The 2022 NFL Draft is soon approaching. And as per usual, there are a host of elite players intent on moving on to the professional ranks before they have exhausted their college eligibility. It's also safe to say that there isn't a conference in college football impacted more by this form of attrition than the SEC. Year after year, the SEC-to-NFL pipeline grows stronger. And more and more draft-eligible underclassmen from college football's premier conference are making the early leap to the NFL, leaving SEC schools with the tall task of finding replacements for some of their most talented players. The question is — who will emerge to fill those voids and potentially take on a starring role for their respective teams in 2022?
Here now are 15 of the top players from the SEC who have opted to leave school early for the NFL, along with their potential replacements for the 2022 season.
Gone: Evan Neal, LT
At 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, the top offensive line prospect in this year's NFL draft leaves some really big shoes to fill, both literally and figuratively. Neal's rare blend of immense size and athleticism has helped him shine at both tackle spots for the Crimson Tide over the last two seasons, earning consensus first-team All-American honors at left tackle this past season. A sure-fire top-10 pick in the upcoming draft with the potential to go as high as No. 1 overall, Neal will not be easy to replace.
In: JC Latham
Latham will have to fend off some serious competition this spring to earn the vacated starting left tackle spot for the Crimson Tide, but he appears to be the early favorite. A unanimous five-star recruit out of high school, Latham was ranked the No. 1 offensive lineman and the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation in the Class of 2021. He played sparingly this past season as a true freshman but did see action in 13 games. Tommy Brockermeyer, Damieon George, and Amari Kight are among several Alabama offensive linemen who are also in the running to replace Neal.
Gone: Derek Stingley Jr., CB
Stingley earned consensus All-American honors following a huge freshman season in 2019 that included six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Despite missing a portion of his sophomore campaign and most of the 2021 season due to injury, Stingley is still widely projected to be the first cornerback to come off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. And with a strong performance at the combine, that should be the case.
In: Greg Brooks Jr.
LSU has been hit hard by attrition in the secondary this offseason with the loss of several top players that would have been in contention to replace Stingley. Eli Ricks transferred to Alabama, Dwight McGlothern transferred to Arkansas, and Cordale Flott declared early the draft. That leaves Brian Kelly and DBU very thin at cornerback at the moment. That said, there are still a few contenders to fill the big void left by Stingley — including Arkansas transfer Greg Brooks Jr., Texas Bowl starter Damarius McGhee, ULL transfer Mekhi Garner, and four-star signee Laterrance Welch. The Tigers will likely continue to hit the transfer portal for additional reinforcements and/or dip into a talented group of safeties that could potentially make the move to cornerback. However, as it stands, Brooks appears to be the most talented and experienced option currently on the roster. The Louisiana native spent his first three seasons as a starter at nickel for the Razorbacks, compiling 112 tackles, four interceptions, and 12 passes defended. The transition from nickel to the outside should not be a difficult one for the veteran defensive back.
Gone: Charles Cross, OT
Cross is regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the country following an impressive redshirt sophomore season for the Bulldogs in which he allowed just one sack in more than 900 snaps at left tackle in Mike Leach's pass-happy attack. The former five-star recruit and first-team All-SEC performer will likely be among the first names called in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In: Percy Lewis
Lewis looks to be a nice plug-and-play option to replace Cross at left tackle. The Mississippi Gulf Coast transfer was ranked as the top juco offensive lineman and the No. 2 overall juco prospect in the nation for 2022, according to 247Sports. Despite his massive stature at 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds, Lewis is a gifted athlete that moves well and has the potential to excel at left or right tackle for Mississippi State next season. Nick Jones, who filled in for Cross in the Liberty Bowl, is another potential option.
Gone: Nakobe Dean, LB
Dean played a major role in the Bulldogs' run to the national championship this past season. The 2021 Butkus Award winner and a first-team All-American selection, Dean racked up 72 tackles (10.5 for loss), six sacks, two forced fumbles, a pair of interceptions to go along with six pass breakups for an elite Georgia defense in 2021. He projects as a top 15 pick in the upcoming draft.
In: Jamon Dumas-Johnson
Dumas-Johnson (aka “Pop”) had 22 tackles (2.5 for a loss), two sacks, two pass breakups, and a pick-six in 14 games as a freshman reserve inside linebacker for the Bulldogs in 2021. The former four-star prospect is the front runner to replace Dean and appears poised to be the next great linebacker at Georgia. Smael Mondon Jr. also figures prominently in the competition to earn a starting role at one of the inside linebacker spots for the Bulldogs next fall.
Gone: Matt Corral, QB
A gifted passer and runner, Corral put up big numbers in Lane Kiffin's offense last season — completing 68 percent of his pass attempts for 3,439 yards and 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He also had 614 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground. Corral was one of just two Power 5 quarterbacks to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 500 yards in 2021. He is a playmaker in every sense of the word and continues to climb up NFL draft boards.
In: Luke Altmyer
Lane Kiffin seems to be working diligently to secure Corral's replacement with an already accomplished quarterback by way of the transfer portal, and that will likely come to fruition in the near future. But in the meantime, sophomore-to-be Luke Altmyer is the next man up. The former four-star prospect appeared in four games this past season, seeing most of his action in the Sugar Bowl after Corral went down with an apparent leg injury. For the year, Altmyer completed 54 percent of his pass attempts for 192 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Gone: Jameson Williams, WR
The former Ohio State transfer never gained much traction as a Buckeye, but Williams definitely made up for it in a starring role at wide receiver for the Crimson Tide this past season. Alabama's breakout star for 2021 racked up 79 catches for an SEC-best 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns. The speedy receiver also shined bright on special teams with a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns. Unfortunately, Williams suffered a torn ACL in the National Championship Game, but that doesn't seem to be hurting his draft stock a great deal, if at all.
In: Ja'Corey Brooks
In addition to finding Williams' replacement, Nick Saban also is tasked with replacing standout wide receivers John Metchie III and Slade Bolden. It's a tall order, but Alabama has no shortage of talented players at the position to help fill the void. Chief among them is former five-star prospect Ja'Corey Brooks, who showed flashes down the stretch and looks to be the next great wide receiver for the Crimson Tide. Brooks recorded 15 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns, all coming in the final six games of his freshman season. Agiye Hall, Traeshon Holden, JoJo Earle, and a host of talented incoming freshmen also look to carve out prominent roles at wide receiver next season.
Gone: Travon Walker, DE
Walker thrived in his first season as a starter for the Bulldogs and was instrumental in helping Georgia win its first national title since 1980. A freak athlete at defensive end, Walker collected 37 tackles (7.5 for a loss), six sacks, and had a team-high 36 quarterback hurries for a dominant Georgia defense in 2021. That should help propel him into the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.
In: Tramel Walthour
Kirby Smart will have his work cut out for him trying to replace several of his top defensive players from last season's championship squad, as well as defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. The good news is that there is still plenty of high-level talent on tap for the Dawgs. And that includes senior-to-be Tramel Walthour. That said, five-star freshman Mykel Williams is already on campus and is poised to give Walthour a serious run for his money this spring to secure the vacant starting spot at defensive end.
Gone: DeMarvin Leal, DL
Leal put together a strong junior season for the Aggies, earning first-team All-American accolades after registering 58 tackles, a team-high 12.5 tackles for a loss, and a team-high 8.5 sacks. The versatile defensive lineman has the size and strength to play inside at defensive tackle and the athleticism to slide out to defensive end at the next level. He checks all the boxes that NFL scouts are looking for in a top-tier defensive lineman, and should hear his name called on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
In: Shemar Turner
While Leal's potential replacement remains somewhat of a mystery at this point, Turner appears to fit the bill. He is similar to Leal in size. And much like Leal, Turner can play multiple positions along the defensive line. The former five-star recruit earned All-SEC Freshman honors this past season playing in a reserve role for the Aggies.
Gone: Treylon Burks, WR
Burks is a three-time All-SEC performer, routinely grading out as one of the top wide receivers in the nation during his time with the Razorbacks. He accounted for the vast majority of Arkansas' production at the wide receiver position last season with 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. Burks' unique blend of size (6'3", 225 lbs), strength, speed, and pass-catching ability should place him in very high demand in this year's draft.
In: Jadon Haselwood
The Oklahoma transfer was the No. 1-ranked wide receiver in the nation coming out of high school in 2019. He caught 39 passes for 399 yards and six touchdowns last season as a Sooner. And while Haselwood will be hard-pressed to match Burks' production at Arkansas, he should feast as the primary target for quarterback KJ Jefferson next fall.
Gone: Kenyon Green, OG
A two-time All-American and three-time All-SEC performer, Green started every game for the Aggies during his three seasons in College Station. He is widely viewed as the top interior lineman in this year's draft. However, he has made starts at four different positions along the offensive line for Texas A&M, including both tackle spots. Green plays with a nasty disposition and has elite potential at the next level as both a run and pass blocker.
In: Aki Ogunbiyi
Ogunbiyi is the heir apparent to Green. The former consensus four-star prospect made four starts for the Aggies as a redshirt freshman this past season and is similar in stature to Green. Also similar to Green, Ogunbiyi is versatile enough to play inside or outside, although his primary position will likely be at left guard. It will be extremely difficult for Ogunbiyi to match Green's success during his time at A&M, but his ceiling is high.
Gone: Wan'Dale Robinson, WR
Robinson spent just one season at Kentucky after transferring from Nebraska. But he definitely made the most of his short time in Lexington, breaking Kentucky's single-season records for catches (104) and receiving yards (1,334). Robinson also posted a career-high for seven receiving touchdowns en route to All-SEC accolades.
In: Tayvion Robinson
Wan'Dale Robinson and Josh Ali accounted for the vast majority of UK's production at wide receiver this past season. Both are gone, which leaves the cupboard pretty bare in the Wildcats' receiver room heading into the 2022 campaign. Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson will immediately step in as the most accomplished receiver on the roster after catching 44 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns in 2021 as a Hokie.
Gone: Kaiir Elam, CB
Florida has a rich history of producing top-tier defensive backs, and Elam is no exception. The talented cornerback earned first-team All-SEC honors as a sophomore. And while he wasn't quite as effective as a junior this past season, in part due to missing time with a knee injury, opposing quarterbacks completed just 46.5 percent of their passes when throwing in Elam's direction over the past three seasons.
In: Jalen Kimber
The Georgia transfer was slated for a starting role this past season before a season-ending shoulder injury derailed his redshirt freshman campaign with the Bulldogs. If Kimber can stay healthy, he has a ton of upside and should have the inside track on replacing Elam as Florida's premier cornerback in 2022.
Gone: Jerrion Ealy, RB
Ealy led the Rebels in rushing the past two seasons and racked up 2,780 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns during his three seasons in Oxford, earning numerous accolades along the way. Home run speed and elusiveness are his calling cards, but the former five-star prospect also is an extremely powerful runner who can break tackles with ease despite his small stature. He's even drawn comparisons to Alvin Kamara.
In: Zach Evans
With Ole Miss losing its top four rushers from last season, the cupboard is now extremely bare in the Rebels' backfield. That should pay big dividends for TCU transfer Zach Evans, as the highly coveted former five-star running back is expected to be in line for a feature role next fall. Evans led the Horned Frogs in rushing last season and averaged 7.3 yards per carry over his two seasons at TCU.
Gone: George Pickens, WR
Despite missing most of his junior season recovering from a torn ACL, Pickens is still among the most coveted wide receivers heading into this years' draft. He has a top-flight skill set as a pass-catcher — displaying great hands, dynamic leaping ability, and outstanding body control. Pickens can also stretch the field and make difficult catches look easy (even when contested).
In: Adonai Mitchell
The Bulldogs already got a taste of what it will be like without Pickens in the lineup this past season, relying mostly on a collective effort to fill the void. That will likely be the case once again in the upcoming season. However, if you had to single out one returning wide receiver that is most similar to Pickens, it's Mitchell. Mitchell still has work to do to get on Pickens' level, but he does have plenty of upside and showed flashes of greatness during the College Football Playoff.
Gone: Isaiah Spiller, RB
The All-SEC performer rushed for close to 3,000 yards during his three seasons as an Aggie, and he is the only SEC running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. Spiller is expected to be among the first running backs to come off the board in this year's draft.
In: Devon Achane
While Spiller will be sorely missed next season, the Aggies aren't hurting for reinforcements in the backfield. In fact, Spiller's replacement is already in place and an accomplished running back in his own right. During his first two seasons at Texas A&M, Devon Achane has racked up close to 2,000 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns. He also led the SEC in yards per carry this past season at an impressive seven yards per clip.
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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.