The early entry deadline for the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and a record number of college football underclassmen are set to jump to the next level.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.
Florida State lost Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, but the Seminoles have to be considered one of the big winners of the deadline. The defections to the next level could have been a lot worse in Tallahassee, as offensive linemen Cameron Erving, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias are all set to return to Florida State for 2014.
One of the losers of the draft deadline was LSU. The Tigers are set to lose six players to the NFL this offseason.
College Football’s NFL Draft Winners and Losers for 2014
Running back Lache Seastrunk will be missed, but quarterback Bryce Petty’s decision to return keeps Baylor in the win column. Petty was the top quarterback in the Big 12 last season and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Petty’s return also provides Baylor an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 champions.
Sure, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will be missed. But the defections to the NFL could have been a lot worse. Left tackle Cameron Erving and guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias will anchor an offensive line that returns four starters. Receiver Rashad Greene’s return provides quarterback Jameis Winston a go-to target until some of the younger options emerge. Jernigan is the team’s biggest loss out of the early entry announcements.
The Hurricanes didn’t have many glaring targets for the NFL, but end Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman decided to return to Coral Gables for their senior season. While neither player was likely to be a selection in the first two rounds, their return is a huge boost for a defense that has struggled mightily in each of the last two seasons. The Hurricanes allowed 32.8 points a game in eight ACC contests in 2013. Chickillo and Perryman should be all-conference candidates in 2014.
The Cornhuskers ended last season with a little momentum thanks to their win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. But the good news extended into early January for Bo Pelini and his coaching staff. Running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory decided to return next season, and both players could be among the best in the Big Ten in 2014.
It’s hard to place Ohio State strictly in the winners category with linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby leaving Columbus for the NFL. After all, the defense was the biggest issue for the Buckeyes in 2013. However, the biggest piece in Ohio State’s national title hopes next season is quarterback Braxton Miller. When healthy, Miller is a Heisman contender and one of the top players in the Big Ten. Yes, the Buckeyes have issues on defense. But it’s hard to win a national title if you don’t have a quarterback.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State
Let’s group both SEC schools from Mississippi into this category. It may seem strange to list both teams in this article – especially Ole Miss since Donte Moncrief left early – but there’s a bigger picture victory here. With Texas A&M losing Johnny Manziel and LSU losing another batch of players early to the NFL, the opportunity is there for Ole Miss and Mississippi State to move up in the SEC West pecking order. Can they seize that opportunity in 2014?
The Ducks lost cornerback Terrance Mitchell to the NFL Draft and it was no surprise when De’Anthony Thomas also declared. However, the key piece in Oregon’s national title hopes is back on campus for 2014. Quarterback Marcus Mariota decided to return for his junior year and should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman next year. Mark Helfrich’s bid to lead the Ducks back to the Pac-12 title was also helped by the decisions of center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return next year.
Yes, Stanford, USC and Oregon suffered some key personnel losses. However, the return of Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley should allow the Pac-12 to have two national title contenders in 2014.
The Badgers had few players capable of leaving early for the NFL Draft. Running back Melvin Gordon was one of the Big Ten’s top rushers in 2013, recording 1,609 yards on 206 attempts. With a short shelf life of running backs, Gordon was expected to declare for the NFL. However, he announced his intentions to return in mid-December and should be the focal point of the Badgers’ offense in 2014. With James White expiring his eligibility, Gordon should approach 250-275 carries next year and will be a preseason All-American.
Running back Tre Mason and tackle Greg Robinson were two key cogs in Auburn’s run to a spot in the national championship game. Neither player had much to gain by returning, so it’s no surprise Mason and Robinson declared for the NFL Draft. Mason was one of the top offensive players in the nation this year and finished sixth in Heisman voting. Robinson – only a sophomore in 2013 – was already one of the top offensive tackles in the SEC.
As if a 1-11 record in 2013 wasn’t bad enough, the Golden Bears couldn’t catch a break in the early entry process. Five players declared for the draft, including linebacker Khairi Fortt, cornerback Kameron Jackson, defensive tackle Viiliami Moala, tight end Richard Rodgers and running back Brendan Bigelow. With injuries hitting California hard last season, some of the younger players had an early chance to play. That should help the depth in 2014, but Dykes and his coaching staff are losing five potential starters to the draft.
The Tigers received some last-minute deadline news, as end Vic Beasley announced his intention to return in 2014. But Beasley’s decision was the lone bit of positive news around the deadline for Clemson. The Tigers lost receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, along with cornerback Bashaud Breeland. With quarterback Tajh Boyd already out of eligibility, Clemson is set to take a step back in the win column in 2014.
It’s hard to find many bright spots on last year’s 4-8 team. But if there was one area Florida could feel good about, the defense was that place. The Gators finished second in the SEC in total defense and first against the pass. Those numbers will be tested in 2014, as cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the draft. Linebacker Ronald Powell is also leaving Gainesville early, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley decided to pass on applying for a medical redshirt due to a season-ending knee injury.
Another year, another spot in this category for LSU. It’s a good sign the Tigers are attracting top-notch talent and sending those players to the NFL. However, losing 11 players last season and six after 2013 is a lot of talent to replace in a short period of time. LSU was able to navigate the personnel losses to a 10-win season, and it’s not unreasonable to expect this program to hit that mark in 2014. But some of the losses will be tough to overcome in one offseason. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 catches in 2013. And Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are huge losses at defensive tackle, leaving Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas as the top options on the interior. LSU is going to be fine in the long run. But the early entries have dealt this team a significant blow to have a shot at winning the SEC West in 2014.
After winning six out of their final seven games, the Tar Heels are one of the frontrunners to win the Coastal Division in 2014. But Larry Fedora’s team will have to overcome a few personnel defections, including tight end Eric Ebron and center Russell Bodine. Left tackle James Hurst was already set to depart, which makes Bodine’s decision to leave an even bigger setback for the offensive line.
Brian Kelly has been a busy man this offseason. The Fighting Irish have to replace both coordinators for 2014, quarterback Everett Golson is slated to rejoin the team, and there’s holes on the roster thanks to a few early departures to the NFL. Tackle Louis Nix, end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III all declared early. Atkinson III’s decision to leave was a surprise, but Nix and Tuitt could be first-round picks in the draft. Niklas averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2013 and was primed to be one of the nation’s top tight ends in 2014.
Mike Riley’s team had quite the roller coaster ride in 2013. The Beavers lost the opener to Eastern Washington but won their next six games. Oregon State won just one of its last six games (Hawaii Bowl vs. Boise State), so there’s plenty of work ahead for Riley and his staff this offseason. Although quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year, losing receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton is a huge blow. Cooks led the nation with 1,730 receiving yards, while Crichton led the team with 7.5 sacks.
The Nittany Lions made one of the offseason’s top hires by pulling James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But Penn State and quarterback Christian Hackenberg won’t have one of the Big Ten’s top receivers at his disposal, as Allen Robinson decided to declare for the NFL. Robinson caught 97 of the Nittany Lions’ 241 receptions last year.
Due to some heavy personnel losses on defense, scoring was up in the SEC in 2013. The narrative could be switched in 2014, as the SEC watched some of its top offensive players leave early for the draft. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief and Missouri’s Henry Josey all declared for the NFL. Add in the departures of AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Jordan Matthews and it’s clear offenses will regress in the SEC next year.
There’s not much separating Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina in the SEC East next year. Could the Gamecocks’ early departures prevent this team from winning the division? It’s possible, but Steve Spurrier and this staff have recruited well, and there’s talent waiting to step up. However, the production on the defensive line will drop with end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles leaving for the NFL. Cornerback Victor Hampton and receiver Bruce Ellington are two other early entries.
After winning 34 games over the last three seasons, David Shaw will have his work cut out for him in 2014. Stanford is losing a handful of key players due to graduation, but the early entry deadline also added a few departures. Tackle Cameron Fleming, safety Ed Reynolds and guard David Yankey passed on another year on the Farm for life in the NFL. Yankey and Reynolds were arguably the best players at their position in college football, while Fleming was an All-Pac-12 tackle. Stanford has some huge holes to fill for 2014.
The departures of quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans to the NFL Draft was no surprise for Texas A&M’s coaching staff. But that doesn’t make it any easier for coach Kevin Sumlin, especially in the brutal SEC West. There was one bit of good news for the Aggies at the draft deadline. Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi decided to stay for his senior year. He could be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation next year.
After a 12-1 mark in 2013, it will be hard for the Knights to have a better year in 2014. The American Athletic Conference is wide open, but UCF’s hopes of repeating took a blow when quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson declared for the NFL Draft. The Knights aren’t short on talent on the roster and most of the core returns next year. But Bortles – a likely first-round pick – and Johnson were two of the conference’s top offensive players.
With scholarship limitations, USC can’t afford to have many players leave early for the NFL Draft. The Trojans had a few this year, as center Marcus Martin, receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Xavier Grimble, defensive tackle George Uko and safety Dion Bailey all passed on another year in Los Angeles. Martin’s departure is a setback for an offensive line that was already set to lose a couple of starters and was short on depth.
It was no surprise when running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins declared for the NFL Draft. However, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins are two elite playmakers in the Pac-12 and will be tough to replace. The departure of both players is magnified even more when you consider Washington is set to break in a new starting quarterback next year.
Craig Bohl was a great hire for Wyoming, but the first-year coach inherits a team with very little experience at quarterback. Brett Smith decided to leave early for the NFL this offseason, and backup Jason Thompson transferred to Utah. Smith’s departure is a huge setback, as he was set to be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks next year.