Top 10 returning players at Georgia Southern are led by safety duo Anthony Wilson and Justin Birdsong

    Georgia Southern's top returning players are headlined by their safety duo and a potential star pass rusher in Justin Ellis.

    It’s a new era for the Georgia Southern Eagles and their top returning players for the 2022 college football season. With Clay Helton taking over full-time this past offseason, the offense will look vastly different than it has in years past. Kyle Vantrease is in the mix to make one of the bigger impacts from the transfer portal this offseason, but who returns to the program around Vantrease to help make that transition smooth?

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    Top 10 returning players at Georgia Southern

    The countdown to the regular season continues here during Pro Football Network’s Top 10 Returning Players series. We’ve crossed the country to the Sun Belt and are firmly entrenching ourselves across the southeastern portion of the country with our look into each FBS team. Looking only at players returning to their same team from a season ago — we’ll deal with transfers later –, we’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team. Here are the top returners from Georgia Southern.

    10) Amare Jones, RB

    Tasked to do so much more than run the ball last season, Amare Jones may thrive as the featured ball carrier with new head coach Helton in the building. Jones, the one-time Tulane stud running back, has the top ability to be the bell cow if given the opportunity. Jones was a capable wildcat quarterback last season but thrives between the tackles where he can use his vision and patience to exploit even the tiniest of holes.

    9) Caleb Kelly, OT

    A slighter right tackle than you’d expect to see, Caleb Kelly uses his frame incredibly well on the right side. He’s played a bevy of positions over his previous five seasons for the Eagles, most notably, though, at RT over the past 15 or so games. Kelly understands how to use his 6’2″ frame against big rushers and has the speed to stop even the fastest edge rushers. He’s also incredibly solid when he gets to get moving for the run game.

    8) Derwin Burgess Jr., WR

    A walking first-down reception, Derwin Burgess Jr. averaged 18.3 yards per catch last season. The Georgia Southern passing attack is certainly expected to see an uptick in production this year, and Burgess has a ton of ability on the outside. Showcasing great footwork in his first season, he could be a big-time playmaker over the next few years with the Eagles.

    7) Beau Johnson, TE

    Featured heavily in the previous form of attack, Beau Johnson’s role is expected to expand in 2022. Fortunately, Johnson has shown he’s more than capable of handling pass-protection duties against free rushers but is certainly a better receiver in space. Featuring Johnson as more of a slot tight end should pay big dividends for the Eagles on offense this season.

    6) Logan Langemeier, C

    Paving the way for a new offensive scheme will be longtime Georgia Southern center Logan Langemeier. After transferring in from Jacksonville, Langemeier has blossomed into one of the top interior linemen from the Sun Belt. Langemeier’s a sound pass protector when he’s had the chance to showcase that, but his bread and butter has become his ability to get out on the move in front of the rushing attack. He’ll pave the way with clear lanes on the inside and does incredibly well when on the move.

    5) J.D. King, RB

    Returning for his fourth season at Georgia Southern and sixth college season overall, J.D. King has rushed for well over 2,000 yards in his career. Spanning two seasons at Oklahoma State and three with the Eagles, King is the back to knock from the top of the depth chart when he’s healthy.

    King has the ability to break away from tackles with his combination of strength and contact balance. Arm tackles won’t bring him down often. If he’s healthy, King is a potential Comeback Player of the Year candidate in the conference.

    4) Justin Birdsong, S

    Pairing together to make one-half of perhaps the Sun Belt’s most underrated safety duos, Justin Birdsong is back for his fifth year with the Eagles. Birdsong flies around the field in the free safety role very well, possessing terrific ball-tracking skills and a keen understanding of how to use his speed to intersect passing lanes. He’s a great tackler in space and chases down ball carriers of any size or speed makeup.

    3) Dillon Springer, EDGE

    Ripping his way to 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss last season, it’s hard to say which facet Dillon Springer is better at on defense. Springer’s pass-rushing skills have blossomed in front of our eyes over the years, but his pursuit in run defense has also seen an uptick. Springer is linebacker-sized with speed to burn off the edge, making it work for him with his speed rush moves.

    2) Anthony Wilson, S

    Returning with a team-high nine pass breakups, Anthony Wilson showed off his coverage ability last year on a weekly basis. He’s a rangy safety who makes up for a potential lack of size with his speed and ball skills. He typically forces the ball from the receiver in coverage and can close space in the underneath passing lanes all the same. Wilson won’t give up the big play and more often than not, comes away with a forced incompletion rather than big chunk plays in coverage.

    1) Justin Ellis, EDGE

    As the team’s returning leader in tackles for loss and sacks, Justin Ellis presents one of the bigger mismatches in the Sun Belt for 2022. Ellis rushes with terrific force and comes flying at tackles from a variety of alignments.

    Though it feels like a lifetime ago, Ellis has taken off since adjusting to life with Georgia Southern after transferring away from Syracuse back in 2018. He’s a brute force rusher with some fabulous technical refinement to his game.

    Honorable mention players returning to Georgia Southern in 2022

    • Michael Edwards III, LB
    • Tyrell Davis, S
    • Khaleb Hood, WR
    • Brian Miller, OT
    • Jalen White/Gerald Green, RB
    • Khalil Crowder, G

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