The NFL Draft’s early entry deadline officially passed on Monday evening and over 100 players could be on their way to the next level. The official list of players leaving for the NFL will be released on Friday, and there’s a possibility a few could return to school if they change their mind by Thursday night and haven’t signed with an agent.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key moment in any college football offseason, as this allows coaches to get a better view of which players are returning and how the roster looks headed into Signing Day.
Which teams are the big winners and which progams have big shoes to fill thanks to the draft deadline? Here are the winners and losers with the draft deadline process:
Winners from the NFL Draft Early Entry Deadline
Considering Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and standout defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson are off to the NFL, it seems odd to list Alabama in the winner category. While Henry and Robinson leave big shoes to fill, the losses could be a lot worse. Tight end O.J. Howard, linebacker Tim Williams, safety Eddie Jackson and end Jonathan Allen all decided to return to Tuscaloosa for 2016.
While the defense was hit hard by departures to the NFL, Clemson’s offense remained intact for 2016. Running back Wayne Gallman and tight end Jordan Leggett decided to return next fall, which should ensure the Tigers once again have one of the nation’s best offenses and plenty of weapons for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Hawkeyes should be the favorite to win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2016. Star cornerback Desmond King considered an early jump to the NFL but will return to Iowa City. King should be an All-America cornerback and one of the Big Ten’s top players in 2016.
Clemson and Florida State are national title contenders next fall, but don’t count out Louisville from making some noise in the ACC. The Cardinals avoided any early departures to the NFL, as linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields, along with safety Josh Harvey-Clemons decided to return for 2016. In addition to the key returners on defense, the emergence of quarterback Lamar Jackson is a big reason why Louisville should be a top 25 team next fall.
Unlike the past couple of seasons, the draft deadline wasn’t filled with bad news for coach Les Miles. Left tackle Jerald Hawkins declared for the next level, but the Tigers received good news when linebacker Kendell Beckwith, center Ethan Pocic and cornerback Tre’Davious White announced their intentions to return.
The Wolverines should challenge for a spot in College Football’s Playoff next season. After showing marked improvement in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season, Michigan is poised to take another step forward and received its share of good news around the draft deadline. Tight end Jake Butt and cornerback Jourdan Lewis considered an early departure, but both players are set to return in 2016. Butt and Lewis should be All-America candidates next fall.
San Diego State
The Aztecs finished the year on a 10-game winning streak, and the momentum for coach Rocky Long’s team continued through the draft deadline. Top cornerback Damontae Kazee and running back Donnel Pumphrey will return in 2016 instead of jumping to the NFL. Both players should be first-team All-Mountain West picks next fall.
The Volunteers are heavy favorites to win the SEC East next season, and coach Butch Jones received plenty of good news around the draft deadline. Cornerback Cam Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and running back Alvin Kamara all turned down the NFL for one more season in Knoxville.
With Stanford, Oregon and California each replacing their share of departing seniors, as well as a few departures to the draft, the Pac-12 North’s balance of power could be shifting to the state of Washington in 2016. The Huskies lost running back Dwayne Washington to the NFL, but Myles Gaskin is already entrenched as the team’s No. 1 option on the ground. Washington State did not suffer any early departures to the draft, as receiver Gabe Marks announced his intentions to return for 2016. Things are looking up for the Cougars and Huskies.
Losers from the NFL Draft Early Entry Deadline
The Razorbacks led the SEC in scoring (conference-only games) and was already slated to lose quarterback Brandon Allen. However, the losses for coach Bret Bielema were heavy at the draft deadline, as running back Alex Collins, tackle Denver Kirkland and tight end Hunter Henry are off to the NFL. All three players were strong candidates for first-team All-SEC honors in 2016.
Improving the defense is an offseason priority for Arizona, but the task for new coordinator Marcel Yates got a little tougher with linebacker Scooby Wright declaring for the NFL. The offense is also losing a big-time receiver, as Cayleb Jones (16.4 ypc) is off to the next level.
Running back Peyton Barber’s late declaration came as a mild surprise, and the Tigers also lost two starting offensive linemen – Xavier Young and Shon Coleman – to the NFL. That’s not great news for an offense looking for improvement in 2016.
Coach Art Briles should have a quick reload at Baylor, but the Bears are losing three key contributors. Cornerback Xavien Howard and All-Americans Andrew Billings (DT) and receiver Corey Coleman are leaving Waco for the NFL.
How’s this for a talent drain in 2016? Seven first-team All-Big 12 selections from last season are leaving early for the NFL. The only underclassmen from the Big 12’s first-team awards returning next fall are: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine, Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel, Oklahoma State tight end Blake Jarwin and TCU defensive end Josh Carraway.
California’s 8-5 record in 2015 was the best mark for the program under coach Sonny Dykes. Meeting that record in 2016 will be a huge challenge for Dykes, as quarterback Jared Goff – arguably the Pac-12’s No. 1 quarterback in 2015 – and receiver Kenny Lawler (13 TDs) are departing for the NFL.
How quickly will coordinator Brent Venables find the right answers on defense? The Tigers lost six defenders to the NFL, including standout ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, as well as All-America cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
Five players are leaving early for the NFL, and that total could have been higher had safety Marcus Maye or linebacker Jarrad Davis opted to depart Gainesville. Coach Jim McElwain has recruited well, so there’s talent waiting in the wings. However, players like cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, safety Keanu Neal and end Alex McCalister leave big shoes to fill this spring.
The Tigers lost only one player but it’s a huge blow for new coach Mike Norvell. After throwing for 3,778 yards and 28 scores in 2015, quarterback Paxton Lynch is off to the NFL. Lynch could be a first-round pick this year.
Not only are the Bulldogs losing quarterback Dak Prescott, but three other standouts are headed to the next level. Tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Beniquez Brown and receiver De’Runnya Wilson all declared for the draft.
The Cornhuskers finished second in the Big Ten in rush defense, but the defensive line will need some extra attention from coordinator Mark Banker this spring. Maliek Collins – one of the top defenders in the Big Ten – and fellow tackle Vincent Valentine are both off to the NFL. That’s a huge void up front in Lincoln.
The Fighting Irish should push for a playoff spot once again next season, but coach Brian Kelly’s team is one of the teams hit the hardest by the early entry deadline. The departures of cornerback KeiVarae Russell and linebacker Jaylon Smith are setbacks for the defense, while the offense must replace standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, go-to receiver Will Fuller and running back C.J. Prosise.
The Buckeyes were the team hit the hardest by early declarations to the NFL. Nine players are leaving for the next level and there are losses on both sides of the ball. End Joey Bosa, cornerback Eli Apple, linebacker Darron Lee and safety Vonn Bell headline the departures on defense, while running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Michael Thomas are off to the next level. That’s a lot of roster turnover for coach Urban Meyer to replace in one offseason.
The Sooners were already set to lose linebacker Eric Striker and end Charles Tapper, and the draft deadline added two more departures to the defense. Two standouts and All-Big 12 performers in 2015 – cornerback Zack Sanchez and linebacker Dominique Alexander – are both off to the next level.
So far, the start of the 2016 offseason has been a busy one for coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions lost two assistants – defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and line coach Herb Hand – and two players are off to the NFL. Standout defensive tackle Austin Johnson and quarterback Christian Hackenberg are leaving Happy Valley for the next level.
Six Bruins declared for the next level, including linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Kenny Clark and running back Paul Perkins. Rising star quarterback Josh Rosen will have a few new faces in the trenches next fall, as two linemen – Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch – are also headed to the next level.
In a mild surprise, the Mountaineers lost leading rusher Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards) and top cornerback Daryl Worley to the NFL. Rushel Shell (708 yards) is a solid option to replace Smallwood, but West Virginia’s secondary enters spring practice with just one returning starter.