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Grading Maryland football’s position groups for the 2022 season

Here’s how each of the Terps’ position groups fared this fall.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Maryland v NC State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Maryland football ended its season with an 8-5 record after defeating No. 25 NC State in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30.

The Terps went 7-5 in the regular season before the bowl game, improving their win total by one from 2021, when they finished the regular season with a 6-6 record before beating Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Here’s how each of the Terps’ position groups played over the course of the 2022 season.

Quarterback: B-

Taulia Tagovailoa had a very Taulia Tagovailoa-esque 2022 season — there were plenty of ups and plenty of downs. Tagovailoa completed 67% of his passes for 3,008 yards and 18 touchdowns, also throwing eight interceptions.

At times, Tagovailoa looked like the All-Big Ten quarterback that he ended up being named as: extending plays with his legs and finding receivers to move the ball downfield. When he’s playing at his best, he’s as good a quarterback as there is in the Big Ten. When he’s not, though, it can be frustrating to watch. His mistakes have become more and more infrequent as his career has gone on, but there are still moments where they show themselves — see his unnecessary back-foot pass in the bowl game that resulted in an interception in the end zone.

Despite all the mistakes, Tagovailoa is still a good quarterback that is as good as Maryland has had in a while. If he chooses to come back for one more season, the Terps’ ceiling dramatically rises.

Billy Edwards Jr. also started a game and filled in at other spots due to Tagovailoa’s injuries. He looked like a viable option for the starting role moving forward, totaling 308 yards and three touchdowns in the air and making defenses pay with his legs, too, adding 136 rushing yards. While he wasn’t the sharpest, he led a comeback win against Indiana and started the team’s victory over Northwestern.

Running back: A

Maryland’s running back room entered the season without a clear No. 1, but Roman Hemby quickly showed why he was given the starting role. On 188 attempts he ran for 989 yards — just 11 yards shy of becoming the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2018 — and had 10 touchdowns, including multiple game-winners. His play was critical for Maryland, and without him, the Terps wouldn’t have been able to win as many games as they did.

Antwain Littleton II also showed flashes throughout the season, scoring five touchdowns on 75 attempts for 320 yards. Considering his size, he was surprisingly ineffective in short-yardage situations, but had his moments where he would bulldoze defenders and impose his will. He’ll stay in the rotation moving forward.

Colby McDonald and Ramon Brown both had about 30 carries, but Brown, a true freshman, will likely figure his way into a more prominent role next season and beyond, as the staff is high on his potential.

Wide receiver: C+

In a vacuum, Maryland’s wide receivers had a pretty good season. Plenty were involved in the offense and four had multiple touchdowns. But, given the lofty expectations the group entered the season with as one of the nation’s most vaunted pass-catching corps, it was a slightly disappointing year for the Terps’ wideouts.

Jeshaun Jones was the team’s leading receiver, making 44 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns. If he returns for one more season, he will be the leader of a group looking for one with the departures of many of its veterans.

Rakim Jarrett was behind Jones as the second-leading wide receiver, with 40 receptions for 471 yards and trio of touchdowns. He had moments where his NFL grade was clear, but others where he made drops and looked out of sorts. Still, he was a very important player to the program and will be remembered fondly for his contributions.

Jacob Copeland was essentially a non-factor for much of the season after joining Maryland from Florida, tallying 376 yards and two touchdowns, both of which in the Charlotte game. Dontay Demus Jr. was also limited in his ability to make an impact as he recovered from his leg injury in 2021 but looked better as the year went on.

The standouts from the next group of leading Maryland receivers were Tai Felton and Octavian Smith Jr. Felton was a staple in the offense all season long and Smith Jr. began to get more playing time later in the season, especially in the bowl game after Jarrett, Demus and Copeland opted out. He made a fantastic touchdown catch against the Wolfpack and has the potential to be a special player for the Terps.

Tight end: A-

After Chigoziem Okonkwo — who has had a very impressive rookie year for the Tennessee Titans — left for the NFL, the pressure to perform at the tight end position fell on the shoulders of Corey Dyches and CJ Dippre. They excelled, combining for 69 receptions for 808 yards and six touchdowns — Dyches’ 494 receiving yards was second-most on the team.

Dyches is primarily a receiving tight end and proved that this season. He was often Tagovailoa’s favorite target and will continue to be with Dippre gone to Alabama. Dyches’ play was a major reason why Maryland’s passing game was able to have success when the wide receivers weren’t living up to their billing.

Dippre, who after the regular season ended announced that he would be transferring, quickly turned into an NFL prospect in 2022. As someone that was known mostly as a blocker and had unproven athleticism, Dippre made his mark on the season and quelled any concerns about his pass-catching ability. He will be missed in College Park.

Offensive line: B-

Coming into the season, Maryland’s offensive line was tabbed as the “most improved group” by head coach Mike Locksley and received a lot of preseason buzz, in part due to the unit’s experience. While the group perhaps didn’t live up to its full potential, it was overall solid and deserves a lot of credit for the team’s success running the ball.

The biggest blemish on the offensive line’s resume was its inability to stay disciplined at times during the season. When flags kept flying — and for Maryland, this happened in plenty of games — it usually could be traced back to pre-snap or holding penalties by offensive linemen that killed drives.

The Terps’ offensive line will look a lot different next season with a lot to replace.

Defensive line: C+

Maryland’s defense was sensational for most of the year, especially in second halves. Its one biggest weakness, though, was its struggles at the line of scrimmage. The Terps rarely generated meaningful pressure on opponents and often were pushed around in the run game, which proved costly in November games.

Maryland was middle of the pack in sacks in the Big Ten but allowed four teams to go over 200 rushing yards: Wisconsin (278), Penn State (249, Michigan (243) and Northwestern (215).

Of course, not all of that falls on the defensive line. Football is a team sport and every player and position has to play in tandem with each other. But, the Terps’ defensive line did little to slow down opponents’ rushes and was often physically handled in the trenches. It had its moments, but wasn’t consistently effective.

Linebacker: B

The linebackers were an unsure part of the Terps’ 2022 team, seeing as though the position was ravaged by injuries and departures the season prior. Plenty of players saw the field this season, but a few stuck out.

The biggest positive from the 2022 season at linebacker was the emergence of freshman Jaishawn Barham, who immediately became one of the best players on the roster and a potential centerpiece for the program to build around. He led the team in tackles for loss (6.5) and was tied for the team lead in sacks (4), proving that he has legitimate potential to be an All-American and first-round NFL player in the future.

Ahmad McCullough had the best year of his college career with 45 tackles — three for a loss — and will transfer out of the program. Fa’Najae Gotay had 37 tackles and found a groove as the season continued, including intercepting a tipped pass against NC State in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Ruben Hyppolite II missed three games with an injury but played well when he was on the field. Caleb Wheatland looks like he has a bright future.

There are plenty of positives to take away from the season at the linebacker position, and if the run defense can get better, it’ll start there.

Secondary: B+

The Terps’ secondary faced plenty of questions — especially at safety — coming into the season. Starters Jordan Mosely and Nick Cross were gone, and Deonte Banks and Tarheeb Still were coming back from seasons in which Banks was injured and Still didn’t live up to his preseason billing.

What became clear early was that the worries about the safety position were not warranted. Beau Brade and Dante Trader Jr. stepped into starting roles seamlessly and were solid all season long, Brade was arguably the team’s best defensive player over the course of the season. He led the team with 85 total tackles and both he and Trader had a pair of interceptions.

The cornerbacks held their own too, despite some occasional — and sometimes more often than occasional — penalties. Jakorian Bennett continued right where he left in 2021 by breaking up a team-high 10 passes, also making two interceptions, including one late in the fourth quarter to seal the bowl win over NC State. Still and Banks were also reliable as the season went on, Banks earning himself a high enough grade to enter the NFL draft early.

Future starters like Glendon Miller, Lionel Whittaker and Gavin Gibson showed obvious signs of inexperience when they were in the game but were decent as well.

Special teams: A-

The story of Maryland’s 2022 on special teams starts and ends with Chad Ryland. Ryland was the Terps’ best kicker in a while, going 19-for-23 on field goals and 9-of-9 from inside 40 yards. He also registered a touchback on nearly 70% of his kickoffs, limiting opponents’ returns. Ryland should get an opportunity to play in the NFL, and he deserves it.

At punter, Colton Spangler took a firm grip on the starting spot and was good in that role. He averaged over 45 yards per punt and landed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line.

There were a few negatives on special teams, including a blocked extra point against Purdue and relatively limited success on returns, but overall the unit was as reliable as it has been for Maryland in many years.

Coaching: B

Maryland’s season was a complicated one from a coaching perspective. On a negative hand, the team committed the most penalties in the Big Ten — 141 more penalty yards and seven more penalties than the second-to-last team in the conference in those respective statistics — and had some clunkers. Non-competitive losses to Wisconsin and Penn State after a bye week were an indication of poor preparation, and play-calling often lacked creativity and was situationally confusing at times.

Still, the Terps had a pretty good season with all things considered, winning a bowl game and improving on last season’s win total while also refusing to go down big to Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom made the College Football Playoff. A lot of that can be attributed to first-year defensive coordinator Brian Williams, whose defense really stole the show as the season progressed. He looks like a rising star and Maryland would be wise to do what it takes to keep him around long-term.

The staff, especially Locksley, deserves credit for the strong culture that has been built at Maryland and continues to entice recruits. Locksley clearly has the program moving in the right direction and has dug Maryland out of its hole at the bottom of the Big Ten — it is now squarely in the middle of the pack. How much farther he can take it remains to be seen, but the 2022 season has the opportunity to be another building block for his vision.