College Football Units with Significant Production to Replace

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2018

College Football Units with Significant Production to Replace

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    College football is a three- or four-year cycle, so there are always talented players leaving and replacements coming in to fill the void. Several schools just happen to have big-time gaps at important positions.

    When that happens, it's difficult not to lose production. Factories like Alabama have thrived at the next-man-up mentality, but that's easier when you are bringing in waves of top-tier talent like Nick Saban does every year. Georgia is looking at the same thing in 2018 after losing more than 30 seniors.

    The Crimson Tide churns out NFL talent yearly, so they are always in this category. This year, they will have to find a way to replenish a secondary that was rife with superstars in 2017. While the Bulldogs have losses everywhere, the offensive backfield will be pivotal, as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have gone.

    Across the country, teams are going to be facing gulfs in experience on both sides of the ball. From the SEC to the Pac-12, some of the top teams in the nation must turn the page and welcome new crops of playmakers.

    That's the nature of college football, and the coaches who thrive at doing that seamlessly are the ones who are consistently at the top.

    Let's take a look at the college football units who lose the most talent in 2018 and how those teams plan to replace it.

Alabama Secondary

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    Who's gone?: Safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison and cornerbacks Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Hootie Jones and Tony Brown.


    Who's stepping in?: Deionte Thompson, Shyheim Carter, Trevon Diggs, Xavier McKinney, Nigel Knott, Saivion Smith, Patrick Surtain Jr., Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Eddie Smith.


    2018 prediction: If that looks like a bunch of players in the category above, it's because there is no telling who will wind up starting for the Crimson Tide in 2018. There is always a ton of talent, and with so many familiar faces gone, the Tide must reload.

    There will likely be some early-season growing pains, especially without field generals Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison manning the back end of the defense. But there are capable replacements in Xavier McKinney and Deionte Thompson. Both of those players have shown flashes.

    Two of the most exciting defenders in the '18 recruiting class are JUCO transfer Saivion Smith, who looks like a dynamic athlete, and Patrick Surtain Jr. The latter was a national signing day win over rival LSU, and he may just be the best incoming freshman in the nation. Shyheim Carter is another "veteran" who figures to factor in the mix.

    The Tide won't be as dynamic as they were in the secondary a year ago, but this group will jell and improve as the season progresses.

Florida State Secondary

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    Who's gone?: Cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and safeties Derwin James, Trey Marshall, Ermon Lane and Nate Andrews.


    Who's stepping in?: A.J. Westbrook, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Cyrus Fagan, Jaiden Woodbey, Carlos Becker, Asante Samuel Jr. and Stanford Samuels III.


    2018 prediction: It's hard to predict which of Florida State's talented defenders will wind up breaking through for big seasons, but the ones mentioned above are strong bets. 

    It's going to be difficult for the Seminoles to replace athletic phenom Derwin James, who could play all over the field, and a shutdown corner like Tarvarus McFadden. There's a lot of depth missing on the back level too. But former coach Jimbo Fisher stockpiled defensive backs, so there are options.

    A.J. Westbrook started 13 games in the past two seasons, subbing mostly for an injured James. He will lock down one safety spot, and the other job should be an excellent battle between Hamsah Nasirildeen, Cyrus Fagan and mid-term enrollee Jaiden Woodbey, who was one of new coach Willie Taggart's biggest recruiting wins on the trail.

    Carlos Becker is a terrific, versatile athlete who will have an expanded role somewhere, and it helps that the Noles return Levonta Taylor, who was excellent at corner in 2017. Stanford Samuels III played a lot as a true freshman too, and he will have a battle on his hands with elite incoming freshman Asante Samuel Jr. for the other spot.

    How this group fares depends on how they mesh with new defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett, but the former Michigan State DC has a lot of talent with which to work, and the secondary will be a team strength by the middle of the season.

Georgia Running Backs

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    Who's gone?: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.


    Who's stepping in?: D'Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien, Zamir White and James Cook.


    2018 prediction: How do you replace Nick Chubb's 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns, especially when you lose Sony Michel's 1,323 total yards and 17 touchdowns? That's the type of production that gets you to the national championship game, which is exactly where coach Kirby Smart's team was in January.

    The answer: You recruit better than anybody in the nation at the position.

    Smart did that, going out and getting 5-star stud Zamir White from North Carolina and securing a pledge from all-purpose dynamo James Cook, despite the fact his older brother, Dalvin, is a Florida State legend. Throw in those two guys with D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, and the Dawgs are going to be just fine.

    Swift is an electric athlete who is capable of taking the ball to the end zone any time he touches it. Fans will see Cook is the same kind of talent. But White is special.

    He's the type of runner UGA is used to employing, and if he returns from a season-ending knee injury, he could make an impact similar to those of Chubb and Todd Gurley during their first years in Athens.

    The Bulldogs will be young at a lot of places in 2018, but while it may be a long shot to predict them back in the championship game after losing 31 seniors, it isn't out of the question. With the past two recruiting classes, UGA may be more talented than it has ever been.

    It's possible there will be two 1,000-yard rushers on the roster again this year.

LSU Running Backs

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    Who's gone?: Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams.


    Who's stepping in?: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Nick Brossette, Chris Curry and Tae Provens.


    2018 prediction: LSU was blessed the past few years with two of the best all-around running backs in college football. First, there was Leonard Fournette. And his backup, Derrius Guice, wasn't far behind him in talent. Last year, it was Guice's show for the most part.

    The Tigers must find a way to move on from Guice and his 1,375 yards and 13 total touchdowns, as he elected to forego his final season on the Bayou. Making matters worse is steady backup Darrel Williams is also gone. He filled in nicely for Guice as he battled injuries in 2017, rushing for 820 yards.

    They are part of an overhaul in Baton Rouge, where Ed Orgeron must replace 14 starters and 18 players in the two-deep, third-most in the country behind TCU and Ole Miss.

    There are no elite playmakers at running back—at least none who are proven. Rising senior Nick Brossette likely will be the starter, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a 5'8", 208-pound runner who can do things in the open field and is big enough to produce between the tackles.

    It looks like it's going to be a rebuilding campaign at LSU. Freshmen Chris Curry and Tae Provens could make a splash at running back, but there doesn't look like there is a difference-maker on the roster unless Edwards-Helaire takes a major step forward.

North Carolina State Defensive Line

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    Who's gone?: Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street.


    Who's stepping in?: Darian Roseboro, Eurndraus Bryant, Ben "Shug" Frazier, James Smith-Williams, Tyrone Riley, Derrick Eason, Alim McNeil and Val Martin.


    2018 prediction: There's no way the Wolfpack will be able to replace the production from last year's 9-4 team that was carried largely by their defense—chiefly All-American Bradley Chubb.

    The defensive end finished his final year in Raleigh with 23 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, and he will have NFL executives everywhere salivating before becoming a high draft pick in April. But the other three starters are gone too. That's a tough deal for defensive-line coach Kevin Patrick, who spurned overtures from Miami to remain with the Wolfpack, per Andrew Ivins of 247Sports.

    Though NC State will struggle to replicate last year's production, it does have talent, especially in Darian Roseboro and Eurndraus Bryant. Maybe there isn't a Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner in the group like Chubb, but there are enough potential producers to perform.

    A couple of freshmen who look the part are mid-term enrollee Derrick Eason, a defensive end who will have the opportunity to turn heads this spring, and 4-star defensive tackle Alim McNeill. If Patrick can find an eight-man rotation in this group, N.C. State may surprise some onlookers.

    But it will take a while for them to develop, and there's no way to replace Chubb's elite impact.

Notre Dame Offensive Line

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    Who's gone?: Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.


    Who's stepping in?: Alex Bars, Tommy Kraemer, Sam Mustipher, Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey and Jarrett Patterson.


    2018 prediction: It may not look like too much to lose two of your starting five on the offensive line. After all, that happens to teams every season. But the Fighting Irish are dealing with losing two studs who are going to go in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.

    Quenton Nelson is the best offensive-line prospect to come out of South Bend, Indiana, in years, and he is one of the biggest sure things in the draft. He will go in the top 10 and looks set to anchor the interior of a lucky team's O-line for years to come.

    Mike McGlinchey has first-round ability too, and he was a solid, longtime starter for coach Brian Kelly

    Perhaps the biggest loss is veteran assistant Harry Hiestand, who will go down as one of the best O-line coaches in the rich history of Notre Dame football. He left, and Jeff Quinn will replace him, but Hiestand's are massive shoes to fill.

    In Alex Bars and Tommy Kraemer, the Irish should have two solid guards, and Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey have a ton of potential at tackle. Incoming freshman Jarrett Patterson could make a splash too. With the way the Irish recruited the position under Hiestand, they'll have plenty of options.

    But you don't just come in and replace a coach like Hiestand or a stud like Nelson. It will be a work in progress in a pivotal year for the Kelly regime.

Oklahoma Quarterback

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Who's gone?: Baker Mayfield.


    Who's stepping in?: Kyler Murray, Austin Kendall and Tanner Mordecai.


    2018 prediction: Want to talk about replacing the irreplaceable? Look no further than Norman, Oklahoma, where the Sooners and head coach Lincoln Riley must find a way to move on without Heisman Trophy-winning signal-caller Baker Mayfield.

    Not only was he a brilliant passer and electric playmaker, but he was also a gamer and one of the fieriest leaders in the past decade of college football.

    Good luck, Kyler Murray!

    It looks like the Texas A&M transfer will finally get his chance to shine in Riley's offense after leaving Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies in 2015.

    As Dallas Morning News blogger Spenser Davis put it: "There's irony in that Kyler Murray, perhaps the greatest Texas high school football player of all time, will be called upon to supplant Mayfield, perhaps the most overlooked Texas high school football player of all time."

    Sure, it's possible Austin Kendall could supplant him, but that's unlikely. The better bet is Kendall transfers elsewhere when Murray beats him. It looks like Tanner Mordecai is the future after Murray's tenure is done.

    There's no question Murray has the talent to step in and replace Mayfield as long as he doesn't try to be the 2017 Heisman winner. He's good enough in his own right, and while undersized, he can make plays with his arm or feet. There will be moments of frustration, but look for some jubilation too.

    Weapons like Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb will make sure Murray has a safety net that will still allow OU to be a beast in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State's Wide Receivers

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    Who's gone?: James Washington, Marcell Ateman and Chris Lacy.


    Who's stepping in?: Jalen McCleskey, Dillon Stoner, Tyron Johnson, Tyrell Alexander, CJ Moore, LC Greenwood, Braydon Johnson, Tylan Wallace and Sean Michael Flanagan.


    2018 prediction: If Oklahoma State can find somebody to get its talented playmakers the football, the Cowboys will be just fine in the upcoming season.

    It's going to be a tall order replacing Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver James Washington, who teamed with quarterback Mason Rudolph to form the most prolific tandem in college football history. Coach Mike Gundy also lost second-leading receiver Marcell Ateman, who should be picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.

    But the Cowboys have so much talent behind those guys in a loaded group. Rising senior Jalen McCleskey is a playmaker, and the combination of Dillon Stoner and Tyron Johnson provide deep threats. The team was so deep at receiver a season ago that Tyrell Alexander, LC Greenwood and Braydon Johnson just watched, but they will play this year.

    Then there's the elite 6'5" CJ Moore, who was the prized signee of the 2018 class. He looks like he can step right in and play. Gundy will be looking for a player who can utilize all those weapons, and incoming freshman Spencer Sanders should have the chance to win the job.

    With all those guys around him and Justice Hill in the backfield, the Cowboys have the opportunity to not miss a beat on offense, even though Rudolph's departure is huge. Washington and Ateman's decisions to go pro sting, but Gundy's offensive machine has the weapons to keep firing.

    Look for the big three of McCleskey, Stoner and Johnson to lead the way, but Alexander and Moore are intriguing breakout candidates. The group should feature a couple of pass-catchers with 800-plus yards.

Penn State Secondary

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    Who's gone?: Safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke and cornerbacks Christian Campbell and Grant Haley.


    Who's stepping in?: John Reid, Amani Oruwariye, Tariq Castro-Fields, Nick Scott, Ayron Monroe, Lamont Wade, Garrett Taylor, Trent Gordon and Jordan Miner.


    2018 prediction: The Penn State seniors who just left Happy Valley cultivated quite the legacy, going 20-3 over their final 23 games. The Nittany Lions defense did its part a season ago, ranking second in the league in scoring and fifth overall, as well as leading the conference in turnover margin.

    They were good and deep, and now they must replace four talented starters on the back end of that defense. It won't be easy. Thankfully for coach James Franklin, he's recruited well enough to fill the gaps. 

    One of the most exciting returnees is John Reid, who missed the 2017 season with a knee injury he suffered in spring practice. He has shutdown ability and could become an NFL prospect. Amani Oruwariye could take a big step forward in 2018, and Tariq Castro-Fields was solid as a freshman contributor a season ago.

    Safety is a bigger worry, even if the Lions have a bunch of talent. Marcus Allen and Troy Apke were studs, and though senior Nick Scott and junior Ayron Monroe look like they should take over, PSU will lose a step on the back level.

    It would be big news for the Lions if former stud recruit Lamont Wade could see things click after moving from corner to safety. He could be a difference-maker with his talent, and Garrett Taylor is a quality player who could thrive with more reps as an upperclassman.

    The Big Ten is going to be a better offensive league in 2018 than it was a season ago, and things won't always be easy for PSU. The defense needs to keep the team in games so Trace McSorley and Co. can do the heavy lifting on offense.

    Penn State will be OK, but it will be a struggle to replace four starters that good.

Stanford Defensive Line

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Who's gone?: Harrison Phillips and Eric Cotton.


    Who's stepping in?: Tackles Dalyn Wade-Perry and Michael Williams and ends Dylan Jackson, Jovan Swann, Thomas Schaffer, Thomas Booker, Andres Fox and Tobe Umerah.


    2018 prediction: You have to put the Cardinal on this list because they are losing a superstar in Harrison Phillips, who had an incredible 98 tackles from the interior of the defensive line a season ago. When you add Eric Cotton to the departures, that's a big gulf for a 3-4 team.

    Thankfully for coach David Shaw, he has plenty of options. The most steady player is Dylan Jackson, a returning starter who isn't flashy but gets the job done. Dalyn Wade-Perry and Michael Williams will battle to replace Phillips, but that's going to have to be a committee.

    Everybody in Palo Alto, California, who cares about football is excited about the incoming freshman duo of Thomas Booker and Andres Fox. In his national signing day press conference, Shaw even compared Booker to Phillips, saying he is a "big athlete who can rush the passer and play the run."

    Booker is a 6'5", 290-pound force of nature who is already enrolled and could work his way into the rotation. If there is a potential star NFL prospect on the roster like Phillips or Solomon Thomas, it will be Booker. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, he won't be around to participate in spring drills.

    Though losing Phillips will be a major blow, the Cardinal struggled defensively a season ago. Therefore, this year's group has the opportunity to be better than its predecessor. Injecting the athleticism into the rotation that Shaw did through recruiting will help considerably, and Stanford will be better up front because of it.


    Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.


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