The early-entry deadline for the 2021 NFL Draft officially passed on Monday, Jan. 18. Counting seniors who passed on an extra year of eligibility and underclassmen entering early, more than 400 players declared for the next level. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence, Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson are just a few of the names headed to the NFL. Alabama — reigning national champion — was one of the team's hit hardest by departures, while Ohio State and Clemson made our status quo section.
The official list of players declaring will be released later this week, but it's no secret which players have already announced their intentions and which teams will be filling the most voids this offseason. 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. Additionally, seniors have until March 1 to decide whether or not they want to use the extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college perspective.
Which teams are the big winners and which programs have big shoes to fill thanks to the 2021 draft deadline? Here are the winners and losers with the draft deadline process:
College Football's NFL Draft Deadline Winners and Losers for 2021
The return of defensive backs Jack Jones, Chase Lucas, Evan Fields and DeAndre Pierce, along with offensive linemen Kellen Diesch and Henry Hattis is a big boost for Arizona State’s hopes of winning the Pac-12 South in 2021.
The Razorbacks are poised to take a step forward in coach Sam Pittman’s second year with the return of linemen Myron Cunningham and Ty Clary, along with special teams weapon/receiver De’Vion Warren. The defense got a huge boost when linebacker Grant Morgan announced his return for 2021.
The defending MAC champs will return nearly intact for 2021. A handful of key seniors – including quarterback Drew Plitt, receiver Justin Hall, safety Bryce Coby and linebacker Anthony Ekpe – are back to make another run at the MAC title.
Dave Aranda’s second year in Waco should go better than the debut thanks to the return of running back Trestan Ebner, cornerback Raleigh Texada, receiver Tyquan Thornton and linebacker Terrel Bernard.
The Golden Bears should have a strong defense once again thanks to the return of linebackers Kuony Deng and Cameron Goode, along with safety Elijah Hicks.
Make no mistake: lineman Tarron Jackson and running back CJ Marable are big losses. However, the Chanticleers kept a good chunk of their senior class for an extra year. With the bulk of the two-deep returning, Coastal Carolina should factor into the mix to be the top Group of 5 team once again.
Can the Buffaloes surprise again in 2021? Losing tackle William Sherman and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson was a blow, but quarterback Sam Noyer, linebackers Carson Wells and Nate Landman and defensive lineman Terrance Lang are back.
Losing a couple of key cogs in the secondary – Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte and Eric Stokes – and linebacker Azeez Ojulari are tough setbacks for coach Kirby Smart’s defense. But the news wasn’t all bad around the draft deadline. Quarterback JT Daniels, running backs Zamir White and James Cook, left tackle Jamaree Salyer and defensive lineman Jordan Davis signaled their intention to return for 2021.
The Cyclones are stocked for another run at the Big 12 title. Quarterback Brock Purdy, tight ends Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar, linebacker Mike Rose and safety Greg Eisworth headline the key players opting to return in 2021. End JaQuan Bailey opted to go to the NFL and his presence (seven sacks) will be missed off the edge.
Billy Napier has to replace standout running backs Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, but quarterback Levi Lewis headlines a list of key players opting to take an extra year of eligibility. The return of Lewis and some of the other seniors should be enough for Louisiana to be a top-25 team in 2021.
If the Tigers want to rebound in 2021, retaining their offensive and defensive lines is a good place to start. Linebacker Jabril Cox is a big loss considering the concerns at this position, but the line of scrimmage returning is a big deal for coach Ed Orgeron’s team.
Replacing the pass-rush production of Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips off the edge won’t be easy. But coach Manny Diaz scored a huge offseason victory when quarterback D’Eriq King, receiver Mike Harley, tackle Jarrid Williams and running back Cam’Ron Harris chose to come back. Also, linemen Nesta Silvera and Jon Ford, along with safety Bubba Bolden opted to do the same on defense.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2021
Filling the void left behind by Rashod Bateman at receiver and Benjamin St-Juste at cornerback isn’t going to be easy this offseason. But the losses weren’t as significant as they could’ve been for coach P.J. Fleck’s squad. Cornerback Coney Durr, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and offensive lineman Sam Schlueter and Conner Olsen opted to return.
Losing defensive lineman Alim McNeil is a big setback to NC State, but coach Dave Doeren kept receiver Emeka Emezie, linebacker Payton Wilson and end Daniel Joseph in Raleigh for 2021.
The Cornhuskers retained key defenders in JoJo Domann, Cam Taylor-Britt, Deontai Williams, Marquel Dismuke, Will Honas and Ben Stille. That’s good news for a team that will be a work in progress early in the 2021 season. The news wasn’t all good on the draft front for coach Scott Frost, however. Running back Dedrick Mills, offensive linemen Matt Farniok and Brenden Jaimes and defensive back Dicaprio Bootle opted to go to the NFL.
Quarterback Carson Strong and receiver Romeo Doubs are back, which means Nevada should be positioned for a run at the Mountain West title in 2021.
The Utes are poised to challenge for the Pac-12 South title once again. Linebacker Devin Lloyd, offensive lineman Nick Ford and tight end Brant Kuithe headline the names passing on the NFL.
A healthy season out of running back Max Borghi is a positive for coach Nick Rolovich as he looks to get Washington State back on track in 2021.
Better luck in the health department and an experienced roster should push Wisconsin back into contention for the Big Ten West title in 2021. Coach Paul Chryst received good news at the deadline with tight end Jake Ferguson, linebacker Jack Sanborn, receiver Kendric Pryor and cornerback Faion Hicks deciding to return. The loss of left tackle Cole Van Lanen to the NFL is a big loss though.
Having quarterback Desmond Ridder back for his senior season is huge, and the defense was able to retain Coby Bryant, Darrian Beavers, Myjai Sanders, Curtis Brooks and Marcus Brown. However, coach Luke Fickell’s team is losing a couple of key contributors, including safety James Wiggins, linebacker Jarell White, defensive lineman Elijah Ponder and offensive tackle James Hudson.
Keeping receiver Justyn Ross, linebacker James Skalski and cornerback Derion Kendrick is significant, but coach Dabo Swinney’s team lost quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, receivers Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell and tackle Jackson Carman to the next level. Clemson makes the status quo group since it didn’t lose enough to be knocked out of consideration for the national title, has plenty of talent waiting in the wings and backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is ready to take the controls from Lawrence.
Coach Tom Allen lost receiver Whop Philyor, center Harry Crider, defensive back Jamar Johnson, defensive lineman Jerome Johnson and running back Stevie Scott to the next level. However, receiver Ty Fryfogle, defensive backs Marcelino Ball and Raheem Layne and lineman Mike Ziemba are coming back for 2021.
Keeping Thayer Munford to anchor the offensive line was a win for coach Ryan Day, and receiver Chris Olave is back to work with the new quarterback. Day also received good news with tight end Jeremy Ruckert and end Tyreke Smith passing on the NFL on deadline day. However, the Buckeyes are losing cornerback Shaun Wade, defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, running back Trey Sermon, quarterback Justin Fields, and center Josh Myers early to the NFL.
Replacing center Creed Humphrey, defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson will be tough, but the Sooners get Perrion Winfrey, Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas back on defense in 2021.
Coach Lane Kiffin scored some good news when Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders announced their return, along with linebacker Lakia Henry. However, dynamic receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah won’t be easy to replace.
The Aggies are going to lose a chunk of their offensive line and quarterback Kellen Mond to the NFL. However, the situation in College Station could’ve been worse, as defensive lineman Jayden Peevy, linebacker Aaron Hansford and defensive backs Leon O’Neal and Devin Morris are coming back for 2021.
Demetric Felton and Osa Odighizuwa are big losses, but coach Chip Kelly’s team retained quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, offensive lineman Paul Grattan, safeties Quentin Lake, Qwuantrezz Knight, and running back Brittain Brown to minimize the damage.
The bad: Defensive back Elijah Molden, defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and linebacker Joe Tryon are gone. The good: Offensive linemen Luke Wattenberg and Jaxson Kirkland, tight end Cade Otton and linebackers Ryan Bowman and Zion Tupuola-Fetui are back.
When you recruit elite talent and win at a high level, it’s no surprise a handful of players leave early for the NFL. Quarterback Mac Jones, receiver Jaylen Waddle, lineman Christian Barmore and cornerback Patrick Surtain II declared for the NFL, with linebacker Dylan Moses and tackle Alex Leatherwood passing on an extra year.
The news wasn’t all bad around the deadline for coach Bryan Harsin. Safety Smoke Monday, linebacker Zakoby McClain and cornerback Roger McCreary each decided to return for new coordinator Derek Mason in 2021. However, the receiving corps lost Anthony Schwartz, Eli Stove and Seth Williams, and the defense must replace safety Jamien Sherwood and linebacker K.J. Britt.
Jeff Hafley had a strong debut in Chestnut Hill, and the cupboard isn’t completely bare with quarterback Phil Jurkovec returning for 2021. However, two standout linebackers – Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson – and tight end Hunter Long are off to the NFL.
The Cougars made a strong run at a New Year’s Six bowl before a road loss to Coastal Carolina. Coach Kalani Sitake heads into 2021 looking to replace the prolific and talented Zach Wilson under center after he declared early for the NFL. Receiver Dax Milne, defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga and offensive lineman Brady Christensen are also off to the next level.
The Blue Devils finished 2-9 last year and lost a couple of key contributors – cornerback Mark Gilbert, running back Deon Jackson, defensive back Michael Carter II, and defensive Chris Rumph II.
Dan Mullen has a lot to replace in 2021. Emory Jones should be an effective replacement for Kyle Trask, but the receiving corps lost Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney, along with tight end Kyle Pitts to the NFL. Cornerback Marco Wilson and lineman Kyree Campbell are also taking their talents to the next level.
Mike Norvell’s rebuilding effort in Tallahassee was made tougher with cornerback Asante Samuel, defensive linemen Josh Kaindoh, Janarius Robinson and Marvin Wilson leaving for the next level.
Keeping center Tyler Linderbaum for another year was huge, but the Hawkeyes are losing a handful of key cogs, including tackle Alaric Jackson, receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette and defensive linemen Daviyon Nixon and Chauncey Golston.
Keeping Aidan Hutchinson and Brad Hawkins was a positive outcome, but the list of departures is significant – offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield, linebacker Cam McGrone, cornerback Ambry Thomas and receiver Nico Collins – from a team that went 2-4 in 2020.
Coach Eli Drinkwitz managed to keep a couple of key players – center Michael Maietti and defensive linemen Markell Utsey and Akial Byers – in the mix. However, the losses were significant. Linebacker Nick Bolton and tackle Larry Borom headline a list of departing players that will be missed.
Some good, some bad for coach Mack Brown. Linebacker Tomon Fox decided to return instead of leaving early, but quarterback Sam Howell’s supporting cast needs to be rebuilt after running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, along with receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are off to the NFL. Standout linebacker Chazz Surratt also is departing for the next level.
The defending Big Ten West Division champs have several holes on both sides of the ball following the draft deadline. A standout defense is losing linebackers Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, lineman Earnest Brown IV, along with defensive backs Greg Newsome II and safety JR Pace. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey departs after a successful one-year stop in Evanston. Tackle Rashawn Slater didn’t play in 2020 but also counts among the key departures to the next level.
Brian Kelly will reload, but the losses might be too much to overcome for a run at the CFB Playoff. The offensive line must be rebuilt, quarterback Ian Book is gone, and the defense (in addition to replacing coordinator Clark Lea) lost linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to the NFL.
The Cowboys are close to making the status quo section, but the loss of Ry Schneider and Teven Jenkins along a thin offensive line, along with skill players Chuba Hubbard (RB) and Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner (WR) is a lot to replace. Also, the defense must restock after losing cornerback Rodarius Williams and linebackers Calvin Bundage and Amen Ogbongbemiga.
Some of Oregon’s losses to the NFL occurred before the season started with players opting out due to COVID-19. In addition to left tackle Penei Sewell, cornerback Thomas Graham and safeties Javon Holland and Brady Breeze, Nick Pickett, Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Deommodore Lenoir are headed for the next level.
Running back Jermar Jefferson leaves a major void on coach Jonathan Smith’s offense, while the defense must replace linebacker Hamilcar Rashed and defensive backs Isaiah Dunn and Nahshon Wright.
The battle to improve on last year’s disappointing 4-5 record has to start with finding replacements for defensive linemen Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney. Additionally, tight end Pat Freiermuth, safety Lamont Wade, offensive lineman Will Fries and linebacker Micah Parsons are headed to the next level.
Pat Narduzzi’s defense has a few holes to plug with Rashad Weaver, Jalen Twyman (opted out of 2020 season), Paris Ford, Patrick Jones and Damar Hamlin off to the next level.
Dynamic receiver and all-around playmaker Rondale Moore leaves big shoes to fill. Linebacker Derrick Barnes and offensive tackle Grant Hermanns will also be missed.
San Diego State
The Aztecs lost three key defenders – Darren Hall, Tariq Thompson and Dwayne Johnson – from a talented secondary.
Quarterback Davis Mills, wide receiver Simi Fehoki, and offensive linemen Drew Dalman, Walker Little and Foster Sarell headline a talented group headed to the next level.
Coach Gary Patterson has to replace three standout defenders in linebacker Garret Wallow and safeties Ar’Darius Washington and Tre’von Moehrig this offseason.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger passed on an extra year to go to the NFL, and left tackle Sam Cosmi entered the draft early. The Longhorns also lose defensive backs Caden Sterns and Chris Brown, along with standout pass rusher Joseph Ossai.
The Golden Hurricane surprised by earning a trip to the AAC title game in 2020. However, getting back to that level is going to hinge on how well this team replaces quarterback Zach Smith and standout linebacker Zaven Collins.
The Knights were hit hard by departures to the next level, as defensive back Tay Gowan, receiver Marlon Williams and running backs Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson headline a list of players off to the next level.
The Trojans are still going to be in the mix to win the Pac-12 title, but the losses to the NFL are significant. Left tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker was the top player at a shaky position, while receivers Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown also depart Los Angeles. The defense must replace Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu up front and Olaijah Griffin and Talanoa Hufanga in the back end.
Cornerback Caleb Farley opted out prior to the 2020 season, while running back Khalil Herbert, defensive back Divine Deablo, left tackle Christian Darrisaw and linebacker Rayshard Ashby are just a few of the other Hokies leaving early for the NFL.
Defensive lineman Darius Stills and linebacker Tony Fields are tough losses for a defense that led the Big 12 in fewest yards per play and points allowed in 2020.