover, he is the total package. He stands at 6’3 and weighs 195 pounds, with this lanky frame, Johnson also possesses elite closing speed, which makes him a fantastic tackler and gives opposing receivers almost nothing after the catch. Johnson will likely be a top ten pick in next spring’s draft and rightfully so, as he is without a doubt the most versatile defender in the nation. On the outside the Aggies have sophomore Tyreek Chappel and super senior Myles Jones. Jones hardly played last season, but has played over 2,000 career snaps at A&M and was very good in 2019 and 2020, allowing a passer rating under 81, compiling three interceptions and eight pass breakups. While he stands at 6’4 and is very experienced, his counterpart is only 5’11 and is a true sophomore. As a true freshman in 2021, Tyreek Chappel displayed elite maturity for his age, recording five pass breakups and an interception while allowing two touchdowns. At safety, the Aggies have a couple liabilities in Demani Richardson and Jardin Gilbert. Richardson has been a valuable player on the Aggies secondary for three seasons now, and has given up a play of 60 or more yards in every season. On top of this, he has never allowed a completion percentage less than 61% and has allowed a passer rating better than 100 in two of his three seasons. He has shown no real signs of improvement in his time as an Aggie and I don’t see a reason for that to change now. Opposite him, Jardin Gilbert played over 60 coverage snaps as a freshman last season, but was never targeted. Even though the safety duo is a weakness, I have a ton of trust in the Aggies cornerbacks, and with their strong run defense, they will be just fine.

While I do think the Aggies are a solid team, the expectations are a bit too high this year. No matter who starts for them at quarterback, they will be below average compared to the rest of the conference. Their receiving corps is underwhelming and their pass rush will be below average as well. For a team that has to play Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina away from home, the Aggies expectations are extremely high and I just don’t think they have the roster to make a playoff push.

Record Prediction: 8-4 (4-4) V Sam Houston State: Win V Appalachian State: Win

V Miami: Win

V Arkansas: Loss

AT Mississippi State: Win

AT Alabama: Loss

AT South Carolina: Loss

V Ole Miss: Win

V Florida: Win

AT Auburn: Loss V UMass: Win

V LSU: Win

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