College Football's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Draft Declarations

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

College Football's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Draft Declarations

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    The loss of Blake Bortles (left) and Storm Johnson will be hard for Central Florida to overcome.
    The loss of Blake Bortles (left) and Storm Johnson will be hard for Central Florida to overcome.Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

    The door has closed on another year of early entries into the NFL draft, and boy was it a long list.

    A record 96 underclassmen tossed out their remaining collegiate eligibility, according to the list compiled by Sports Illustrated. The position breakdown is as follows:

    • 4 quarterbacks
    • 18 running backs
    • 19 wide receivers
    • 11 tight ends
    • 9 offensive linemen
    • 15 defensive linemen
    • 6 linebackers
    • 7 cornerbacks
    • 7 safeties

    While most of the names aren't surprises, considering how great a year they had in 2013, there were some (anyone here heard of California running back Brendan Bigelow? Anyone?) that seemed odd.

    With this annual talent exodus over and done with, it's now time to take inventory and see which college football teams fared the best and worst from the lure of pro contracts.

Winner: Oregon Ducks

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Players lost: Tight end Colt Lyerla, cornerback Terrance Mitchell, wide receiver/return specialist De'Anthony Thomas

    Key holdovers: Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, center Hroniss Grasu, quarterback Marcus Mariota.

    Mariota was one of the first players of note to announce he was staying in school, doing so in between the Ducks' regular-season finale and the Alamo Bowl. That allowed for the bowl practices to serve as an early test run for Oregon's 2014 offense, which remains mostly intact save for Thomas. Lyerla had quit the team in October, so his loss had already been written off.

    The return of Ekpre-Olomu, one of the nation's top pass defenders, was just as key for Oregon. He was projected as a high draft pick, though's Mike Huguenin wrote that the junior underachieved in 2013 and would benefit from a strong senior year.

Loser: Texas A&M Aggies

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Players lost: Wide receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Johnny Manziel

    Key holdovers: Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi

    The Aggies lost only two players early, but those just happened to be the team's two most important players. The Manziel-to-Evans combination was one of the most dangerous in college football in 2013, and though both losses were expected, it will still sting. Good thing for A&M it has the No. 3 recruiting class coming in, according to 247sports, after landing the No. 9 class in 2013.

    Holding onto Ogbuehi is somewhat of a saving grace for the Aggies, who already had to replace senior left tackle Jake Matthews. Ogbuehi, who played right tackle but could shift to the left side in 2014, told reporters after the Chik-fil-A Bowl that he'd received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

Winner: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Players lost: Cornerback Bradley Roby, linebacker Ryan Shazier

    Key holdovers: Quarterback Braxton Miller

    Miller went into the 2013 season on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates, but an early injury and some uneven play throughout the year affected his overall performance. As a result, the junior received a draft grade that would put him as a mid- to late-round selection, according to Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Post-Dispatch.

    Miller's return helps keep some consistency on an offense that has to replace workhorse running back Carlos Hyde. And odds are, if he returns to the form he showed as a sophomore, Miller's senior season could include more Heisman talk.

Loser: Central Florida Knights

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Players lost: Quarterback Blake Bortles, running back Storm Johnson

    Key holdovers: None

    The most surprising team of the 2013 season might have one of the biggest drop-offs in 2014, thanks to the early departure of its two most important offensive players. Bortles went from a relative unknown to someone that's being projected as a high first-round draft pick, but that rapid rise also comes at the cost of Bortles' successor having received no meaningful playing time.

    The same goes for Johnson, who rushed for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013 and seemed to save his best games for Central Florida's biggest matchups.

Winner: Texas Longhorns

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Players lost: None

    Key holdovers: Running back Malcolm Brown, cornerback Quandre Diggs, defensive end Cedric Reed

    The arrival of a new coach often can lead to massive player turnover, particularly in the form of standouts leaving early rather than sticking it out with the new guy (See USC, next slide).

    But Charlie Strong gets to enter his first season at Texas knowing he'll be getting back a trio of junior stars, all of whom should be key contributors in 2014. Strong is a defense-first guy, and having Diggs and Reed come back must have been music to his ears.

    And Brown, whose 904 rushing yards and nine touchdowns helped ease the loss of fellow tailback Johnathan Gray to injury, will likely be a well-used weapon on offense.

Loser: USC Trojans

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Players lost: Safety Dion Bailey, tight end Xavier Grimble, wide receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin, defensive end George Uko

    Key holdovers: Running back Javorius Allen, defensive back Josh Shaw

    Steve Sarkisian didn't luck out as well as Texas' Charlie Strong when it came to holding onto existing talent, as the Trojans lose five key pieces from the 2013 team that put together a pretty good season despite countless injury issues. The early departures, combined with the effects of scholarship restrictions remaining from NCAA sanctions during the Pete Carroll era, and USC will once again be short-handed in terms of available talent.

    The late-season emergence of Javorius Allen, though, should be looked at as a strong building block. Allen, a redshirt sophomore who rushed for 12 touchdowns in USC's final six games, passed on his chance to leave early.

Winner: Wisconsin Badgers

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    Players lost: None

    Key holdovers: Running back Melvin Gordon

    The early-entry list for the 2014 NFL draft has more running backs (18) than players from any other position, a clear sign that rushers with any semblance of talent look to get those pro careers started early. Seeing as the average NFL running back's career lasts just over three years, the earlier that clock can start the better.

    But Melvin Gordon bucked that trend, choosing to come back to Wisconsin despite a stellar redshirt sophomore season in which he ran for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 206 carries. He even made his decision prior to getting a grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, further evidence of his dedication to the Badgers.

    That loyalty should translate into a Heisman Trophy campaign for Gordon.

Loser: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Players lost: Running back George Atkinson III, tight end Troy Niklas, defensive tackle Louis Nix, defensive end Stephon Tuitt

    Key holdovers: None

    The return of quarterback Everett Golson from a one-year academic-related suspension is one of the few things Notre Dame fans have to look forward to in 2014. His electric play from 2012, if revisited after a year away from the game, can help make up for significant losses on offense and defense.

    Niklas might have been the Fighting Irish's top receiving target next season, while all of the beef that Nix and Tuitt brought to the defensive line (the pair weighed in at a combined 654 pounds) will be difficult to replace.

Winner: Big 12 Conference

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Total players lost: Three

    The Big 12 was, far and away, the least affected by NFL early departures. Though all three who left—Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk and Oklahoma State wide receiver Josh Stewart—were impact players, none represent an irrecoverable loss for their respective programs.

    Tech has more than enough receiving weapons, while Baylor's offense is diversified enough to help carry the load. And Stewart, although valuable, had an underachieving junior season.

    Ironically, had the teams that most recently bolted from the league—Missouri and Texas A&M—still been in the Big 12, the situation would be a lot murkier. But that's the SEC's problem now.

Loser: SEC

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Total players lost: 28

    It was almost like the SEC lost an entire team early to the NFL as—other than kicker, punter and tight end—the league suffered significant underclassmen losses at every position.

    The most notable talent departure came from the wide receiving corps, where the top five players in terms of receiving yards are leaving early, and on the defensive line, which loses seven underclassmen.

    But as daunting as all this may seem, take note: the SEC had 33 underclassmen declare for the NFL draft following the 2012 season, so this amount of turnover is nothing new for the conference.