On the heels of a 12-2 season that ended with a Big 12 title game appearance and an impressive win over Notre Dame, Oklahoma State enters the 2022 offseason with a chance to retool — not rebuild — thanks to a number of key starters returning on both sides of the ball. But retooling will require replacing some major contributors from last season.
There’s a slew of them that are going to be difficult to replace for Mike Gundy and his staff, some more than others, so below I’ve ranked the five hardest to replace outgoing players — and listed some names that should be candidates to fill those roles in 2022.
1. Malcolm Rodriguez | Linebacker
Rodriguez was a breakout star in 2021 as the most impactful defender in the Big 12 so of course he comes in at No. 1 on this list. He did everything from the middle of the OSU defense running linebacker, from dropping into coverage to providing pressure to filling a major leadership void on that end of the ball for Jim Knowles. With 129 tackles, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries — all team-highs — OSU will have an incredibly difficult time finding someone to directly replace him.
Replacement candidates: Kamryn Farrar, Xavier Benson
Farrar finished the season No. 2 on the depth chart behind Rodriguez so it’s only fitting that he earn first dibs as a potential replacement. The former three-star recruit has seen the field a lot the last two seasons but has not yet worked his way into a starring role. That could change as he enters what will be his redshirt junior season. Benson is the X-factor here that could be an instant impact add. He joined the program in the 2022 class out of junior college and has starting-caliber experience at the Big 12 level as a former Texas Tech-er.
2. Jaylen Warren | Running back
Replacement candidates: Dominic Richardson, Ollie Gordon
The running back position is getting a bit of a makeover this offseason with LD Brown, Dezmon Jackson and 2021 starter Jaylen Warren on their way out. That should benefit rising junior Dominic Richardson and second-year contributor Jaden Nixon, more of a speedy back, into bigger roles. But I like Richardson as more of a true potential replacement given his experience as well as incoming four-star freshman Ollie Gordon. Gordon rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior and has the size, speed and skill to be one of the rare day-one contributors for OSU at tailback. (Don’t sleep on fellow freshman CJ Brown, another four-star addition, either.)
3. Tay Martin | Receiver
Replacement candidates: A lot
Tay led OSU in receptions, TD receptions and receiving yards last season, so there’s a giant void here. And it’s not totally clear who will step up into the slot as WR1. But second-year stud Jaden Bray and incoming top-100 recruit Talyn Shettron, for my money, are ones I’d watch. Bray gives off some strong Justin Blackmon vibes and Shettron is a top-10 all-time recruit in the rankings. Both young, both flush with talent.
4. Devin Harper | Linebacker
Replacement candidates: Mason Cobb, Xavier Benson, Lamont Bishop
Harper and Rodriguez weren’t interchangeable at their respective LB positions so, no, I don’t think their respective replacements will be, either. It’s just unclear right now how the LB position will shake out overall, hence the double-up with Benson. The two players with experience at this spot — Mason Cobb and Lamont Bishop — should also be in the mix here, too.
5. Kolby Harvell-Peel | Safety
Replacement candidates: Kendal Daniels, Kanion Williams, Trey Rucker
People probably underestimated just how impactful Harvell-Peel was for OSU patrolling the back line of the OSU defense the last few seasons. Losing him is tough. This is a position that’s loaded with talent, though, and one name I’m very much on board with is second-year safety Kendal Daniels — a four-star recruit from a season ago who is the seventh-highest rated signee in program history. At 6-foot-4 he has NFL potential. Another name or two to watch should be long-time special-teamer Kanion Williams as well as former Wake Forest transfer Trey Rucker.
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