2019 College Football Seniors We Wish Got an Extra Year of Eligibility

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2020

2019 College Football Seniors We Wish Got an Extra Year of Eligibility

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    With the COVID-19 pandemic halting leagues around the world, many are clamoring for the NCAA to grant an extra year of eligibility to players in some winter and spring sports.

    While CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein tweeted this isn't likely for basketball players who didn't get to participate in the NCAA tournament, no official word has come down from the governing body.

    Still, the prospects of what would happen, how coaches would balance it and the ramifications for next season are interesting. And it made us think, "What if we could wish for one more college football season for some of 2019's superlative players we'll no longer get to watch?"

    Which departing seniors would get the nod if you could wave your magic wand and get one more year out of them? Guys who skipped out early aren't included; these are only players who have exhausted their eligibility and in no way could return in '20.

    Let's take a look at some of the players who we wish had one more chance to lace them up as an amateur.

Bradlee Anae, Utah Edge

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    One of the most underappreciated players of the past four seasons was Utah defensive lineman Bradlee Anae.

    The 6'3", 257-pound edge-rusher led the upstart Utes in sacks in each of the past three seasons, finishing 2019 with 13 and winning the Morris Trophy, which goes to the Pac-12's top offensive and defensive lineman each season.

    As a consensus All-American, Anae received the hardware he deserved, but his name rarely came up in discussions of the most dominant linemen. It should have. 

    According to Utah's official site, Anae holds the school record for tackles-for-loss yards (minus-245), finished fourth at Utah in total tackles for loss with 41.5, set the school record with 30 sacks and started 38 of his 47 games.

    The good news for coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes is they can look back and know they squeezed all the possible worth out of his time there. But what could he do with one more season?

    With the Utes expected to have another strong defense in 2020 and trying to pay back Oregon for last year's Pac-12 championship game dismantling, Anae could help them get over the hump. Also, if South Carolina transfer quarterback Jake Bentley has the type of season he's expected to, it could be a big year.

    Getting Anae back would go a long way toward solidifying that.

Zack Baun, Wisconsin Linebacker

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    The undisputed leader of a defense that made headlines for much of the season is off to the NFL, leaving Wisconsin Badgers fans to wish for just one more year from him.

    After all, Zack Baun didn't get to see the field all four seasons he was eligible.

    Following a redshirt in 2015, he saw action as a freshman but then missed '17 with a foot injury. Once he returned, he was dominant in a two-year stretch that included an All-American 2019 season in which he had 75 tackles—including 19.5 for loss—12.5 sacks and an interception.

    The 6'2", 238-pound outside linebacker is a likely first- or second-round pick, and he and classmate Chris Orr will do fine in the NFL. But if the duo could've returned in '20 to play alongside Noah Burks, the Badgers may have had the nation's best linebacking corps.

    All Baun did once he was entrenched in the starting lineup is make plays, show sideline-to-sideline capability and be a force in every facet of defense. 

    The Badgers will need help playing up to their 2019 form—with running back Jonathan Taylor gone early—and another season from Baun would have been fun to watch on a defense that could be elite once again.

Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic Tight End

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    The post-Lane Kiffin era at Florida Atlantic will be interesting, especially considering the Owls replaced him with Willie Taggart, whose coaching star was bright just a couple of years ago before a forgettable season-plus at Florida State.

    Taggart inherits a good bit of talent in Boca Raton thanks to Kiffin's recruiting, and quarterback Chris Robison is possibly the best mid-major signal-caller out there. But the Owls will miss elite tight end Harrison Bryant, who recently completed his college career with a massive senior year.

    In 2019, Bryant finished with 65 catches for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns after a junior season in which he had 45 catches for 662 yards—and Kiffin found plenty of ways to ensure Bryant got the ball.

    NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Bryant to San Francisco tight end George Kittle and laid out his traits:

    "Bryant's plus athletic traits, high football IQ and toughness as a blocker make him one of the most talented, well-rounded tight ends in this draft. He's a little light to be considered for full-time work as a 'Y' tight end, but his technique and tenacity should not be discounted in his ability to help the running game. He's instinctive in space with speed and separation talent to work all three levels and gives offensive coordinators the freedom to line him up all over the field. Bryant could become an early starter and has the talent to be a high volume pass-catching target as a move tight end."

    Can you imagine that type of skill set on the college level for another year, especially in Conference USA? Taggart would've loved to have him help grease the path for a strong first season in Boca.

Joe Burrow, LSU QB

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    The biggest "no duh" player on this list is the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, who led LSU to a national championship in one of the greatest seasons in history.

    That's not hyperbole, either. Nobody could stop Burrow and the Bayou Bengals, and the most amazing thing is it came from nowhere.

    This time a season ago, the Ohio State transfer may have been considered a middle-round NFL draft pick at best, and now he's slated to go No. 1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals.

    In an it-just-clicked season, with passing-game coordinator Joe Brady and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger pushing all the right buttons, Burrow completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    That doesn't even seem human.

    Though Justin Jefferson and Thaddeus Moss are off to the NFL, the Tigers return Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr. and welcome elite tight end prospect Arik Gilbert, along with some other young, high-quality pass-catching talent.

    If Burrow had another season, even with all the other losses, head coach Ed Orgeron's team would be the favorite to repeat as national champions. We were just getting to see Burrow come into his own as a player who was in control of every moment on the field. It was a thing of beauty.

    We have to see how well and how quickly it all translates to the NFL.

Derrick Brown, Auburn DT

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    It's arguable the country's second-most dominant defensive player (behind Ohio State's Chase Young) resided in the same conference and division as its best offensive player (Burrow) last year.

    Auburn's massive defensive tackle Derrick Brown was impressive with throughout his four seasons in the SEC West and should go down as one of the most beloved players ever for a program that reveres its stars.

    The 6'5", 326-pounder should be the top defensive tackle drafted, and that's after throwing around SEC offensive linemen like rag dolls the past few years. Last season, he wound up with 54 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

    Playing alongside Marlon Davidson and several other studs for coordinator Kevin Steele's dominant defense, Brown was a force of nature. He made an impact in eight games as a true freshman after choosing AU over Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and others.

    The legacy Steele is building with defensive linemen at Auburn is impressive, and with sophomore quarterback Bo Nix a season older and set to play for new coordinator Chad Morris, things are looking good for the Tigers in 2020. The defense is losing a lot of playmakers, but it has plenty of talent.

    Just think about tossing Brown in there for another year. It's a daydream that's a nightmare for everybody else in the SEC.

Jeff Gladney, TCU Cornerback

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    If anybody on this list is more underrated than Anae, it's Jeff Gladney. The TCU cornerback quietly had a standout senior season for a young, talented Horned Frogs secondary, and he could be a first-round pick.

    Though Florida's C.J. Henderson and LSU's Kristian Fulton get more attention, Gladney might have the most long-term potential among them, and he learned from a strong defensive coach in Gary Patterson.

    You wouldn't know it by looking at the 5'10", 191-pound senior's stats. He finished with 31 tackles and an interception—both lower than his junior totals. But quarterbacks didn't tend to throw his way.

    With junior Trevon Moehrig and sophomore Ar'Darius Washington a year older in 2020, they would open things up a bit for Gladney if he could return.

    Instead, he is off to the NFL, where he'll make somebody very happy with his shutdown capability.

    "I play bigger than my size. Most receivers don't know that," Gladney told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. "They think they're gonna come out there and bully me, but that doesn't go down."

    The Horned Frogs are Big 12 sleepers without Gladney—but they wouldn't sneak up on anybody with him.

Justin Herbert, Oregon QB

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    Justin Herbert could have bolted for the NFL after 2018 and gone near the top of first round, but he headed back to Oregon for one more year.

    Though his national championship hopes faltered, he had a massive season while leading the Ducks to a Pac-12 title. The only dull note they hit was a loss to Arizona State, which kept them from playing in the College Football Playoff.

    The 6'6", 236-pound signal-caller is polished and will be taken in the top half of the first round—if not the top 10. He completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019 after throwing 29 touchdowns and eight picks as a junior. Most importantly, Herbert proved he could win big games.

    With so much coming back on both sides of the ball in 2020, coach Mario Cristobal's team has a championship look. Tyler Shough, Jay Butterfield or somebody else could be a quality enough signal-caller to lead the Ducks back to where they were last year, but if Herbert were still in tow, this team would probably be a Top Five preseason pick.

    Instead, there are questions.

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma QB

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    As terrific as Jalen Hurts' collegiate career was, everybody is left wanting more.

    He started his run at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide as a freshman and proving he was a big-time player, despite limitations as a downfield passer.

    Spots of sophomore ineffectiveness caused him to lose the gig to Tua Tagovailoa, who was the star of the Crimson Tide's championship-game comeback win over Georgia in January 2018. Still, Hurts hung around Tuscaloosa to battle Tagovailoa during his junior season for a job he lost.

    Hurts flashed in the SEC Championship Game win over Georgia again but transferred after the season to finish his career at Oklahoma, where he was a Heisman Trophy finalist while completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,851 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

    Oh yeah, he also ran for 1,298 more yards and 20 touchdowns.

    Unfortunately for the Sooners, he couldn't play defense, and that's what kept them from competing for last year's title. But while somebody will gamble on Hurts' pro upside, another year under the tutelage of coach Lincoln Riley would've been huge for Hurts and the Sooners.

    There wouldn't be any questions surrounding the quarterback battle this offseason between Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai, because it would be Hurts' job.

    Instead, his spectacular college career has some puzzle pieces missing.

Tyler Johnson, Minnesota Wide Receiver

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    Things are just getting started for P.J. Fleck with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

    A breakout 2019 started as a nice story, but when they closed the season with an upset of Auburn, it seemed like the gateway to bigger things in the Big Ten. Plenty of playmakers will return for Minnesota, but one big piece will be missing.

    That's departing senior Tyler Johnson, who finished as Tanner Morgan's top target, catching 86 balls for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    He probably won't be a first-round pick, but the Gophers' all-time leading receiver is saying all the right things before the draft, telling USA Today's Justin Melo when asked which NFL quarterback he'd like to play with: "I'm just trying to catch a pass from any NFL quarterback. Honestly, that would be an honor. It doesn't matter who it is. I would be blessed to find myself in that position. I can't wait for what's next."

    Somebody will draft a steal in the 6'1", 206-pound receiver from Minneapolis. 

    But if he could have returned for another season, who knows what next year's draft would have held? A return almost certainly would have meant continued success for the Gophers offense, though.

    Morgan is back. So is running back Mohamed Ibrahim and 1,000-yard pass-catcher Rashod Bateman. If Johnson could have been around just one more year, the Gophers might have challenged Ohio State for the league's top offense.

    It should be pretty darn good, anyway.

Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina Defensive Tackle

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    Last year was a major disappointment for coach Will Muschamp's South Carolina Gamecocks, leading to hot-seat talk.

    But it didn't affect Carolina's recruiting, as the Gamecocks added 5-star defensive tackle Jordan Burch to go with one of last year's prospect jewels, Zacch Pickens. That's two dudes along the defensive front, and if they had Javon Kinlaw back for another season, the line would be devastating.

    Kinlaw was a destroyer of worlds last season, terrorizing quarterbacks while lining up all over the field and corralling running backs. He's almost a lock to be a first-round pick.

    The 6'5", 324-pound athlete finished 2019 with 35 tackles, six tackles for loss and six sacks. The versatility the Gamecocks could display up front in '20 with Kinlaw would be impressive, and it might've saved Muschamp's job.

    We didn't get to watch Kinlaw play major college football all four years. The former Goose Creek High School player attended Jones County Junior College in '16 before heading to Columbia, where he had an awesome career.

    Still, it left everybody wishing he had more time there.

Bryce Perkins, Virginia Quarterback

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    Hurts' career left everybody wanting more because he lost his job at Alabama and transferred. But Bryce Perkins did the same thing—except he suffered an injury that could have ended his career.

    The record-setting Virginia quarterback began his college days at Arizona State in 2015, where he suffered a neck fracture and missed two seasons. He played a year at a community college in 2017 and then headed to the Cavaliers. Still, there's a two-year gulf in there when he didn't play a snap of FBS football.

    But once he got on the field for Virginia, he set the school record for career total offense in just two seasons (7,910 yards). 

    In 2018, he threw for 2,680 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions and added 923 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. This past year, he blew up for 3,530 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 picks and rushed for 769 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    But Perkins isn't expected to be a high-round draft choice, and it would be huge for him and the Hoos if he had just one more year of eligibility to keep proving he can do everything in coach Bronco Mendenhall's offense.

    Much like fellow Bryce—defensive back Bryce Hall, whose senior season was lost in mid-October to an ankle injury—he didn't get a full career. We just have to be thankful for snapshots of the duo of terrific collegians and hope they can make an NFL impact.

Evan Weaver, California Linebacker

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    If you're looking at production alone, former California linebacker Evan Weaver would be among the top few picks in the NFL draft.

    Last year, he finished with an amazing 181 tackles, 32 ahead of the second-highest total in the nation, Illinois' Dele Harding's 149. That's better than his '18 total of 155 tackles. Weaver also finished with 11.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2019.

    He is an absolute tackling machine, and he proved he's an elite worker, chiseling his body down to 6'2", 237 pounds after starting his college career as a defensive end.

    Weaver possesses good athleticism and has some of the best instincts you'll find in the draft. But his speed is lacking, and he was never going to test well at the NFL combine. That's why he could slip to the fourth or fifth round.

    If that seems ridiculous based on his stats, it should. Weaver is a throwback middle linebacker who will have a big pro career, no matter where he's taken. He seems like the type of guy who will play with a chip on his shoulder.

    But he'd also be a prime candidate to return to college if he had just one more year of eligibility. Part of the reason is of his draft grade, of course—NFL.com's Lance Zierlein marks him as a fringe-roster player—but he also just seems like one of the guys who likes to play football in its purest form.

                                        

    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.