College Football Teams That Need to Replace the Most NFL Talent
For all the great things about college football, one of the more unfortunate aspects is that the best players are only around for a few short years. It often feels like they leave as soon as we get to know them, having either exhausted their eligibility or left for the NFL draft.
The exodus of talent is something every FBS team has to deal with on an annual basis, some more than others. Call it the burden of recruiting and developing.
Here are the eight teams saying goodbye to the most NFL talent, both in terms of departing seniors and underclassmen who have declared for the draft.
Top Talent Leaving
Death, taxes and Alabama experiencing major turnover—usually right after playing in or winning the national championship game. This year is no different, with five Crimson Tide juniors entering the 2018 NFL draft in addition to eight seniors who started last week's title game win over Georgia.
The biggest losses are to the Crimson Tide's secondary, where junior safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison are moving on, as are senior cornerbacks Anthony Averett, Tony Brown and Levi Wallace. The front seven has to replace end Da'Shawn Hand and nose guard Da'Ron Payne and linebacker Rashaan Evans.
The Alabama offense didn't get hit nearly as badly, though junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley is a significant loss. Just as impactful is the departure of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll, who Sunday was hired by the Buffalo Bills.
Don't feel bad for Alabama, because its many holes won't be hard to fill. Freshmen accounted for 4.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 2017, as linemen LaBryan Ray and Quinnen Williams and linebacker Dylan Moses all saw plenty of action.
Corners Trevon Diggs, Shyheim Carter and Jared Mayden and safeties Xavier McKinney and Deionte Thompson figure to get more involved on the back line, while freshmen Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith—who caught the championship-winning touchdown toss—should battle for the No. 1 pass-catching spot.
There's also another top-tier recruiting class to help the Tide plug their holes. Among the 14 players are three top-100 defensive ends and a trio of 4-star corners, including former LSU signee Saivion Smith, who was the No. 2 junior college prospect in the country.
Top Talent Leaving
It was a massively disappointing season for Florida State, which began the year ranked No. 3 in the country and ended up needing to reschedule a game just to get bowl-eligible. Along the way, Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M and a massive new contract, and the Seminoles hired Oregon's Willie Taggart as his replacement.
Taggart will have a lot of holes to fill with six underclassmen turning pro. The majority of those are defenders, most notably leading sack man Josh Sweat, top corner Tarvarus McFadden and hard-hitting safety Derwin James. That's in addition to five senior defensive starters, including tackle Derrick Nnadi and safety Trey Marshall.
FSU is much better off on offense, with wide receiver Auden Tate (who had 10 of its 21 receiving touchdowns) the only significant departee.
The Seminoles have only seven players signed for 2018 and another four committed, a byproduct of the down season and coaching change. The three highest-rated players are all defensive backs, including 5-star safety Jaiden Woodbey and 4-star corner Asante Samuel Jr., son of the former NFL standout.
The Florida State defensive line will be young, but it has some promising replacements in ends Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson, who will be sophomores.
Tate was one of just two receivers who reached 290 yards, but Taggart figures to throw the ball more, meaning junior-to-be Keith Gavin and rising sophomores D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry should all get more touches.
Top Talent Leaving
For a team that played in the national championship game, Georgia made out pretty good in terms of underclassmen skipping town for the NFL draft. But that's mostly because the vast majority of the Bulldogs' top players were in their final season of eligibility.
Georgia says goodbye to 29 seniors, almost half of whom were starters, including at some of the most critical positions on the field. Most notably: the immensely productive rushing duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who combined for more than 8,400 yards and 77 touchdowns on the ground, including 2,572 yards and 31 scores in 2017. Also gone from the offense is leading receiver Javon Wims, who had 45 catches for 720 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Bulldogs defense loses seven senior starters, including all its linebackers. The biggest name of that group is junior Roquan Smith, who had 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Also gone are seniors Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Reggie Carter. Senior safety Dominick Sanders and junior tackle Trenton Thompson are moving on as well.
It's not set in stone until after national signing day Feb. 7, but as of now, Georgia has the top-rated recruiting class in the country. Twenty of its 22 commitments have signed, including six 5-star prospects with four of those already enrolled.
That includes 5-star running back Zamir White, the No. 6 player in the 2018 class, and defensive end Brenton Cox, the No. 23 overall prospect. White figures to play right away, though he won't be the primary ball-carrier with D'Andre Swift coming off a 618-yard freshman campaign as the Bulldogs' third rushing option.
Top Talent Leaving
LSU has been a regular source of young NFL talent for the past decade. The 2017 early-entry count is six, third-most in program history.
Another new offensive coordinator—former tight ends coach Steve Ensminger—is tasked with replacing most of the Tigers' key contributors. Among the juniors no longer around are a 1,200-yard rusher (Derrius Guice) and two starting offensive linemen (center Will Clapp and right tackle Toby Weathersby) in addition to a senior class that produced leading receiver DJ Chark and another starting lineman in KJ Malone.
The other juniors leaving are cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II and edge-rusher Arden Key. None of them were stellar in 2017, but they're all projected to be strong NFL prospects.
LSU has to replace its starting quarterback, too, after Danny Etling threw for more than 4,500 yards over the last two seasons. That's one area in which the Tigers may be better off than last season, as Myles Brennan got some experience as a true freshman.
LSU will field a much younger defense, too, but it won't lack talent. Michael Divinity Jr. is the heir apparent to Key, while 2017 breakout star Devin White (133 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) will be joined by 2017 4-star prospects K'Lavon Chaisson and Tyler Taylor at linebacker.
Sophomore-to-be Greedy Williams is back to anchor the secondary, while 5-star wide receiver Terrace Marshall could be in line for a massive debut in 2018.
Top Talent Leaving
After several years of being hurt by many early NFL draft departures, Ohio State is losing only three underclassmen: defensive end Sam Hubbard, linebacker Jerome Baker and cornerback Denzel Ward. It could have been much worse had defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones and receivers Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon not opted to come back for another season.
But the Buckeyes are still losing a lot of pro-level talent because their senior class is a little more stout than normal.
Safety Damon Webb led the squad with five interceptions, defensive end Tyquan Lewis had seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, and Rimington Award-winning center Billy Price started all over OSU's line during his career.
Oh yeah, and there was that guy who owns basically every school record related to quarterbacking. J.T. Barrett may not be a top NFL prospect, but after throwing for 9,434 yards and 104 touchdowns and rushing for 3,263 yards and 43 scores, he's going to get a look, and his absence will be significant.
Barrett's departure means Ohio State gets to have another high-profile quarterback competition, with Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell the main players in that battle. Haskins finished 6-of-7 for 94 yards in relief of an injured Barrett against Michigan, while Martell (who signed with the Buckeyes after previously being committed to Washington and Texas A&M) redshirted.
Several other notables from OSU's No. 2-ranked 2017 recruiting class are poised for big things in 2018, such as defensive end Chase Young, linebacker Baron Browning and defensive backs Jeffrey Okudah and Isaiah Pryor. The Buckeyes' 2018 class is also ranked second and could produce some true freshman stars, like 5-star all-purpose back Jaelen Gill and top-rated center Matthew Jones.
Top Talent Leaving
Oklahoma was on the losing end of arguably the most exciting non-championship game since the College Football Playoff era began, falling 54-48 to Georgia in double overtime in the Rose Bowl. That game proved to be the swan song for a tremendous senior class as well as a trio of impact underclassmen.
Topping the list of key departures is Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who threw for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns and ran for another 311 yards and five scores. In his three seasons with the Sooners, Mayfield threw for 12,292 yards and 119 touchdowns.
One of Mayfield's favorite targets, junior tight end Mark Andrews, is also moving on after catching 22 touchdown passes in three years. The offense also has to replace junior left tackle Orlando Brown and senior pass-catching fullback Dimitri Flowers, who had 13 touchdown receptions.
Leading tackler Emmanuel Beal and sack/tackle for loss leader Ogbonnia Okoronkwo are big losses for the defense.
Quarterback Kyler Murray transferred from Texas A&M after the 2015 season and was used sparingly this year, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns and averaging 10.1 yards per carry. Expect Oklahoma to let him loose in 2018 as Mayfield's successor.
Brey Walker, a 4-star offensive tackle from Oklahoma, is the Sooners' highest-rated signee and could slide right into Brown's starting spot. And Grant Calcaterra had three touchdowns on 10 receptions as Andrews' backup, so tight end looks solid as well.
The Oklahoma defense will be much younger next season, but there's room to grow. Linebacker Kenneth Murray had 7.5 tackles for loss as a freshman, while rising sophomores Tre Brown and Robert Barnes are in line for bigger roles in the secondary.
Top Talent Leaving
Texas fans had high hopes for what Tom Herman could do with the talent that previous coach Charlie Strong left for him. A 7-6 record with a Texas Bowl victory didn't meet expectations, and now Longhorn Nation will get to see what Herman can do with more of his own players in action.
The Longhorns have five juniors turning pro, most notably left tackle Connor Williams and linebacker Malik Jefferson. Williams was an anchor on the line during his three seasons in Austin, while Jefferson had 110 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in 2017.
Texas must also replace an invaluable asset in punter Michael Dickson, the Ray Guy Award winner who is leaving early to dazzle NFL special teams coaches with his pinpoint placement and backspin.
Of the departing senior class, nose tackle Poona Ford is the biggest loss.
Herman recruited incredibly well to Houston, and that's continued at Texas. His 2018 class ranks third nationally after he signed the No. 25 class last year. Few freshmen played much this past season besides quarterback Sam Ehlinger and running backs Toneil Carter and Daniel Young, but expect that to change.
Look for junior college transfer Mikey Grandy to contend for Williams' starting spot, while 4-star linebacker Ayodele Adeoye could be Jefferson's successor.
Top Talent Leaving
USC made out pretty well in the departed talent department. There were no surprises among the underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft, though there were a few unexpected announcements by players who opted to come back for their senior seasons.
The return of linebackers Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith and cornerback Iman Marshall softens the blow of defensive tackle Rasheem Green's decision to bypass his senior season and the graduation of edge-rusher Uchenna Nwosu.
USC wasn't nearly as lucky on the offensive side, but it was prepared to lose quarterback Sam Darnold, leading rusher Ronald Jones II and top receiver Deontay Burnett. Still, that trio was responsible for 99.0 percent of the Trojans' passing yards, 62.9 percent of their rushing output and 31.1 percent of their receiving yards.
Matt Fink was Darnold's backup, but he appeared in only three games and threw just nine passes. He is no shoo-in to be the starter, not with Jack Sears coming off a redshirt and 5-star passer JT Daniels reclassifying so he could join USC a year early.
Stephen Carr missed four games this past season because of a foot injury but will get the first crack at being the primary ball-carrier, while the receiving corps is stacked with talent who will get far more targets now that Burnett is gone. That group includes 5-star wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown, the top-rated California recruit in the 2018 class.