Oregon State will look to unproven wide receivers like Kolby Taylor to try and fill the void left behind by Isaiah Hodgins
Does it feel as though college football season just ended? Well hopefully you caught your breath: NFL draft season gets into full swing in just a couple weeks, coinciding with the opening of the earliest spring camps around the college game.
As spring ball gets rolling around the nation, teams will begin setting the groundwork for replacing departing players, including those who opted to forego remaining eligibility for a shot at the pros. The Pac-12 loses some significant playmakers from the 2019 season, a majority on the offensive end. Filling the void some of these talents leaves sets the tone for a 2020 season that will kick off before you know it.
Gone: Isaiah Hodgins, WR
One of the best receivers in the Pac-12 last season, if not all of college football, Hodgins produced 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns on 86 receptions. Hodgins was a key to one of the best-hidden gems in the nation, which was the prolific Oregon State offense.
In: Kolby Taylor, rising redshirt junior
Taylor played a significant role in Oregon State's passing attack in 2019. His 22 receptions ranked third among Beavers wide receivers and fifth on the team overall. At 5-foot-11, he lacks Hodgins' height (6-4), but Taylor is a sturdy 211 pounds. He's a physical target that contrasts nicely with diminutive (5-5) speedster Champ Flemings.
Gone: Eno Benjamin, RB
A two-year starter, Benjamin evolved into one of the best running backs in the nation, closing out his Arizona State career with 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He was also a highly productive pass catcher with 42 receptions for 347 yards. Benjamin functioned as the workhorse for the Sun Devils under both Todd Graham and Herm Edwards, leaving a particularly big hole to fill on offense.
In: A.J. Carter, rising redshirt sophomore
Carter took advantage of the four-game redshirt rule in 2018, making last season his first of eligibility. He was the third-most active ball carrier, though used sparingly behind the feature back Benjamin and explosive, dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels. How the big, 6-foot, 218-pound Carter adapts to shouldering the load will dictate much about the look of the Sun Devils offense.
Gone: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR
Colorado's Swiss Army Knife was one of the most exciting players in the country each of the last two seasons. His impact was somewhat limited due to injuries, but when healthy, few players were as much of a cornerstone to an offense as he was. Shenault served as a deep-ball threat and a possession target in his work at wide receiver and was also a reliable option on short-yard and goal-line rushes.
In: Dimitri Stanley, rising redshirt sophomore
Replacing all of Shenault's contributions requires more than a single player, but Stanley will help shoulder the load at receiver. Stanley caught 29 passes and two scores in his first full season and added some of the multifaceted element the Buffs got from Shenault: Stanley doubled as a punt returner, with eight opportunities for 47 yards in 2019.
Gone: Jaylon Johnson, CB
The star of Utah's secondary, Johnson worked perfectly in concert with the outstanding Utes defensive front through his impressive one-on-one coverage. Johnson deflected 11 passes in 2019 and picked off a pair of passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown. While Utah has other losses in the secondary to absorb, including fellow early departure Javelin Guidry, Johnson's is the most prominent.
In: JaTravis Broughton, rising sophomore
A talented freshman, Broughton spent much of his debut season on special teams, a result of the veteran depth crowding Utah's secondary. He'll get an opportunity to shine in 2020, however. Broughton adds some size (6-0, 190) to the cornerback position.
Gone: J.J. Taylor, RB
A lightning bug running back, Taylor was limited in 2019 due to injury but still managed 721 yards rushing and 289 receiving yards. In 2018, Taylor was one of the most productive running backs in the nation. His proven ability to run and catch passes made him a unique weapon for the Wildcats.
In: Bam Smith, rising redshirt sophomore
With Gary Brightwell having demonstrated every-down potential and the big, physical Nathan Tilford seeing a more active role in the offense down the stretch, perhaps paving the way for a more prominent position in 2020, Smith's place in the rotation is an intriguing development. Smith has some of the same qualities Taylor brought to the offense, most notably explosive pass-catching ability out of the backfield.
Gone: Colby Parkinson, TE
Tight ends have always played a prominent role in Stanford's offensive approach under David Shaw. Parkinson ranks among the most productive, functioning more like a wide receiver at times. He ended his career with 87 catches for 1,171 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, although only one came in his final season.
In: Scooter Harrington, rising redshirt senior
A highly touted prospect in 2016, Harrington gets his opportunity to be the man in 2020. He opted to return to the Cardinal despite having a year of eligibility remaining and having graduated. In his final season, he could be the focal point of the tight-end passing attack.
Gone: Salvon Ahmed, RB
Ahmed faced the task of replacing four-year star Myles Gaskin a year ago, and he did so quite nicely. Ahmed went over 1,000 yards rushing, despite operating in a deep rotation.
In: Richard Newton, rising redshirt sophomore
With Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant all returning from the 2018 Pac-12 championship-winning roster, then-freshman Newton factoring into the rotation immediately spoke to his lofty potential. And indeed, Newton scored 10 touchdowns on the ground in his debut campaign, just one fewer than Ahmed. His ceiling is high with more carriers presumably coming his way.
Gone: Hunter Bryant, TE
A key to Washington's late-season push to the 2018 Pac-12 title was the return of tight end Bryant. He established himself as one of, if not the primary target for Jake Browning. Nothing changed when Jacob Eason, also leaving Montlake early, took over at quarterback. Bryant caught 52 passes in 2019.
In: Cade Otton, rising redshirt junior
Few offenses make as effective use of the tight end as a pass-catcher as does Washington. Otton figured into the plans from the jump, catching three touchdowns as a freshman. In 2019, he nearly doubled his yardage output, and he more than doubled his number of targets. It's a big climb to Bryant's 52 receptions, but Otton could be as much of an integral weapon.
Gone: Darnay Holmes, CB
Holmes made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2017. His career with the Bruins fluctuated, but there was never any doubting his playmaking ability. The good news for defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro is that the Bruins have depth in the secondary.
In: Jay Shaw, rising redshirt junior
Shaw has plenty of game experience, playing nickel back — essentially a base formation, given the number of multiple wide-receiver formations UCLA sees. Shaw isn't so much replacing Holmes as next up with the potential to emerge as a key difference-maker.
Gone: Devin Asiasi, TE
Asiasi's potential was evident in 2018 despite Caleb Wilson handling more receptions than any tight end in college football. Asiasi averaged a whopping 21.7 yards per reception, and this season, hauled in 44 passes. He was also good for four touchdowns.
In: Jordan Wilson, rising redshirt senior
Tight ends have factored into Chip Kelly's offensive plans well before UCLA, so the success of Caleb Wilson and Asiasi is nothing new. Assuming that trend continues, expect a major uptick in Jordan Wilson's production — the ground is already set with him catching two targets in the rivalry game at USC.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.