We are now less than two months from the start of a new Texas A&M football season, and that means it is time to start taking a hard look at the Aggies’ position groups to see what we should expect from them in 2022. In this article, we start with perhaps A&M’s best unit heading into fall camp: Safety.
Who did we lose?
The Aggies lost a multi-year starter in Leon O’Neal, who signed a contract as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. O’Neal appeared in 40 games over his four-year A&M career, and in 2021 he set or matched career highs in tackles (58), tackles for loss (3), sacks (1), interceptions (2), pass deflections (2) and fumble recoveries (1). O’Neal was particularly effective in the Ags’ win over Bama, recovering a Bryce Young fumble and sacking Young, ending two Alabama drives almost singlehandedly.
Who do we bring back?
Demani Richardson: Demani announced his intent to return for his senior year back in January, a decision which has the potential to bolster his draft stock while also providing an essential veteran presence in the A&M secondary. He has started his entire A&M career, and in his three seasons in Aggieland, Richardson has 172 tackles, three interceptions, six pass breakups and 2.5 sacks (2 of which came in 2021).
Antonio Johnson: The popular opinion is that Johnson, who spent his sophomore season as a nickel corner, will transition to safety to fill the hole left by O’Neal. He was second on the team in both tackles (79) and passes deflected (5) last season, and despite the position change, actually has even more NFL Draft hype than Richardson. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 1 safety for the 2023 NFL Draft, with Richardson coming in at No. 9.
What other names should we know?
Assuming Johnson moves to safety, the starting roles seem pretty locked down. But if that changes, or injuries happen, A&M has a ton of secondary options who could step up. Sophomores Deuce Harmon and Jardin Gilbert, who both saw the field as freshman in 2021 in reserve roles, are the most likely candidates, but the Aggies also signed three top 100 recruits at safety in their 2022 recruiting class: Jacoby Mathews, Smoke Bouie and Bryce Anderson. We don’t know yet whether these guys will play at safety or move to other positions of greater need, but they’re names to keep an eye on as we enter fall camp a month from now.
Overall Grade: A
It’s hard not to be excited when your two starting safeties rank both rank among the best in the country. Add in the talent and depth behind those two starters, and this should be one of the strongest units on what should be another strong Texas A&M defense in 2022.