Fresno State Football: 2022 Breakout Candidates
A raft of veterans will lead the Bulldogs in the quest for another conference title, but young talents could help put them over the top.
Depth speaks volumes.
The Fresno State Bulldogs are among the favorites to compete for a Mountain West football championship this fall, and why not? With Jake Haener, Jalen Cropper, David Perales and more back for 2022, the ‘Dogs are among the most experienced teams anywhere in the conference.
It might seem that there isn’t a lot of room for new contributors to break out, then, but you’d be mistaken. Because depth figures to be one of this team’s biggest strengths, these players are decent bets to make major waves next season.
Emari Pait, DB
Though he only made one start in last year’s New Mexico Bowl, Pait’s first season with the Bulldogs was a runaway success. That’s because he began the year as one of only three true freshmen on the two-deep, then he appeared in all 13 games for the Bulldogs and established himself as a reliable run-stopper out of the slot, collecting 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with four passes defended. While it remains to be seen if he can lock down a starting role for good this fall, expect that he’ll make a big impact no matter what is asked of him.
Isaiah Johnson, DL
After picking up 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in part-time duty back in 2018 and 2019, it was something of a mystery at first glance that Johnson never got the chance to build on that over the last two seasons. A late-season injury in the latter campaign couldn’t fully explain that away, and it wasn’t until he revealed in April what he called “personal issues… with [him] and the former coaches” that the reason for his brief dalliance with the transfer portal this off-season got clarified.
With Jeff Tedford back in the fold now, Johnson could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of his return.
Malachi Langley, LB
Langley made the most of his second extended audition as a starter down the stretch in 2021, collecting at least six tackles in each of Fresno State’s last five games. Though he made just four starts, he finished second on the team with 61 total tackles and added 4.5 tackles for loss and an interception for good measure, finishing the year as the Bulldogs’ top-graded linebacker (73.1) according to Pro Football Focus.
He may have to fend off Raymond Scott and Tyler Mello for a starting job this fall, but the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Langley has all the tools to patrol the middle of the field and help Kevin Coyle’s defense remain stingy.
Malik Sherrod, RB
There’s no doubt about Jordan Mims’s talent, but keeping him fresh could mean Sherrod has a much bigger role to play than he did last year. He only had 11 carries in 2021 but also stepped up as a kick returner in the second half of the year, averaging 19.7 yards per return. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, he could be the speedy changeup that allows Mims and Jevon Bigelow to drop the hammer late in games.