Top 10 returning players to the Sun Belt include Grayson McCall, Darrell Luter, and Carlton Martial

The top 10 returning players to the Sun Belt are headlined by a couple of national leaders at their positions from the 2021 season.

The Sun Belt is loaded with talent among their top returning players in 2022. One of college football‘s best linebackers returns to Troy. The No. 6 quarterback in our national rankings returns to Coastal Carolina. And a little-known cornerback who led the nation in a bevy of metrics returns to South Alabama. It’s a stacked conference race in 2022.

For each Sun Belt team’s top returning players: Appalachian State | Arkansas State | Coastal Carolina | Georgia Southern | Georgia State | James Madison | Louisiana | Louisiana-Monroe | Marshall | Old Dominion | South Alabama | Southern Miss | Texas State | Troy

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Top 10 returning players to the Sun Belt

While we were counting down every school’s top 10 returning players, a natural flow developed as each player began to stack up against their conference foes. While we’ll release our All-Conference teams a bit later, let’s take a sneak peek into just who may be the top overall players returning to every conference in 2022. Up next: the Sun Belt.

10) Javon Solomon, EDGE, Troy

You need to know who Javon Solomon is. He burst onto the scene over the past two years with documented success off the edge. He’s a game-wreaker with terrific pass-rushing skills. Solomon has tremendous athleticism and an incredible motor in Troy’s defense that should be one of the best in the Group of 5.

9) Steven Gilmore, CB, Marshall

With an NFL pedigree and draft aspirations, Steven Gilmore is back to return to top form in 2022. Gilmore is a sticky cornerback with new-age prototypical size. He’s long and powerful with plenty of speed to stick with any type of receiver. He’ll anchor a new era of Marshall football as they venture into the Sun Belt this year.

8) Kris Thornton, WR, James Madison

Welcome to major college football, James Madison. And welcome world, to the 1,000-yard receiver that is Kris Thornton. A big-play threat, Thornton is a dangerous man with the ball in his hands. He wins at the catch point and is a threat to take it the distance anytime he touches it. Thornton wins everywhere on the field and is a name to know ahead of the 2022 season.

7) Josaiah Stewart, EDGE, Coastal Carolina

One of the top defensive playmakers from a season ago, Josaiah Stewart returns after finishing with top marks across the nation in sacks and total pressures. Stewart can’t be stopped by any one man in the Sun Belt and often requires double-teams and schemes to slow him down. Stewart was one of the top freshmen from last year and should repeat that feat as a sophomore in 2022.

6) Steven Jones Jr., CB, App State

The nation’s leader in interceptions last year, Steven Jones scored more touchdowns than most receivers did last year with his ability after nabbing picks. Jones is a dramatic playmaker yet plays a safe brand of football. He doesn’t let much go by him, and he’s sticky in coverage. Jones also plays a excellent brand of all-around football, pushing running backs into the middle of the field and blowing up outside rushing lanes all the same.

5) Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion

A big man roams the field for ODU in 2022. Zack Kuntz is a menacing figure at 6’8″ and should dominate the Sun Belt’s linebackers and safeties who try to cover him. As ODU transitions to the Sun Belt, Kuntz will be a key figure to once again make game-clinching receptions or drive-extending catches over the middle of the field.

4) Rasheen Ali, RB, Marshall

The nation’s leader in rushing touchdowns in 2021 embarks on a new conference as Marshall and Rasheen Ali head to the Sun Belt. Ali was dominant as a freshman and should once again be the focal point of the Thundering Herd’s offense. Ali grinds out yards and creates on his own, finding even the smallest cracks in the defense to exploit them for huge gains with his vision, patience, and burst.

3) Carlton Martial, LB, Troy

The active career leader in total tackles, Carlton Martial is 79 tackles away from making history. He’s just that many tackles short of the all-time career tackles mark set by Luke Kuechly, and with his average of over 110 tackles per season over the past four years, Martial should get there with ease. He is not just a great Sun Belt linebacker — he’s one of the all-time college football greats.

2) Darrell Luter Jr., CB, South Alabama

Little did you know, Darrell Luter Jr. led the country in a bevy of advanced metrics last season. He limited opposing offenses to the worst passer rating when he was targeted: 0.0. Luter also allowed the lowest completion percentage in his primary coverage and the fewest yards per target. It was a dominant effort for a heavily-targeted cornerback who eventually saw the targets dwindle because opposing offenses realized they wouldn’t complete anything against him.

1) Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina

Another active career leader in a statistic, Grayson McCall is the college football epitome of efficiency. He leads the nation’s active quarterbacks and has the career-best quarterback efficiency rating as he runs the Coastal Carolina offense flawlessly. One more season of dominance is likely at hand as McCall returns to run the “Big Teal Machine” again. McCall is likely destined for the NFL with his rare blend of accuracy, arm strength, moxie, and leadership skills.

Honorable mention players returning to the Sun Belt in 2022

  • Kivon Bennett, EDGE, Arkansas State
  • Darren Grainger, QB, Georgia State
  • Eric Garror, CB, Louisiana
  • Kam Pedescleaux, S, Louisiana
  • Jalen Wayne, WR, South Alabama
  • Jason Brownlee, WR, Southern Miss
  • Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Miss
  • Nick Hampton, EDGE, App State
  • D’Jordan Strong, CB, Coastal Carolina
  • Isaac Ukwu, EDGE, James Madison
  • Ali Jennings III, WR, Old Dominion
  • Keith Gallmon Jr., S, South Alabama

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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