D.J. Uiagalelei has some big shoes to fill for Clemson following Trevor Lawrence's departure
After a college football season that was very different, we now enter a postseason that will be unique as well. Players are entering the transfer portal in record numbers and some players that opted out for 2020 are planning on returning for 2021.
Schools and players also are sifting through the ramifications of the extra year of eligibility that has been granted to all collegiate athletes that participated in fall sports. What that means for football, essentially, is that every player that enters the upcoming NFL draft is giving up at least one more year of college football.
So, there are players that are leaving before they have to and there are those that would have been leaving early even under normal circumstances. Like all the Power 5 leagues, the ACC has their fair share of early draft entrants that need to be replaced. Here's a list of 10 juniors — or redshirt sophomores — that will be heading off to the NFL and the players that being eyed as their successor.
Gone: Trevor Lawrence, QB
What more can be said about Lawrence's tenure at Clemson? He came to school as a once-in-a-decade talent and departs with three College Football Playoff appearances, a national title, and a second-place finish in the Heisman voting. The likely top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft exceeded his immense hype.
In: D.J. Uiagalelei
In the middle of the season, we all saw the future for Clemson at the quarterback position. And the future looks very bright indeed. Uiagalelei is a huge specimen with a powerful arm. But more than that, he has a feel for the game that belies his age. For at least the next two years, the Tigers will be perfectly fine at this position.
Gone: Javonte Williams, RB
The Tar Heels are losing two dynamic stars at running back. Michael Carter's Carolina career is over after four years and Williams decided to test the NFL waters after a 1,140-yard, 19-touchdown junior season. Williams brought more power to the table thanks to his size (5-10, 220) but that didn't prevent him from teaming with Carter as a viable receiving threat out of the backfield.
In: Ty Chandler
British Brooks and Josh Henderson had 21 combined carries in the Orange Bowl after Carter and Williams opted out of the game. But it will be the Tennessee transfer that gets the first crack at the starting spot. In four years in Knoxville, Chandler rushed for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns, giving him a far better resume than Brooks and Henderson combined. Four-star true freshman Kamarro Edmonds may be the future, but he will most likely be groomed behind Chandler next fall.
Gone: Christian Darrisaw, OT
Darrisaw is projected to go in the first round, so the impact of his early departure will be enormous, just like him (6-5, 314). He started week one as a true freshman and was a mainstay along the offensive line for the next three years and earned a spot on several All-America teams this past season.
In: Silas Dzansi
In reality, there are so many options. Luke Tenuta will most likely be the new left tackle, but since he was the starter on the right side, someone has to replace him. That's where Dzansi comes in. He has 15 starts in his career, so he has experience. His size (6-5, 330) may make him more suited for the right side, which works with Tenuta taking Darrisaw's spot at left tackle.
Gone: Javian Hawkins, RB
Due to the shortened season and the fact that he opted out before it was complete, Hawkins rushed for 700 more yards as a redshirt freshman than he did in 2020. But one thing he proved in his sophomore year is that he can be a weapon as a receiver, catching 16 passes as opposed to the four he grabbed in 2019.
In: Jalen Mitchell
In the season's final four games — after Hawkins left the team — Mitchell received the majority of carries and showed his potential. He ran for 76 yards on just seven carries against Virginia and in the season finale against Wake Forest he went for 168 yards on 20 attempts. Hassan Hall will still be around but Mitchell should be the No. 1 back.
Gone: Asante Samuel, CB
Florida State did not achieve a lot of on-field success during Samuel's time in Tallahassee, going 14-20 and only reaching one bowl game. But individually Samuel played well enough that he will be selected early in the draft. In his time with the Seminoles, he recorded 29 pass breakups with four interceptions.
In: Brandon Moore
The open corner spot is likely to be filled by one of two grad transfers: Jarques McClellion or Moore. McClellion comes in from Arkansas and has played SEC competition, but Moore was an All-AAC performer at UCF in 2019 before suffering a knee injury that kept him out of most of the 2020 season.
Gone: Dyami Brown, WR
Brown came to North Carolina as a top-200 prospect with offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, and several other power programs. After a solid freshman season, the Charlotte product exploded as a sophomore, catching 51 passes for more than1,000 yards. This season, Brown equaled that production in one fewer game. With Dazz Newsome also moving on, receiver will be another position that will undergo significant change at Carolina in 2021.
In: Khafre Brown
If you want someone like Dyami Brown, why not look at his younger brother? Khafre Brown is built like his sibling, came in with many of the same accolades, a similar offer list, and produced freshman numbers along the lines of what his brother put up in 2018. It is easy to see the younger Brown becoming a favorite of Sam Howell in 2021.
Gone: Jackson Carman, OT
The Tigers return the other four starters up front, but Carman is a huge loss on the left side. He was a second-team All-ACC selection by the AP while earning second-team All-American honors from CBS Sports. Carman's size (6-5, 335) may translate better on the right side at the next level or perhaps even at guard.
In: Walker Parks
Parks played in 10 games this season after coming to Clemson as a top-100 prospect out of Lexington, Kentucky. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, he won't be as big as Carman, even with another year in the weight room. But he moves well and looks like a future left tackle. There are other options — like moving right tackle Jordan McFadden to the left side — but Parks will play and head Dabo Swinney and his offensive staff would like it if he is capable of protecting D.J. Uiagalelei's blindside.
Gone: Brevin Jordan, TE
Jordan was a receiving option from the moment he stepped on the Miami campus in 2018. He caught 32 passes as a freshman, then 35 in year two, and 38 this past season while seeing his yards per catch rise every season. Finding field-stretching tight ends isn't easy and Jordan's skill set will be difficult to replace.
In: Will Mallory
It's not really like Mallory will be coming in because he's already been there. Signing with the Hurricanes in the same year as Jordan, Mallory has seen a lot of action during his three years at Miami. Though he will be supported by some younger players — including incoming four-star prospect Elijah Arroyo — the Jacksonville, Florida, product will now be the primary option at tight end.
Gone: Alim McNeill, DT
A versatile lineman that can be effective in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 alignment, McNeill is seeing his draft stock rise. In 2020, he was an All-ACC first-team selection and the AP named him a second-team All-American. He will probably hear his name called on day two of the draft.
In: C.J. Clark
Clark was a top-200 prospect in the 2019 class and was a valuable contributor this season, registering 24 total tackles. He will take on a bigger role next year and will look to create more havoc plays.
Gone: Tutu Atwell, WR
Atwell had a fine junior season before opting out, but it was his sophomore campaign that showed his true explosiveness. In 2019, he hauled in 69 passes for 1,272 yards and 11 touchdowns in helping Louisville go 8-5 with a Music City Bowl win over Mississippi State. That victory over the Bulldogs is interesting considering who is lined up to potentially take his place as the Cardinals' top receiver.
In: Braden Smith
The well-traveled Smith started out in Starkville at Mississippi State before heading to Northwest Mississippi Community College. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder seems to have found a home in Louisville as he is the team's leading returning receiver after corralling 27 balls for 370 yards this past fall.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of clemsontigers.com)