The early entry deadline to the NFL Draft is always a nervous time for many coaches in college football. Even though most coaches have an idea of which players will be back for the next season, there’s always a few surprises. And of course, it’s never easy to replace a potential first-round pick with an unproven player.
With a record amount of underclassmen set to enter the NFL Draft, it’s time to take a look at which teams are the biggest winners and losers from the deadline. LSU is the biggest loser from the deadline, as 11 Tigers are set to leave for the next level. Although Les Miles has recruited well, there’s no question a drop off should be expected in 2013.
On the flip side, Clemson was the biggest winner of the draft deadline. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be missed, but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd will keep the Tigers in the mix to win a national championship. With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon, the decision by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy to return to Stanford will also allow the Cardinal to make a run at the BCS Championship.
College Football’s Top 10 Winners from the NFL Draft Deadline
The Tigers lost receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd puts Clemson in the thick of the national title discussion for 2013. Boyd ranked seventh nationally in total offense per game and recorded 46 overall scores in 2012. With another offseason to work under coordinator Chad Morris, the senior will make a run at All-America honors, as the Tigers should have a chance to be a top-five team. Hopkins will be missed, but the receiving corps will get a boost from a healthy Sammy Watkins, while Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake are ready for bigger roles next year.
Losing tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo is a huge blow to Stanford’s offense, but the damage could have been worse for coach David Shaw. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, along with defensive lineman Ben Gardner decided to return to the Farm for their senior season. Skov and Murphy should be in the mix for All-America honors in 2013 and both players will be crucial to keeping Stanford’s defense among the best in the Pac-12. Gardner is another key cog in the front seven, finishing 2012 with 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Ertz and Toilolo will be missed but keeping three key defenders will allow Stanford to challenge for the national title.
Make no mistake: Losing tackle D.J. Fluker, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner are huge losses for Alabama. However, the Crimson Tide bring back the most important piece to their national title hopes in 2013: quarterback AJ McCarron. He led the nation in passing efficiency in 2012 and has thrown just eight interceptions over the last two years. Although McCarron isn’t going to post the monster statistical numbers that Johnny Manziel does for Texas A&M, his leadership and efficiency has Alabama poised to win its fourth national championship in five seasons in 2013.
The Wolverines scored one of the biggest surprises of the early entry deadline when standout left tackle Taylor Lewan decided to return to Ann Arbor for his senior year. The Arizona native was picked as the Big Ten’s top offensive lineman for 2012 and was a first-team All-America selection. Lewan was regarded as one of the NFL Draft’s top-15 prospects for 2013, but his return will bolster a Michigan offensive line that returns just one other starter. And his presence will be crucial for quarterback Devin Gardner, who played well in the final stretch of 2012.
5. Notre Dame
Despite the blowout defeat to Alabama in the national championship, the offseason news wasn’t all bad for Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly decided to stay in South Bend after a brief flirtation with the NFL. And the Fighting Irish will regain the services of left tackle Zack Martin and nose guard Louis Nix III for another season. Martin has started all 39 games in his career and will be in the mix for All-American honors next year. Nix was a key cog in Notre Dame’s rush defense this year, plugging the lanes to allow linebacker Manti Te’o to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Although the Fighting Irish are losing a few key players, the return of Nix and Martin will help this team to compete for a BCS bowl in 2013.
6. Arizona State
In a mild surprise, defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return to Tempe for his senior year. Sutton terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the Pac-12 last season, recording 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. In addition to earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, he was named the conference’s defensive player of the year and was an Associated Press first-team All-American. Although it’s only one player, Sutton’s return is enough for Arizona State to be one of college football’s top winners from the NFL Draft deadline. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South in 2013.
The Cougars won’t register on many preseason top 25 lists next season, but Bronco Mendenhall’s team will be a dangerous opponent in 2013. BYU has a challenging schedule next year, including road dates at Virginia, Utah State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, along with home games against Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech and Boise State. The Cougars were a big winner around the draft deadline, as linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Cody Hoffman decided to return to Provo for their senior years. Van Noy led the BYU defense with 13 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss and should be in the mix for first-team All-American honors next season. Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 scores in 2012 and will be the top target once again for new quarterback Taysom Hill.
8. Virginia Tech
After throwing for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, high expectations surrounded quarterback Logan Thomas for 2012. Instead of taking another step forward in his development, Thomas regressed and finished the year with 16 interceptions and completed only 51.3 percent of his throws. Despite having a bad season, Thomas gave serious thought to entering the NFL Draft, before deciding to return to Blacksburg just before the deadline. Virginia Tech isn’t going to be a national title contender next season, but thanks in part to Thomas’ return and a decision by defensive end James Gayle to come back for his senior year, the Hokies should be in the mix to finish atop the ACC's Coastal Division.
9. Fresno State
If you are looking for a BCS buster outside of Boise State next season, take a look at Fresno State. The Bulldogs finished 2012 with a 9-4 mark and their only loss in conference play came on the blue turf against the Broncos. Quarterback Derek Carr wasn’t expected to go in the first round of the draft but was pegged as one of the top 10 quarterbacks on the board. Carr’s decision to return to Fresno State is huge for a team that returns its top three wide receivers from last season, as well as faces a schedule that features BCS opponents in Rutgers and Colorado. If the Bulldogs sweep their non-conference schedule and beat Boise State, there’s a good chance Fresno State could rank inside of the top 15 of the BCS standings at season's end.
The Bruins are the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2013. With quarterback Brett Hundley back, there’s no question UCLA should have no trouble scoring points. However, the defense will decide just how high the Bruins can climb in the top 25. Linebacker Anthony Barr was a revelation for Jim Mora this season, moving from tight end to linebacker in spring practice. The position switch was a huge success for the UCLA defense, as Barr recorded 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. Although he is still developing, Barr has enormous potential and should get better with another offseason to work with the defensive staff.
College Football’s Top 10 Losers from the NFL Draft Deadline
Regardless of how well the Tigers have recruited, replacing 11 key players from the 2012 team is no easy task. Both sides of the ball were hit with departures. The offense lost running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, along with tackle Chris Faulk. The losses were heavier on defense, as linemen Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo departed, while linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid also announced their intentions to leave LSU early. Another departure that shouldn’t be overlooked is punter Brad Wing, who averaged 44.8 yards per kick in 2012. Considering the players leaving, LSU is clearly behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the early SEC rankings for 2013.
2. Texas A&M
The NFL Draft deadline was a mixed bag of results for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Keeping Jake Matthews in the fold was a huge boost to the offensive line next year, but the Aggies lost two of the top players on their roster with the departure of left tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore. Matthews will slide from the right side to replace Joeckel, but the offensive line will take a step back in performance in 2013. Moore was one of the top defenders in the SEC this year, recording 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and one forced fumble. There’s no clear replacement for Moore on the roster, so finding productive pass-rushers will be a top priority for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
3. Michigan State
Considering the Spartans were coming off an 11-win season, expectations for 2012 were high in East Lansing. Instead of building off the success from the previous year, however, Michigan State took a step in the wrong direction. The Spartans finished a disappointing 7-6 and averaged a paltry 20 points a game. Quarterback play was largely to blame for the offensive struggles, which will be magnified even more in 2013 without running back Le’Veon Bell. The junior bolted to the NFL after rushing for 1,793 yards on 382 attempts and was followed by tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston. Sims was a valuable target for quarterback Andrew Maxwell and will be missed. Gholston led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2012, but Michigan State has some depth at defensive end with Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun.
Although the Bulldogs managed to keep quarterback Aaron Murray for one more season, the defense was hit hard by early departures. Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones and defensive tackle Kwame Geathers left for the NFL, leaving Georgia’s defense with just four returning starters. Jones was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection and was one of college football’s top playmakers on defense. Ogletree led the team with 111 stops last season, while Geathers was a key cog in Georgia’s rush defense. Considering the losses on defense, the Bulldogs will need their offense to carry the team early in the season.
With the Volunteers coming off three underwhelming seasons under Derek Dooley, Butch Jones has a tough task ahead of him to get Tennessee back in a bowl game in 2013. And that mission got even tougher this offseason, as quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson decided to leave for the NFL. Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 scores in 2012, while Patterson and Hunter combined for 119 receptions, 1,861 yards and 14 touchdown catches. Vincent Dallas is Tennessee’s top returning wide receiver, recording just nine receptions for 149 yards and one score in 2012. Justin Worley is the frontrunner to replace Bray, but the new coaching staff will take a look at redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman in the spring.
After a disappointing performance in the Sugar Bowl, the bad news continued for Florida with the departure of safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and tight end Jordan Reed to the NFL. Elam is the biggest loss out of the early departures, as he led the team with four interceptions, while earning first-team All-American honors. Floyd was the team’s top defensive lineman this season, while Jordan Reed led the team with 45 receptions. The Gators have recruited well, so talent isn’t going to be an issue in Gainesville. However, considering the losses on defense, Florida may struggle to finish fifth nationally again in scoring and total defense in 2013.
With quarterback Landry Jones out of eligibility and the defense having to replace a handful of players from the front seven, the Sooners likely won’t start 2013 as the favorite to win the Big 12. Bob Stoops’ reloading project received even more bad news when safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Tom Wort and receiver Kenny Stills declared for the NFL. Jefferson thrived under new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, recording 119 tackles, two interceptions and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Stills didn’t have a monster season but still caught 82 passes for 959 yards and 11 scores. The Sooners are better equipped to soften the blow from Stills’ early departure, as Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer will be a solid trio for new quarterback Blake Bell. Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson will be counted upon for bigger roles in the secondary with Jefferson’s departure. The news wasn’t all bad for Oklahoma, as cornerback Aaron Colvin decided to return to Norman for his senior year.
8. Florida State
Although the Seminoles haven’t climbed back into national title contender status, 2012 wasn’t a bad season in Tallahassee. Florida State claimed its first ACC title in seven years in 2012 and beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl to win 12 games. Matching those marks in 2013 will prove difficult, especially with the departure of end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes to the NFL Draft. Werner was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, recording 42 tackles and 13 sacks to lead Florida State’s defense. Rhodes picked off three passes this season and was one of the top defensive backs in the ACC. Werner’s loss is the bigger obstacle for the Seminoles to overcome, as Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Caradine expired their eligibility after the season. Keeping safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones was huge for new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but it’s hard to envision the Seminoles ranking second nationally in total defense once again in 2013.
The Trojans were one of college football’s most disappointing teams in 2012, finishing 7-6 and suffered losses in five out of their last six games. The offense managed only 20 points in the final two contests and must replace quarterback Matt Barkley next season. In addition to Barkley’s departure, the Trojans lost receiver Robert Woods to the NFL Draft. Woods caught 252 passes over the last three years, leaving sophomore Nelson Agholor to step into a larger role next season. While the Trojans have options to replace Woods, the defense suffered the bigger loss with cornerback Nickell Robey leaving Los Angeles a year early. Robey isn’t going to be selected in the first round but earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was USC’s top cornerback. Coach Lane Kiffin enters 2013 as one of the top coaches on the hot seat and losing Robey and Woods certainly won’t help his cause.
Even before the draft deadline, Rutgers was poised to take a step back in 2013. Standout linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais expired their eligibility after the Champs Sports Bowl, and while the defensive line lost three seniors off of its two-deep. The Scarlet Knights are losing only two players early to the draft, but both had first-team All-Big East potential for 2013. Cornerback Logan Ryan finished second on the defense with 94 tackles in 2012 and recorded four interceptions. In addition to the losses on defense, running back Jawan Jamison decided to leave early for the NFL after rushing for 1,972 yards the past two seasons. Savon Huggins is a capable replacement for Jamison, but the depth in the Scarlet Knights’ backfield is certainly weaker. And with the shaky performance of quarterback Gary Nova at the end of the year, Rutgers needs to lean on the ground game to have a chance to push Louisville for the Big East title.
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