College Football Teams That Need to Replace Key NFL Draft-Bound Talent
With the college football season all wrapped up, teams are already planning to fill some big holes in their rosters after some of their most talented players declared for the NFL draft.
Players leaving for the NFL is part of the game. Coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban and Clemson's Dabo Swinney never seem to have an issue replenishing that talent the next season, but other coaches and programs need a couple of years to return to form.
Replacing NFL talent becomes even harder when more and more underclassmen declare early each year. There were a record number of underclassmen declaring last year, with 106 being granted draft eligibility. This year's group of underclassmen declaring has shattered that record.
Incoming freshmen and bench players waiting for their chances to shine will replace these talented NFL prospects. Let's take a look at seven teams (in alphabetical order) that will have to find suitable fill-ins for some quality NFL talent.
Alabama Crimson Tide
No one has to deal with replacing NFL talent in such large quantities each and every year quite like Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fortunately for them, that never seems to be a real issue in regards to having success the very next season.
A staggering seven underclassmen declared early for the NFL draft after the national championship. That list includes the potential No. 1 overall pick in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams along with likely first-rounders in offensive tackle Jonah Williams, safety Deionte Thompson and linebacker Mack Wilson.
Running back Josh Jacobs, tight end Irv Smith Jr. and cornerback Saivion Smith round out the list of early entrants. Defensive lineman Raekwon Davis has decided to return for his senior season.
There are still other names (Isaiah Buggs and Ross Pierschbacher) who will also be going pro after great college careers.
With the top-ranked recruiting class heading into 2019, no one will be surprised to see the Crimson Tide competing for a national championship in the College Football Playoff again next year.
The Clemson Tigers senior class finished their college careers as the most decorated class in program history with two national titles and countless accolades. Not only will the Tigers be losing these seniors, but they'll also be losing a few more underclassmen to the NFL.
Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Tre Lamar and Trayvon Mullen all officially declared for the NFL draft last week. Those are big blows on their own, but the Tigers will also be losing their big-time seniors with the likes of Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Hunter Renfrow, Kendall Joseph and Mitch Hyatt.
It'll be tough to lose so much veteran leadership, but anyone who watches college football knows that Clemson is still set for the next couple of seasons. Trevor Lawrence has lived up to the hype as the nation's No. 1 high school recruit in his first season, and he'll still be under center for at least the next two years.
There's still going to be a ton of talent and another strong recruiting class, so Clemson should still be a national title contender next season.
Iowa State Cyclones
While the Cyclones may not have as many draft prospects as other teams on this list, they deserve a mention because they're set to lose a significant amount of their offensive production. Running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Hakeem Butler are two talented individuals, both with the potential to be the first player taken at their respective positions.
Montgomery's production took a hit this past season after a dominant 2017, but his elusiveness and strength make him an ideal workhorse back. For Butler, his 6'6" frame, athleticism and ability to make contested catches on jump balls make him one of the more exciting receiver prospects. A strong NFL Scouting Combine and pre-draft interviews could help Butler move into the first round.
Trying to replace two players who accounted for more than 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns will be difficult for the Cyclones, but there's still hope. True freshman quarterback Brock Purdy showed real promise in his first season, Matt Campbell is still the head coach, and two running backs have committed to Iowa State for next season.
Losing Montgomery and Butler hurts, but the Cyclones are still far better off than they were just a few years ago.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Mississippi State Bulldogs may not have been considered an SEC powerhouse at the beginning of the season, but a ton of talent on both sides of the ball helped lead them to a solid eight-win season.
On defense, the Bulldogs had one of the best edge-rushers in the country in Montez Sweat. The senior racked up 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss this season, using his length and arm extension to create separation and generate pressure.
Jeffery Simmons on the defensive line along with Johnathan Abram and Mark McLaurin in the secondary are all expected to be drafted, with the first two showing potential as first- or second-round picks.
Nick Fitzgerald will get a shot in Day 3 despite not being the ideal archetype for an NFL quarterback, but his center, Elgton Jenkins, will have a real shot at being the first center taken off the board in late April.
The Bulldogs have a ton of talent to replace, which won't be easy. Hopefully some of the players who have been waiting for their chance will be able to step up to make sure the Bulldogs are still a respectable program in a competitive SEC.
Michigan's senior class didn't get to complete its "Revenge Tour" in the way it hoped after getting blown out by both Ohio State and Florida in its final two games. The Wolverines will be heading in 2019 with a lot of their veteran leadership graduating and a few underclassmen heading to the NFL.
Two of the team's more vocal leaders, defensive end Chase Winovich and running back Karan Higdon, have finished their college careers.
It'll hurt even more that defensive end Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush will be departing early to go pro. Both are expected to be first-round picks, and when healthy, they were some of the most dominant players on the field.
On the bright side, Shea Patterson announced he will return for one final season with the Wolverines. That's huge news for a team that has struggled to find consistency under center. Patterson may not be an elite NFL draft prospect, but he's a competent quarterback who can make plays.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has received plenty of criticism for his struggles to win big games. Losing so many leaders will be tough to overcome, and the Wolverines will need to win some big games if Harbaugh wants to stay off the hot seat.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Losing a quarterback is never easy, but it's even harder when your quarterback threw for 50 touchdowns in the season before leaving for the NFL.
Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins had an incredible year and will be going pro despite only one full year as the Buckeyes starter. Haskins has a great chance to be the first quarterback taken in the draft, but his teammate Nick Bosa is the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Bosa has basically been off the team focusing on rehabbing from a core injury and prepping for the draft, so his absence won't be felt too strongly. On the other hand, coaches will need to start planning for newer departures from players like Dre'Mont Jones, Mike Weber, Michael Jordan and Parris Campbell.
Quarterback Justin Fields will be transferring to Ohio State, which could be a huge relief to new head coach Ryan Day if he's eligible to play in 2019. Their recruiting class may not be on the same level as someone like Alabama's, but the Buckeyes should be able to compete for another Big Ten championship.
It doesn't matter whether Kyler Murray plays baseball or football professionally, because losing an NFL-caliber quarterback is going to be tough on the Sooners.
Oklahoma has been blessed with back-to-back quarterbacks with NFL potential in Murray and Baker Mayfield. Finding their next superstar quarterback won't be easy, but the Sooners will have options. Backup QB Tanner Mordecai could be an option, as could incoming freshman Spencer Rattler. A transfer QB is also a possibility, but there's still a lot of time before we'll find out who will be starting under center in Norman.
Murray isn't the only player Oklahoma will have to replace on offense. Wide receiver Marquise Brown was an explosive playmaker for the Sooners, and the offensive line will look completely different without Cody Ford, Dru Samia and Ben Powers.
It's a good thing that Lincoln Riley was able to recruit a ridiculous amount of offensive firepower in this year's recruiting class, because the Sooners will have to replace a lot of talented players in 2019.