College Football Teams Needing to Replace the Most NFL Talent
College football fans and programs love to boast about their stockpiles of alumni in the NFL, and a few teams are going to increase that count significantly via April's draft.
Some are well-positioned to thrive in 2021 in spite of all those key departures. Others, perhaps not so much.
To figure out which teams will have the biggest exoduses of talent to the NFL, I looked at the recently updated Big Board on Drafttek.com to get a sense of who is projected for which rounds of the draft.
I have no earthly idea how well Drafttek has done in recent years in terms of evaluating and projecting later-round draft potential. However, they have Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall, their ranking of the top 10 quarterbacks looks solid, they don't have any punters in the top 150, and they seem to update often enough to account for the draft decisions that have been trickling out on a daily basis. That's plenty sufficient for today's exercise.
Schools are presented in alphabetical order, which means we begin with the program taking the biggest attrition hit of them all.
Alabama Crimson Tide
First-Round Potential: Patrick Surtain II (CB), Jaylen Waddle (WR), DeVonta Smith (WR), Christian Barmore (LB), Alex Leatherwood (OT), Mac Jones (QB), Najee Harris (RB)
Day 2 Talent: Dylan Moses (LB), Josh Jobe (CB), Deonte Brown (OG), Landon Dickerson (OC)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Phidarian Mathis (DL), LaBryan Ray (DL), Miller Forristall (TE)
Alabama is the only school with more than two players ranked in Drafttek's top 40, and the Crimson Tide have seven players who fit that description.
Of course, if you watched college football this season, that's no surprise.
The core of Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle (before his injury) and the offensive line made Alabama every bit as unstoppable as LSU was last year. And while the defense wasn't anything special as a whole, an entire third of the field was a no-fly zone because of Patrick Surtain II, and Christian Barmore came on strong late in the year with six sacks in his final six games.
If anything, seven players in the top 40 feels a little low for Alabama.
Offensive linemen Deonte Brown and Landon Dickerson could conceivably both go late in the first round, and Dylan Moses used to be a potential top-10 pick. It will be interesting to see how NFL teams evaluate what Moses accomplished this season in light of his recent declaration that he played the entire year in pain after missing the 2019 season with a torn ACL.
Even if all 10 of those guys were to go in the first round, though, there would be no need to shed any tears for Alabama.
A lot has been written in the past few days about Alabama's 2017 recruiting class looking like perhaps the greatest of all time, but it's not like Nick Saban has been resting on his laurels since then. Alabama had the No. 1 class in 2019 with three of the top seven overall recruits, the No. 2 class with four more 5-stars in 2020 and the No. 1 class (thus far) for 2021. Things will be just fine in Tuscaloosa.
First-Round Potential: Trevor Lawrence (QB), Travis Etienne (RB)
Day 2 Talent: Justyn Ross* (WR)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Nolan Turner (S), Jackson Carman (OT), Derion Kendrick (CB), Amari Rodgers (WR), Braden Galloway (TE), Cornell Powell (WR)
*Ross isn't listed anywhere in Drafttek's top 500, which seems like a pretty big oversight. If he gets cleared by doctors after undergoing spinal surgery this past summer, he's definitely a top-100 prospect. But he also didn't play at all this season, so it won't feel like this team is losing anything if he does declare for the draft.
Trevor Lawrence is a huge loss for Clemson. There's no question about that. While he didn't win a Heisman, when is the last time you saw a guy enter college projected to be the No. 1 pick after his junior year and then actually maintain that status for the entirety of his college career?
But he's also just one guy, and the Tigers are in great shape for the future with D.J. Uiagalelei ready to take over at quarterback.
In the two games he started while Lawrence was out with COVID-19, Uiagalelei averaged 390.5 passing yards and 3.0 total touchdowns per game. Heck, in the second start of his career, he threw for 35 more yards (439) than Lawrence's career high (404).
And beyond Lawrence, Clemson isn't losing much compared to usual.
The Tigers had six players taken in the top 150—including multiple first-rounders—of each of the past two NFL drafts. Travis Etienne is a borderline first-round prospect, but he and Lawrence will likely be the only Tigers (who played in 2020) selected within the first three rounds this year.
That said, replacing your starting quarterback and possibly all four of your leading receivers—one of whom was also your star running back—won't be easy. Like Alabama, though, there's no shortage of talent with which Clemson can give it the ol' college try. The Tigers will still be heavily favored to win the ACC next year.
First-Round Potential: Kyle Pitts (TE), Kyle Trask (QB)
Day 2 Talent: Kadarius Toney (WR), Tedarrell Slaton (DL)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Marco Wilson (CB), Donovan Stiner (DB), Ventrell Miller (LB), Trevon Grimes (WR)
Despite entering bowl season on a two-game losing streak and then getting smashed by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, one could argue Florida had its best season since 2012. It was certainly the Gators' best offensive team since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin led the way to 43.6 points per game in 2008.
And now we wait to see if they can have anything close to a repeat performance while replacing the quarterback and the top three targets in that passing attack.
The biggest loss is Kyle Pitts. The second coming of Rob Gronkowski averaged 1.5 touchdowns and nearly 100 receiving yards per game. He probably won't go in the top 10 of the draft simply because those teams have bigger needs to address than tight end, but he's easily one of the 10 most valuable players in this class.
But while the loss of Pitts is tough, the full impact of losing him, Kyle Trask, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes could be disastrous, especially for a team that has a lot of work to do on defense.
There's still talent in the passing game, but it's going to be different. Presumed starting quarterback Emory Jones had a rushing line (32 carries, 217 yards, 2 touchdowns) pretty much identical to his passing line (32 attempts, 221 yards, 2 touchdowns), so that'll be a new element that wasn't there under Trask.
First-Round Potential: Tyson Campbell (CB)
Day 2 Talent: Eric Stokes (CB), Ben Cleveland (OL), Azeez Ojulari (EDGE), Richard LeCounte III (DB)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Trey Hill (OL), Zamir White (RB), Malik Herring (DL), Monty Rice (LB), D.J. Daniel (CB), Mark Webb (DB)
Let's first note this could have been a whole lot worse for Georgia.
Quarterback JT Daniels, running back James Cook, wide receiver Kearis Jackson, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt have all announced they're coming back. Coupled with the returning underclassmen who didn't even have a choice to make, there's enough of a strong core here to think Georgia could open next season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.
Take it to the bank that the Bulldogs will debut in the Top 5 for a fourth consecutive year.
They do have a lot of attrition to address, though, mostly on defense.
Seven of Georgia's 14 leading tacklers have already declared for the draft, the most noteworthy of which is Azeez Ojulari. Tyson Campbell might be the first one drafted from this defense, but there were stretches in which Ojulari looked like Jarvis Jones out there for the Dawgs. He led all SEC players with 9.5 sacks and also forced four fumbles.
While Ojulari will be the most difficult individual to replace, Georgia's secondary has a ton of rebuilding to do. Not only are they losing the likes of Campbell, Eric Stokes, Richard LeCounte III and others, but Tyrique Stevenson is in the transfer portal. At this point, Lewis Cine is the only sure thing in the secondary. (We've got to assume Kelee Ringo will start, too, even though he missed his entire freshman season with a shoulder injury.) If there's a crack in the armor of this team in 2021, it's most likely the pass defense.
First-Round Potential: Gregory Rousseau* (EDGE)
Day 2 Talent: Quincy Roche (EDGE), Jaelan Phillips (EDGE), Brevin Jordan (TE)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Zach McCloud (LB), Jose Borregales (K), Al Blades Jr. (CB)
*Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season.
Like Georgia, it could have been much worse for Miami.
Quarterback D'Eriq King and safety Bubba Bolden are both coming back in 2021, and that's huge. There has also been no official word yet on Zach McCloud's decision, though we're operating under the assumption that fifth-year/graduate seniors are gone until we hear otherwise. It could be a nice boost if he returns for a sixth year.
But Miami still has major question marks at key positions heading into next season.
The big one is at defensive end. Gregory Rousseau didn't play this year, but Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche combined for 30.0 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. No one else on the Hurricanes had more than 9.0 or 3.0, respectively, and there's not a clear heir apparent at those edge-rusher positions.
Both Phillips and Roche were transfers playing in their first (and only) season for Miami, so maybe Manny Diaz can hit another home run or two in the portal. The 'Canes did already add Deandre Johnson from Tennessee, and he had 4.5 sacks in 2020.
The 'Canes are also losing Jose Borregales, who is the undisputed No. 1 kicker in the draft. The transfer from Florida International made all 37 of his extra-point attempts and converted better than 90 percent of his field-goal attempts, including one from 57 yards out. That's a luxury they'll be missing next year.
And tight end Brevin Jordan is a major loss. Kyle Pitts will be the first tight end drafted, but Jordan might go No. 2. In 17 games over the past two seasons, he accumulated 1,071 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
They do still have Will Mallory, though. Good luck finding another team whose second-best tight end had more than 300 receiving yards this year.
Ohio State Buckeyes
First-Round Potential: Justin Fields (QB), Wyatt Davis (OL), Chris Olave (WR)
Day 2 Talent: Trey Sermon (RB), Shaun Wade (CB), Josh Myers (OL), Baron Browning (LB)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Haskell Garrett (DT), Thayer Munford (OT), Pete Werner (LB), Tommy Togiai (DL), Master Teague III (RB), Tyreke Smith (EDGE), Jonathon Cooper (EDGE), Jeremy Ruckert (TE)
Aside from maybe Alabama, Ohio State has both the most overall draft potential and the most unknowns in regard to who's staying and who's going. Those nuggets of info make perfect sense since the Buckeyes played for the national championship, and their guys were completely focused on that until late Monday night.
Once all those decisions are made, though, Ohio State could end up matching its 2016 mark of 12 players selected in a single draft.
Every position group is likely to be impacted to some extent, but replacing Justin Fields could be a major challenge.
Then again, we had similar thoughts after Troy Smith left, then after Terrelle Pryor left, then J.T. Barrett, then Dwayne Haskins Jr. Through all those changes, the Buckeyes just keep producing title contenders. And it's not like C.J. Stroud is an unheralded candidate for the job, nor is this receiving group lacking for talent.
The defensive front seven is also headed for a substantial overhaul. Ohio State isn't losing anything close to a Chase Young or a Nick Bosa this year, but it could lose as many as eight key contributors between linebacker and the defensive line. Given how good the Buckeyes were at defending the run in 2020, a substantial exodus from that group could be an issue.
First-Round Potential: Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL), Jay Tufele* (DT)
Day 2 Talent: Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR), Talanoa Hufanga (DB)
Should/Could Get Drafted: Tyler Vaughns (WR), Olaijah Griffin (DB), Isaac Taylor-Stuart (DB), Marlon Tuipulotu (DL)
*Tufele opted out of the 2020 season.
There's not much guesswork involved here.
Seven of the eight players listed above have already officially declared for the draft. Isaac Taylor-Stuart is the lone unknown in the bunch. But even if he returns to the Trojans, we're still talking about a pretty significant talent drain.
The two wide receivers are the big ones. Amon-Ra St. Brown was Kedon Slovis' favorite target, racking up 118 receptions, 1,520 yards and 13 touchdowns in 19 games over the past two years. And Tyler Vaughns wasn't all that far behind St. Brown with marks of 107, 1,318 and nine, respectively.
The Trojans do still have a ton of talent at receiver. Aside from Drake London, though, it's mostly unproven.
Kyle Ford was USC's top recruit in 2019, but he has just one catch thus far in his career because of injuries. Gary Bryant Jr. was the crown jewel of the 2020 class, but he only made seven receptions during this brief season. Whether that duo can do enough to replace St. Brown and Vaughns may determine whether USC is a legitimate CFP contender.
The Trojans also have major losses in the secondary in Olaijah Griffin and Talanoa Hufanga. In just six games this year, Hufanga had four interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He's probably not Troy Polamalu 2.0, but he sure was everywhere for the Trojans this fall. Griffin's numbers were nowhere near that gaudy, but he broke up 12 passes over the past two seasons and will be missed.