10 Toughest Players to Replace in the SEC in 2019

Devin White's departure leaves big shoes to fill in the middle of LSU's defense

You know how the SEC is, great players leave, great players fill in the gaps. Even the ones that leave campus early to go to the NFL eventually get replaced by another four- or five-star recruit and the whole carousel keeps spinning and SEC domination continues through the years.

 

But there are always those certain difference-makers that ooze extraordinary talent and intangible qualities that have his head coach kicking the dirt, wishing he could keep that player one more season. This is a list of those SEC uber-talents who will be missed the most this offseason.

 

1. Devin White, LB, LSU

This guy was the heart and soul of that Tiger defense. Their Ray Lewis, if you will. Remember when he had to sit out the first half of the Alabama game due to a targeting call? LSU fans were screaming bloody murder and you immediately saw “Free Devin White” signs throughout TigerTown. White totaled 123 tackles on the season, which is 36 more than anyone else on the team.

 

2. Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

It may seem odd to see Williams this high since Alabama has this knack of discovering a new unstoppable force on the line to replace the unstoppable force that just left to go to the NFL. Yet, there is something very special about Williams and his ascent to being a pro prospect. He played in nine games as a freshman and came into fall camp this year as a second-stringer. But he made a quick move into the starting lineup and ended up having a unanimous All-American season, even out-shining returning All-American Raekwon Davis. As a draft-eligible sophomore, the Outland Trophy winner announced he’d be going to the draft this spring. Nick Saban and company will replace Williams, but something tells me nobody will reach his level of talent right away.

 

3. Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky

Allen was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference and finishing second nationally with 17 sacks, all of them seeming to come at just the right time for the Wildcat defense. A unanimous All-American, Allen also took home the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy, and Lott Trophy for his impressive season. Allen's impact on defense was a big reason UK football won 10 games in a season for just the third time in program history.

 

4. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

As if losing Devin White wasn’t enough? The shutdown corner has also decided to declare for the NFL draft. And that’s just after two seasons in Baton Rouge. As a freshman in 2017, Williams was a third-team All-American and led the Tigers with six picks. This past season he was a Thorpe Award semifinalist, effectively shutting down half the field on opponents. He still led the Tigers with nine pass breakups.

 

5. Benny Snell Jr., RB, Kentucky

The Wildcat fans will certainly miss his talent for running the ball, but also his vivacious personality that seemed to infuse the entire program with positivity. Snell went over the 1,000-yard mark each of his three seasons for the Cats, becoming the program’s all-time rushing leader with 3,873 yards. That snapped a 43-year-old record previously held by Sonny Collins.

 

6. Mississippi State defensive line

The big reason why MSU led the nation in defense and was second in rushing defense was due to the wildly-talented and uber-experienced defensive line. Montez Sweat, Braxton Hoyett and Gerri Green came into the season as four-year seniors. Then, nose guard Jeffery Simmons, a junior, decided to call it a career in StarkVegas and is jumping to the NFL. Those four combined for 18 sacks and 40 tackles for a loss. Sweat will be the biggest loss, having accounted for 11.5 sacks alone.

 

7. NWO receivers, Ole Miss

Man alive, how freaked out are Rebel fans now? With both A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf both declaring for the NFL draft, they’ll join DeMarkus Lodge going out the door and into play-for-pay land. That means all three playmaking “Nasty Wide Outs” will need to be replaced. And since the Rebels were already going to have to move on without QB Jordan Ta’amu, this means the offense will need a total overhaul.

 

8. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

It seems like this guy has been Mizzou’s starting quarterback since the Phil Bradley days. No really, Lock locked up the starting job for the Tigers four games into his freshman campaign, becoming the first freshman to start at QB since Corby Jones in 1995. Lock ended up starting 46 games, finishing with 12,193 passing yards and 99 touchdowns through the air. After setting an SEC record with 44 TD passes in 2017, there was talk that Lock might turn pro early, but he should be a first-round pick this April. One thing that does soften the blow for Missouri when it comes to Lock's departure is that Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant is expected to take his place.

 

9. Ross Pierschbacher, C, Alabama

The second coming of John Hannah, Big Ross was the unquestioned leader of that ferocious front line of the Crimson Tide for the last four years. Pierschbacher made 57 starts in his Tide career, jumping between guard and center over the years. He may not be as valuable as Tua Tagovailoa, but his presence will certainly be missed. He was a Freshman All-American in 2015 and was All-SEC in each of his three following seasons.

 

10. Mecole Hardman, WR/KR, Georgia

The Bulldogs lost a bunch of offensive weapons to the early entry process, including RB Elijah Holyfield, TE Isaac Nauta, and WR Riley Ridley. But Hardman was the toughest loss, considering his 34 catches for 532 yards, stretching the field every game. But Hardman also averaged 20 yards per punt return, good for second in the country. When you throw in his kickoff returns, losing Hardman is essentially losing three players with difference-making ability.

 

And don't forget about...

 

Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama and Justin Fields, QB, Georgia

As you guys might know, both of these wildly-talented backups transferred to Oklahoma and Ohio State, respectively. Now, will these two second-stringers REALLY be among the 10 most missed players in the SEC? Well, let’s wait and see how the injury bug treats Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm next fall. Knock on wood.

 

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.

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