In case you missed it: A number of high-profile college football stars declared early for the NFL Draft. Several even skipped their bowl games, which caused hysterics in some corners. In any event, it is now time for a new crop of talented reserves to step into the spotlight and fill some pretty big shoes for their respective programs.
Here are the 10 newcomers who have the biggest tasks on their hands in replacing their teams’ early exits.
Gone: Deshaun Watson, QB
What more needs to be said about Watson, who exits Clemson with a 32-3 record, three MVP awards over the four College Football Playoff games he played in, more than 11,000 yards of total offense and 115 touchdowns?
In: Kelly Bryant, rising junior
Dabo Swinney has said Bryant will enter spring atop the depth chart. Of course, it would be too much to ask Bryant to be the next Watson, and he’ll also face stiff competition for the job from Tucker Israel, Zerrick Cooper and early enrollee Hunter Johnson.
Gone: Jabrill Peppers, ATH
There was no player in the country like Peppers, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and lined up at 15 different positions during the 2016 campaign for the Wolverines. The likely first-round pick will probably be a defensive back and/or return man early on in the NFL, but we’d put nothing past him.
Where do you even begin? As stated above, Peppers was unique, with head coach Jim Harbaugh at one point comparing his versatility to that of Jim Thorpe’s. Michigan has recruited well, but sorry, there is just not one man who can be expected to do all that Peppers did on both sides of the ball.
Gone: Adoree’ Jackson, CB/return specialist
Much like Peppers, Jackson is so tough to replace because of his versatility. Yes, he’s a corner, and his five picks, 11 breakups and two fumble recoveries are noteworthy. But one of the fastest men in college football also returned two kicks for TDs, two punts for TDs and played some receiver as well.
In: Jack Jones, rising sophomore; and Deontay Burnett, rising junior
There are two people here for obvious reasons: Jones was a highly-touted recruit from Long Beach Poly who could take over as a starting corner. Burnett, meanwhile, has experience returning punts. (And had three receiving TDs in a memorable Rose Bowl.)
4. Florida State
Gone: Dalvin Cook, RB
Cook exits FSU as one of the best players in program history, and his Orange Bowl performance was a fitting finale. Cook rushed for 4,464 yards and 46 TDs in just three seasons, adding 935 receiving yards and two TD catches, often while playing hurt.
In: Jacques Patrick, rising junior
Patrick has rushed for 655 yards and nine TDs in reserve duty the past two seasons, but he — nor anyone else, for that matter — will likely not replicate what Cook was able to do. Elite tailback prospect Cam Akers has enrolled early and could figure into the picture from the start as well.
Gone: Christian McCaffrey, RB
The only reason McCaffrey isn’t higher on this list is because, unfortunately, the Cardinal already received a small taste of life without him, thanks to injury in 2016. Still, the 2015 Heisman runner-up set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards that fall, and he was a first-team All-Pac 12 performer again this season. He will be missed.
In: Bryce Love, rising junior
Love stepped into the spotlight throughout 2016, rushing for 779 yards and three TDs on just 112 carries, good for seven yards per carry. He added eight grabs for 83 yards and another score. Is he McCaffrey? No. But Stanford did go 10-3 this past season, with Love serving as the top offensive threat in several contests.
6. Texas A&M
Gone: Myles Garrett, DE