The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and while the overall number of players leaving for the next level won’t match the 98 that declared last season, there’s no shortage of talent departing the college scene.
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.
Baylor, Auburn, Notre Dame and Ohio State are four winners from the draft deadline process, while Florida State, Oregon and Florida are three teams dealing with significant personnel departures to the next level.
It’s hard to slot Alabama into either designation for this column. The Crimson Tide had major losses – receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins – but this team could have lost a few more players to the next level. Defensive end Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland are returning to Tuscaloosa, which should ensure Alabama ranks at the top of the SEC in defense next season. Finding replacements for Cooper and Collins will be the two of the top spring priorities for coach Nick Saban this spring.
Big-play receiver Sammie Coates is off to the NFL, but the damage could have been greater for coach Gus Malzahn. Instead, Auburn managed to keep linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost on campus for their senior season, and receiver Duke Williams returns after catching 45 passes in his debut with the Tigers.
TCU is considered by most to be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2015, but Baylor isn’t far behind. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and regain the services of left tackle Spencer Drango and defensive end Shawn Oakman after both decided to return for their senior year.
Clemson lost only one player – punter Bradley Pinion – to the NFL Draft. But that’s not why the Tigers earn a mention in this space. With Florida State losing five players early to the NFL, the door is open for Clemson to jump to the top of the Atlantic Division once again. With the Seminoles trying to retool the roster next year, the Tigers hope a healthy Deshaun Watson at quarterback will be enough to overcome a revamped front seven on defense and earn the team’s first division title since 2011.
Coach Mike MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort in Boulder will continue into 2015 with one of the team’s top offensive weapons. Receiver Nelson Spruce emerged as the offense’s go-to option after Paul Richardson left early for the NFL. The junior caught 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 scores. Spruce should be one of the Pac-12’s top receivers in 2015.
As expected, running back Todd Gurley left Athens for the NFL, but the rushing attack won’t miss a beat with Nick Chubb stepping into the full-time No. 1 role. Outside of Gurley, Georgia did not lose another player to the early entry deadline. Tackle John Theus, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd were four players mentioned as potential departures, but all are slated to return to Athens in 2015.
LSU seemed to be a lock for the other side of this column after the Music City Bowl. The Tigers have suffered significant losses to the NFL over the last few seasons, which were a contributing factor in the team’s 8-5 record – the first season of less than double-digit wins since 2009. The losses in 2014 aren’t as heavy as the group leaving Baton Rouge after the 2012 season, but coach Les Miles has to replace end Danielle Hunter, cornerback Jalen Collins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. But the news for Miles isn’t all bad. Defensive back Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander are expected to return after considering an early entry to the draft. With the concerns at quarterback, getting Hawkins and Alexander for another season is critical for a team that has to rely on the run in 2015.
The Spartans had some bad news at the deadline with cornerback Trae Waynes leaving East Lansing for the NFL. However, Michigan State returned arguably its best offensive and defensive player for next season after quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun turned down the NFL. The return of Cook and Calhoun should allow the Spartans to push for a spot among the top 10 teams next year.
The Bulldogs lost All-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney and running back Josh Robinson to the NFL, but quarterback Dak Prescott is back for his senior year. Prescott was a first-team All-SEC selection and averaged 341.2 total yards per game in 2014. Losing McKinney and Robinson hurts, but Prescott’s return should keep Mississippi State in the mix to be a top 25 team next year.
The Fighting Irish finished an up-and-down season with a bowl win over LSU, which should give coach Brian Kelly’s team momentum heading into spring practice. And the good news didn’t stop with the Music City Bowl victory, as tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard/center Nick Martin and defensive end Sheldon Day all decided to return to South Bend next season. Notre Dame doesn’t lose much in the way of senior starters, so this team could easily improve off its 8-5 mark from 2014.
It’s unusual for a team to win a national title and lose zero players early to the NFL Draft. But that’s exactly what transpired at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had no players enter the draft and return to defend their title in 2015 with the depth chart nearly intact. Left tackle Taylor Decker, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and quarterback Cardale Jones were the candidates generating the most interest among NFL scouts, but all three will help Ohio State make a run at the title next year.
The Utes had a mixed bag of results at the draft deadline. Offensive tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014) left Salt Lake City for the next level, but Utah returns standout running back Devontae Booker. In his debut with the Utes, Booker – a junior college recruit – rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 scores. He also added 42 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
A 7-6 record was a disappointing finish for a Virginia Tech program that had a favorable schedule and hopes of winning the Coastal Division in 2014. While the fanbase is getting restless in Blacksburg, there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. Cornerback Brandon Facyson and defensive tackle Luther Maddy are back from injuries, while defensive end Dadi Nicolas (18 TFL and 8.5 sacks) decided to pass on the NFL for another season at Virginia Tech.
The return of running back Jonathan Williams keeps Arkansas’ potent one-two punch on the ground intact, but the Razorbacks lost a key piece of their defense with the departure of tackle Darius Philon. The line was already set to lose standout end Trey Flowers (15.5 TFL), and Philon was set to be one of the SEC’s top defensive linemen in 2015. Now, not only are the Razorbacks replacing their best defensive end and linebacker, their best defensive tackle is off to the NFL.
As if new coach Jim McElwain didn’t have enough personnel issues to sort out, the Gators lost four players – end Dante Fowler, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, running back Matt Jones and guard Tyler Moore – to the NFL Draft. Fowler is the team’s biggest loss, but Florida’s offensive line is thin on depth and proven talent. Restocking the trenches is McElwain’s biggest priority going into 2015.
Five players from Florida State’s roster are off to the next level, and there are some heavy losses for coach Jimbo Fisher to address this offseason. Quarterback Jameis Winston was one of college football’s top players over the last two seasons and should be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The other four early departures are on defense, as Mario Edwards, tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams declared for the next level. All four players were considered among the ACC’s top defenders over the last few seasons.
Running back Tevin Coleman carried the Indiana offense in 2014, recording 2,036 yards and 15 rushing scores on 270 attempts. Coleman’s totals are even more impressive when you consider the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld early in the year due to injury, and the backup signal-callers combined for one touchdown pass over the final six games.
The Cardinals lost three defensive backs off a defense that ranked second in the ACC by limiting opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. Safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and safety James Sample are leaving for the next level, and all three players were key pieces in the secondary. Holliman led the team with 14 picks, while Sample intercepted four passes and recorded 90 stops. Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC this year, breaking up 10 passes in 13 games.
The Hurricanes are still looking for their first Coastal Division title. The path to a trip to the conference championship game isn’t going to be any easier in 2015 with the departure of running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers early to the NFL. Johnson ranked second in the ACC by rushing for 1,652 yards, while Flowers anchored the line from the left tackle spot. After losing their last three games in 2014, there’s pressure on coach Al Golden to turn things around in 2015. Needless to say, losing Flowers and Johnson doesn’t help those odds.
The Tigers suffered only one loss to the NFL. However, it was a massive hit to the defense. End Shane Ray (22.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks) left after a standout 2014 season. Ray’s departure is magnified even more with starters Markus Golden (end) and Matt Hoch (tackle) exhausting their eligibility.
Bob Stoops is searching for a few answers after Oklahoma finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2014. A revamp of the coaching staff is underway, but the roster suffered a blow on both sides of the ball in the draft process. Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham declared without playing a down in Norman, while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is a huge loss on the interior of the line.
The news at the deadline wasn’t all negative for the Ducks. End DeForest Buckner is coming back for his senior year, and his return helps to soften the blow of Arik Armstead’s decision to leave Eugene after his junior campaign. Despite Buckner’s return, that’s not enough to overcome quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy winner won’t be easily replaced in 2015.
Due to NCAA sanctions, Penn State was shorthanded on scholarships over the last few seasons. First-year coach James Franklin had to overcome a lot of roster problems in 2014, especially up front on an offensive line that was thin on proven depth this year. The Nittany Lions reportedly played the Pinstripe Bowl with just 41 scholarship players, and Franklin’s job in 2015 got a little tougher with the departure of end Deion Barnes, tight end Jesse James and tackle Donovan Smith.
In addition to replacing a handful of departing seniors, Stanford lost cornerback Alex Carter and left tackle Andrus Peat early to the NFL. Peat is regarded as one of the top tackle prospects for the 2015 draft and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Carter recorded 41 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2014 and is projected to go in the second or third round by some scouting services.
The Knights shared the American Athletic Conference crown with Memphis and Cincinnati this year and three of the team’s four losses came against Power 5 opponents. UCF’s league title hopes for 2015 took a hit this week with the departure of cornerback Jacoby Glenn (7 INTs) and receiver Breshad Perriman (20.9 ypc) – two first-team all-conference selections in 2014.
The Bruins return a solid core of talent for 2015 and could win the Pac-12 South if the young talent on the roster develops this offseason. But coach Jim Mora has to fill a major void under center with the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley. With Hundley bolting to the NFL, UCLA could turn to incoming freshman Josh Rosen under center next year. Defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy (21 tackles, three sacks) also left Westwood for the next level.
The good: Quarterback Cody Kessler (39 TDs) is back for his senior year. Kessler’s return could elevate USC as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, but the Trojans lost receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Buck Allen, receiver George Farmer and defensive end Leonard Williams to the NFL. Williams could be one of the first five picks off the board in the first round, while Agholor and Allen were two of the best at their position in the Pac-12 this year.
Coach Mike London earned another year at Virginia after the Cavaliers finished 5-7 in 2014. But in order for London to stick around for the long haul, he needs to get Virginia back to the postseason. That goal got tougher with the draft deadline, losing end Eli Harold and linebacker Max Valles to the next level. Valles and Harold were key cogs in UVa’s pass rush, accumulating 16 of the team’s 34 sacks in 2014.
First-year coach Chris Petersen didn’t have the debut most expected, as Washington closed out the year with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and finished 8-6 overall. The Huskies lose a handful of key seniors next season, and linebacker Shaq Thompson must be replaced. Thompson was a two-way threat for Washington, rushing for 456 yards and two scores and recording 80 tackles on defense.