Replacements for Every Player on Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Big Board

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Replacements for Every Player on Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Big Board

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    Texas A&M's Kenny Hill will get the first crack at replacing Johnny Manziel.
    Texas A&M's Kenny Hill will get the first crack at replacing Johnny Manziel.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Philadelphia-based R&B group Boyz II Men is remembered for a lot of things, including its a cappella harmonies and the members' great fashion sense.

    They also cranked out some apropos lyrics, such as one that greatly applies each year to college football's top departing players:

    "It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday."

    But sad as it may be, each spring we must bid adieu to the best and brightest that college football has to offer. Most of them are headed for a career in the NFL, at the very least a shot at one.

    And while fans might wonder how in the world their team will replace that departed superstar, the coaching staffs have (hopefully) planned ahead for such lineup holes through recruiting classes and in-season development of backups.

    Though a lot can change between now and late August when the 2014 season begins, here's our look at the most likely replacement for each of the top 32 draft-eligible players from this past year (based on Bleacher Report's 2014 NFL Draft Pre-Combine Big Board).



Cameron Botticelli, DT, Minnesota

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    Replacement for: Ra'Shede Hageman

    Why he's the one: While Hageman was drawing most of the attention on one side of Minnesota's defensive line, Cameron Botticelli held his own on the other end.

    Botticelli, who will be a fifth-year senior, had 5.5 tackles for loss among his 23 takedowns in 2013, and while not as big as Hageman (who is 6'6" and 310 pounds) there's enough bulk and power behind his 6'5", 290-pound frame to expect further improvement in 2014.

Ben Braden, OT, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Taylor Lewan

    Why he's the one: Ben Braden is the heir apparent to Lewan, and the backup at left tackle in 2013 got a few snaps in as a true freshman when the workhorse needed a breather. Though he wasn't spectacular, he's the most likely candidate to step in at that position.

    The Wolverines could also look to Erik Magnuson, but Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers notes he's more likely to be the starter at right tackle in 2014. 

Brian Burrell, QB, Fresno State

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Replacement for: Derek Carr

    Why he's the one: Of the three quarterbacks Fresno State has on its roster heading into spring ball, Brian Burrell is by far the most experienced. But that's not saying much.

    The 6'4" Burrell appeared in five games in 2013, all in mop-up duty after Carr had thrown opponents into submission, and the then-sophomore only got to attempt 12 passes. He was a starter in 2012 at Bakersfield College, where he threw for more than 2,500 yards, but he'll have to show a lot of progress in the offseason to hold onto the job ahead of Myles Carr (no relation) and Zack Greenlee.

Gerald Dixon, DE, South Carolina

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    RAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Jadeveon Clowney

    Why he's the one: Gerald Dixon won't bring the attitude and constant scrutiny that Clowney had going on during his last two years at South Carolina, but that will be fine as long as he can match some of the performance.

    Dixon played in 12 games as a sophomore in 2013, benefiting from the Gamecocks' shuffling of players onto the field all season long. He had 18 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, but at 6'2" and 252 pounds he'll either have to get faster or bigger to truly replace Clowney.

Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

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    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Odell Beckham Jr.

    Why he's the one: Malachi Dupre will be one of many new faces asked to contribute right away for LSU's offense, which lost its quarterback, running back and top two receivers from last season. And while he might not specifically replace Beckham's production, he'll certainly be involved in doing so.

    Dupre was the second-best receiver in the country this past recruiting class, according to 247Sports, but he waited until signing day to make his decision to play for the Tigers. Dupre is tall (6'2.5") and will be someone that whoever LSU uses at quarterback can put it up for.

Steve Elmer, OT, Notre Dame

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    Joe Raymond/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Zack Martin

    Why he's the one: Steve Elmer spent most of last season playing guard as an injury replacement on the right side of the line, but his size (6'5" and 315 pounds) is much more what you'd expect from a tackle.

    He didn't get much chance to play there as a true freshman in 2013, because Martin was wrapping up a 52-game career at Notre Dame by starting every contest at left tackle last year. But with all that experience gone, and the importance of the left tackle position as far as guarding a quarterback's blind side, look for Elmer to get a chance to move back over to his natural position.

Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Replacement for: C.J. Mosley

    Why he's the one: Reuben Foster is an inside linebacker by trade, but he'll get a shot at moving outside to replace Mosley because senior Trey DePriest has the inside spot locked up another year. Foster was the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2013 class, and he was brought in to play significant minutes.

    Foster might also get unofficially rewarded with the spot as a way of Nick Saban saying thanks for helping to get former high school teammate Rashaan Evans to choose Alabama over Auburn.

Alani Fua, OLB, Brigham Young

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Kyle Van Noy

    Why he's the one: BYU won't be able to easily replace Van Noy, arguably one of the best defensive players in school history. But if someone is going to do it from the Cougars' current roster, it will be Alani Fua.

    The senior-to-be has good size (he's 6'5" and 215 pounds) and performed well opposite Van Noy in 2013. He started nine games and logged 63 tackles, including five for loss and three sacks, while also intercepting two passes. One of those, against Georgia Tech, was returned for a touchdown.

Will Gardner, QB, Louisville

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Teddy Bridgewater

    Why he's the one: Will Gardner doesn't have anywhere near the pedigree or upside that Bridgewater had, but he's going to have to make up for that as the quarterback who leads the Cardinals into the ACC.

    The 6'5", 230-pound sophomore-to-be saw very limited action behind Bridgewater in 2013, but he'll have time to ease into Bobby Petrino's system thanks to the presence of top receiver DeVante Parker and some good running backs to hand off to.

Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Replacement for: Jace Amaro

    Why he's the one: Jakeem Grant is the man who will be asked to replace Amaro's production, but no one on Texas Tech's roster can replace his size and skills.

    Amaro is 6'5" and 260 pounds, a mammoth of a tight end who played like a receiver. Very few teams would have another similar player on the team, and the Red Raiders actually don't have any other tight ends on the roster.

    Grant is as far from Amaro in size as possible, coming in at 5'6" and 160 pounds. But he played inside at the slot, which is as close to tight end as Tech is going to get in 2014. He had 65 catches for 796 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore last year and was a big part of the Raiders' Holiday Bowl win.

Grant Hill, OT, Alabama

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Cyrus Kouandjio

    Why he's the one: Grant Hill played significant snaps for Alabama as a true freshman last year, most often at right guard. The former 4-star recruit played both guard and tackle in high school, which makes him a prime candidate to replace Kouandjio in the tackle position.

    But it won't be a position just given to Hill; he'll have to fight off Cameron Robinson, the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class.

Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Replacement for: Johnny Manziel

    Why he's the one: If Kevin Sumlin wants his offense to look and operate as much like it has the past two years with Manziel at the helm, then Kenny Hill will be the guy to do so.

    Solid but not spectacular in his limited action as a true freshman in 2013, Hill is the most mobile and athletic of Texas A&M's quarterbacks. His running ability should give him an early advantage over fifth-year senior Matt Joeckel, but his biggest challenge will come from big-armed Kyle Allen, the nation's top-rated high school passer in 2013.

Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Calvin Pryor

    Why he's the one: Gerod Holliman has a lot of solid skills that make him a good candidate to replace Pryor at free safety for Bobby Petrino's Louisville return. But the one that stands out most is the one he shares with the departing player: hitting ability.

    Like Pryor before him, Holliman has a reputation for being a hard hitter, a necessary trait as the Cardinals move from the American Athletic Conference to the receiver-rich ACC. He'll be asked to enforce the middle of the field, similar to how he did while racking up 16 tackles in 11 games of action as a reserve in 2013.

Justin Holman, QB, Central Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Blake Bortles

    Why he's the one: Justin Holman is far from being the outright starter for Central Florida, though right now he appears to have the leg up on fellow passers Pete DiNovo and Tyler Harris.

    The 6'4" Holman was Bortles' main backup in 2013, and though he didn't see much time on the field, he was the one who got the call. The thing that might put him ahead by the end of the spring, when George O'Leary plans to have his starter named, is a mobility that would provide an element that Bortles became well known for down the stretch.

Trey Johnson, OLB, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Replacement for: Ryan Shazier

    Why he's the one: Trey Johnson saw limited action as a true freshman in 2013, logging just four tackles in three games of action. But at 6'1" and 220 pounds, he's got what Ohio State needs to fill Shazier's shoes.

    The Buckeyes could also turn immediately to 5-star signee Raekwon McMillan, listed by 247Sports as the top-rated linebacker in the 2014 recruiting class, but Johnson will get first crack at the starting job.

Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame

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    Associated Press

    Replacement for: Louis Nix III

    Why he's the one: Notre Dame's defensive line loses Nix and end Stephon Tuitt, but both of them missed time in 2013 due to injury. This allowed Jarron Jones to get significant playing time late in the season as a redshirt freshman, even starting the regular-season finale at Stanford.

    The 6'6", 305-pounder will essentially be a grizzled veteran in terms of the Fighting Irish's interior line experience. Look for him to make his presence felt early and often to impress new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Laurence Jones, S, Alabama

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

    Why he's the one: Laurence Jones might end up having the best chance to start of all of Alabama's highly regarded 2014 recruits, simply because of the overall uncertainty at the position.

    According to Bleacher Report's Marc Torrance, free safety is a major area of concern for the Crimson Tide. Existing players Nick Perry, Geno Smith and Jarrick Williams have all shown signs of promise, but they have also looked bad at times, so it might just be the right situation to let the top-50 Jones get a chance to start. He's already enrolled in school, so the coaches will get a lot of time to look at him.

Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT, Florida State

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Replacement for: Timmy Jernigan

    Why he's the one: Nile Lawrence-Stample started six games in 2013 on the defensive line, and he'll be the guy who's going to be expected to fill Jernigan's void. He'll be a junior, and part of a corps of front-end players who likely will rotate at first.

    That could include some of the incoming freshmen, such as 4-star recruits Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas, both of whom were among the top-10 defensive tackle prospects in the country.

    Lawrence-Stample is 6'1" and 305 pounds, a good size to be a hole-plugging force in the middle of the line.

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

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    Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Dee Ford

    Why he's the one: Carl Lawson was a 5-star piece of Gus Malzahn's first recruiting class at Auburn, and he made his presence felt during his freshman campaign in such a way that the Tigers should be fine despite the loss of Ford.

    The 6'2", 258-pound Lawson, the nation's top-rated defensive end in high school his senior year, had 20 tackles and seven quarterback hurries last season. And of those tackles, 7.5 of them were for a loss, including four sacks, not a bad ratio for a reserve.

Geno Lewis, WR, Penn State

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Allen Robinson

    Why he's the one: Geno Lewis is one of the few players with experience that new Penn State coach James Franklin will have at his disposal at the receiver position. Besides Robinson, who accounted for close to half of the Nittany Lions' yardage, second-leading receiver Brandon Felder has graduated.

    That leaves Lewis, who as a redshirt freshman had 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns. He'll be first up for the touches, though he's going to get pressed hard by incoming recruits such as 4-star wideout Saeed Blacknall, whom Franklin plucked away from Rutgers after taking the PSU job.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Jake Matthews

    Why he's the one: Matthews was a standout at right tackle before he was moved to the left side in 2013, making him into a likely first-round NFL pick. The same plan looks to be in place for Cedric Ogbuehi, who has been starting for the Aggies on the right side the past two years.

    Ogbuehi, at 6'5" and 300 pounds, will be a huge obstacle for opposing pass-rushers to deal with in the SEC, and one that will be best served protecting the blind side of Texas A&M's new quarterback.

Patrick Miller, OT, Auburn

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Greg Robinson

    Why he's the one: Patrick Miller has already been a starter on the right side of Auburn's offensive line, but now he'll likely be asked to take on a bigger role as the Tigers' top protector on the left side.

    Miller, at 6'7" and 283 pounds, is a little on the lean side for an offensive tackle, but that didn't stop him from making nine starts at right tackle as a true freshman in 2012. He became the backup at that slot to Avery Young last season, but his experience should bode well for a solid run protecting Nick Marshall's blind side in 2014.

Kenny Orjioke, OLB, UCLA

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Anthony Barr

    Why he's the one: Linebacker is not a place where UCLA is hurting in terms of depth, and Kenny Orjioke is a big reason for that.

    Though his action was somewhat limited in 2013, he still made a big impact. He only had 11 tackles in 13 games but still managed two sacks in the Bruins' final two games against Arizona State and Virginia Tech. At 6'4" and 240 pounds, he's able to play in the middle of the field or line up as an edge-rusher, depending on the situation.

Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Justin Gilbert

    Why he's the one: Kevin Peterson gave Oklahoma State fans a glimpse of what he was capable of in 2013, and what they saw should make them happy he's going to be around for a few more years.

    As a sophomore, the 5'11" Peterson was effective both in pass coverage (with two interceptions and four pass breakups) and up on the line, where he recorded three tackles for loss.

Shane Ray, DE, Missouri

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Kony Ealy

    Why he's the one: Shane Ray was already in a good position to be one of the next great defensive ends at Missouri, even before he helped seal one of the biggest wins in school history.

    Ray scooped up a fumble and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown to clinch the Tigers' Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State last month, a play that showed off the kind of instincts that will be necessary to stand out in the SEC. He was right there when Michael Sam forced the fumble, and the speed and elusiveness he showed to score the TD must make the loss of both Ealy and Sam less painful for Missouri fans.

Darryl Render, DT, Pittsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Aaron Donald

    Why he's the one: Darryl Render had 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack in 2013, numbers that are nowhere near as lucrative as what Donald (59 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks) had as a senior.

    But Render has played in 24 games in two seasons at Pitt, and he brings enough experience playing alongside and behind Donald to know what is expected of him. He teamed with Nicholas Grigsby on one of the Panthers' seven sacks in the Little Caesars Bowl win and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence.

Ezra Robinson, CB, Michigan State

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Darqueze Dennard

    Why he's the one: With Trae Waynes becoming the No. 1 cornerback in Michigan State's secondary, that will leave an open slot on the other side for Ezra Robinson to keep up the Spartans' reputation of shutdown corners.

    As a redshirt freshman, Robinson appeared in 12 of 14 games, but he only managed one tackle as well as a fumble recovery. An all-state defender in Florida as a high school player, he has the pedigree to be a force for MSU.

Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Mike Evans

    Why he's the one: Ricky Seals-Jones made an instant impact for Texas A&M in his first-ever college game in 2013, catching a 71-yard touchdown pass during the first half of the season opener against Rice. But a knee injury on that same play ended his year, requiring surgery.

    But with nearly a full year to recover, the 6'5", 225-pound Seals-Jones looks poised to be a full-time threat in the Aggies' overhauled offense. He's got a similar frame to that of Evans, a big receiver who'd wrestle the ball away from defenders, and he'll be a great complement to the smaller Speedy Noil, who will likely be catching passes on the other side of the field.

Lee Skinner, OLB, Buffalo

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacement for: Khalil Mack

    Why he's the one: Lee Skinner isn't so much replacing arguably the greatest player in school history as he is trying to pick up as much of the slack as possible.

    Skinner, a 6'2", 233-pound senior-to-be, has been a three-year starter for the Bulls, and a pretty good one. Playing in Mack's shadow, he's managed solid tackling numbers that are more what you'd expect from someone who's roaming the middle of the field than rushing the line as much as Mack did.

Jack Tabb, TE, North Carolina

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Eric Ebron

    Why he's the one: Jack Tabb got an early start on his audition to replace the mercurial Ebron, catching a touchdown pass in the first half of North Carolina's blowout win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

    It was the second career TD for the 6'3", 240-pound Tabb, who with 20 receptions is the only tight end on the Tar Heels roster with any experience catching the ball heading into his senior year. The Belk score had to be a pleasant sight for Tar Heels coaches, who already knew Ebron was leaving for the NFL since he'd declared prior to the bowl game.

Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU

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    Replacement for: Jason Verrett

    Why he's the one: Ranthony Texada is one of two 2013 cornerback recruits that TCU redshirted last season, while Verrett and Kevin White handled nearly all the snaps at their positions. While the Horned Frogs played several safeties, only the two corners saw major action.

    Texada will be given a chance to take Verrett's spot, but he'll have to battle it out with fellow redshirt Cydney Calvin.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

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    RAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Replacement for: Sammy Watkins

    Why he's the one: Mike Williams made the very most of his very little time on the field in 2013, and the effort he showed will keep him in good position to stay ahead of some heralded incoming recruits for a starting receiver spot.

    Williams had 20 receptions for 316 yards with three touchdowns last year as a freshman, and at 6'5" he'll provide whoever Clemson goes with at quarterback with a nice, big target. That size should give him an advantage over the likes of 4-star recruits Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson, who are 5'10" and 6'3", respectively.