Top 10 returning players at Louisville headlined by star QB Malik Cunningham

It’s an exciting time to be a Louisville Cardinals fan as Malik Cunningham returns to break even more records potentially this fall. Cunningham is one of the college football‘s top quarterbacks, but who else returns with him to Louisville? Some serious talent surrounds him on the defensive side of the ball and a potential all-star offensive line.

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Top 10 returning players at Louisville

We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to Louisville.

10) Jalen Mitchell, RB

The list of top 10 returning players at Louisville starts with Cunningham’s backfield mate, Jalen Mitchell. A sound rusher in his own regard, Mitchell rushed for 722 yards and five scores on the ground last year. Mitchell will pair with Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans to give the Cards a talented running back duo to lighten the load on Cunningham’s legs this fall.

9) Trevor Reid, OT

Keeping Cunningham clean in the pocket will be a point of emphasis for Louisville in 2022. Trevor Reid is a solid pass protector on the left side, and he should be counted on to do so. Reid is a great lateral mover and has plenty of strength at the point of contact to not lose his position. But he’s at his best when he’s moving in the running game, using his athleticism to get out in front of his rushers, who, more often than not, was Cunningham himself.

8) Chandler Jones, CB

Making his impact with seven pass breakups and multiple forced incompletions, Chandler Jones returns to form one of the ACC’s top cornerback duos. Jones has locked down one side for the Cards since the 2018 season, steadily improving over his career. He’s one of the most experienced secondary players returning to college football and a dependable one at that.

7) Caleb Chandler, G

Caleb Chandler is one of the nation’s top guard prospects for the next level and certainly one of the best interior linemen returning to college football. Chandler is terrific in both facets on offense, moving well in space or on the inside of this Louisville offense. Head coach Scott Satterfield’s rushing attack requires his linemen to move, and that’s the name of the game for Chandler as the 6’4″, 300-pounder is surprisingly light on his feet.

6) Marshon Ford, TE

One of the most dominant tight end performances that no one talked about last season belonged to Marshon Ford. Perhaps because he only led the team with 550 receiving yards, or maybe because he was a dominant run blocker on the outside, the national attention failed to shine on his efforts. When called upon, Ford is a great blocker who also just so happens to excel in the pass-catching realm as well.

5) Kenderick Duncan, S

Taking to his transfer very well, Kenderick Duncan’s first season at Louisville was a great success. With some worried about a step up in competition slowing him down, Duncan proved his worth on a weekly basis. Duncan finished with an interception and four pass breakups, but his ability to stick with receivers in coverage or essentially run the alley like a linebacker made everyone take notice.

4) YaYa Diaby, EDGE

Providing a spark off the edge, YaYa Diaby was a menace to offenses last year. Diaby finished with just a handful of “meaningful” numbers on the stat sheet, but his impact was felt more often than not. He routinely crashed the pocket with his ability to bend around the edge or simply push his tackles back into the quarterback. He returns as one of the top edge rushers for 2022.

3) Yasir Abdullah, LB

It was a tremendous season for Yasir Abdullah in 2021. Not only did he record a whopping 10 sacks, but he also finished with a team-best 16.5 total tackles for loss. He was a constant presence in the backfield for the Cards and wreaked havoc in more than just the pass-rushing aspect of defense. Abdullah had three pass breakups and rarely missed tackles, if at all, in the open field. He’s a dominant three-down linebacker who excels when he gets to rush the passer.

2) Kei’Trel Clark, CB

Leading the team with three interceptions despite playing in just eight games, Kei’Trel Clark toyed with leaving early for the NFL. Instead, he’s back to once again put his excellent coverage skills on display this fall. Clark has great length despite his 5’10” frame, as he’s done nothing but improve since transferring from Liberty back in 2019. Clark is speedy and sticks with the receiver’s hip pockets through every level.

1) Malik Cunningham, QB

There isn’t much more to say about Malik Cunningham at this point. No. 5 on our quarterback rankings, Cunningham is one of the nation’s elite starters. He’s a dynamic dual-threat, perhaps the best in the country, but he’s been tasked with more pocket passing in 2022. A good thing for Louisville fans is the fact that Cunningham showed tremendous growth in such a task last season and could light up scoreboards with his arm and legs this year.

Honorable mention players returning to Louisville in 2022

  • Dorian Jones, LB
  • Renato Brown, OT
  • Adonis Boone, G
  • Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, WR
  • Braden Smith, WR
  • Ashton Gillotte, EDGE

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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