Top 10 returning players at James Madison are led by 1,000-yard WR Kris Thornton

The top 10 returning players to the James Madison Dukes are led by 1,000-yard receiver Kris Thornton as they transition to the FBS.

With the first year of FBS action on the horizon, the James Madison Dukes are hoping for a special college football season thanks to some terrific returning players. JMU boasts one of the Sun Belt’s top receivers as well as a tough EDGE duo as they enter a full FBS schedule this fall. While transfers will help out, who are the top returners for JMU in 2022?

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Top 10 returning players at James Madison

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 James Madison.

10) Cole Potts, G

With more than a few returning pieces on the offensive line, Cole Potts anchors a strong interior unit in Harrisonburg this year. Potts mans the right guard spot with his skills in pass protection and on the ground. He’s a big man at 6’3″ and 306 pounds but moves very well in both facets.

9) Sam Kidd, S

Having to pick just one of their top returning safeties here, Sam Kidd gets the edge because of his all-around ability. Kidd should weather the incoming transfers in the secondary and stick at his safety spot because of his ability to come downhill in run defense, cover on the backend, and ultimately cause pressure off the edge with well-timed blitzes.

8) Abi Nwabuoku-Okonji, EDGE

There are a lot of vacated snaps on the outside for JMU in 2022. One of the expected key contributors is Abi Nwabuoku-Okonji, who was dominant last year but on a small sample size. Still, Nwabuoku-Okonji put forth 2.5 total sacks and another five tackles for loss despite a situational pass-rush role. With more of a formal spot in the lineup, he can rise up these rankings and raise his production big time.

7) Solomon Vanhorse, RB

Solomon Vanhorse’s ability in the receiving realm sees him land on the top returning players. The shifty running back finished third in each receiving category last season, ripping off 33 receptions for 338 yards, with most of his catches coming behind the line of scrimmage. He recorded five receiving touchdowns and was a perfect complement to Palmer in the backfield.

6) Nick Kidwell, OT

The right side of the Dukes’ offensive line is in good hands with Nick Kidwell returning. He’s a stout pass protector, but Kidwell offers a ton of upside with his ability to get in front of his running backs and pave big holes on the outside. Kidwell will even come across the formation with great speed and a quick step when called upon. He’s anchoring the right side with Potts for another year, and that will be a welcome sight for their new quarterback.

5) Tony Thurston, DT

Interior pressure can be completely overwhelming for offenses to overcome. That’s what Tony Thurston does very well. The name of his game is causing havoc as he gets after it in each facet but excels when rushing the passer. He’s a big man with a great set of pass-rush moves on the inside.

4) Latrele Palmer, RB

Leading the Dukes in carries and yards from a season ago, Latrele Palmer should be on everyone’s list for potential incoming impact rushers. Palmer has a big frame that he maximizes with muscle and power behind his carries. Yet, he’s a dynamic rusher in the open field. Palmer won’t lose the ball, nor will he lose yards, continually fighting for every inch. His touchdowns won’t be vultured by his quarterback this season (most likely), so his production numbers could be even higher in 2022.

3) Jordan Swann, CB

Next up for JMU at cornerback is Jordan Swann, who still managed an interception and three pass breakups last year. He’ll step into the role of CB1 after Greg Ross’ departure and will have to fill the void of a staunch coverage defender on the outside. Swann was sound last year and gave reason to think the Dukes will have a great chance of even bettering last season’s success on the backend.

2) Isaac Ukwu, EDGE

It will be imperative for Isaac Ukwu to dominate this season after the Dukes lost several key components on defense, especially at the second level. Ukwu can get after the passer with quickness, which, if utilized properly, will pay dividends for this defense in the long run. He’s quick and strong, long and mean, and Ukwu is a terror for most offensive tackles that have to try and contend with his rare combination of power and speed.

1) Kris Thornton, WR

A year after hauling in 1,097 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, Kris Thornton returns to give incoming QB Todd Centeio his top target. Thornton wins on the inside, where he utilizes a quick first step to get off the ball and separate naturally from defenders. He’s a danger with the ball after the catch and has strong hands at the catch point. Thornton could burst onto the scene as one of the top Sun Belt receivers easily.

Honorable mention players returning to James Madison in 2022

  • Que Reid, S
  • Reggie Brown, WR
  • Tanner Morris, G/C
  • Tyler Stephens, OT

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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