Once again, the SEC dominated the college football landscape with four teams ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll, including the national champion LSU Tigers. But the conference, from top to bottom, has a lot of work ahead in the hopes of a repeat performance.
The NFL draft accepted 115 early entrants by the Jan. 24 deadline, with the nation's best football conference losing 32 juniors. LSU (9), Alabama (7), and Georgia (5) had their rosters wiped out with a mix of All-Americans and All-SEC talents now preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine.
Of the 32 leaving early, which SEC players from the 2019 season will be the hardest to replace going forward?
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian created an all-time Alabama monster in Tagovailoa and now has the unenviable job of trying to replace him. Tagovailoa’s junior season was limited to nine games because of a hip injury, but he was still able to produce 2,840 passing yards with three 400-yard games and 33 touchdowns against just three picks. The All-SEC performer had a career-best season in 2018, passing for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns. Good luck, Coach Sark.
Grant Delpit, SS, LSU
Incoming LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini will not know what it was like having two-time All-American safety Grant Delpit on the field covering up any mistakes in front of him, but the rest of the defense will. Playing against the pass, where he picked off two throws, or against the run, putting an end to 65 plays, Delpit was an enforcer on the field.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
One of the players to benefit most from the talents of Tua Tagovailoa was Jeudy. A two-time All-American and winner of the 2018 Biletnikoff Award, Jeudy would have owned many of the Alabama all-time career receiving records with another season in Tuscaloosa but will finish his career fourth in receiving yards (2,742) and second in receiving touchdowns (26). The presence of Jeudy on the field as a vertical threat opened up the offense allowing more room for running backs to roam while clearing space for other receivers to get open.
CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
Size, speed, and ball skills, replacing Henderson in the Gators' secondary will be easier said than done. Henderson was a two-time second-team All-SEC selection (2017-18) and earned first-team honors during his junior season. The do-it-all corner may have appeared on some end of season All-American teams in 2019 had he not missed four games due to injury. As is, he still compiled a stat line of 33 stops and a team-high 11 pass breakups, shutting down his side of the field.
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
As much of a game manager as Fromm was for the Bulldogs, his consistency and ability to guide the offense to wins cannot be understated. While not flashy, Fromm ends his collegiate career as one of Georgia’s best quarterbacks, ranked fourth all-time in passing yards (8,224) and second in touchdown passes (78). Fromm’s sophomore run was a little more prolific with 30 touchdown passes, but he threw for a single-season personal best 2,860 yards in 2019.
Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
Throughout the 2019 season, quarterback Kellen Mond had a wealth of receiver talent at his disposal, but two of his top targets will be missing going forward. Davis was second on the team in receptions (54) and yards (616) with four touchdowns. Rogers was fourth in receptions (30) and yards (351), making two trips into the end zone. Mond does have leading receiver Jhamon Ausbon back along with rising tight end target Jalen Wydermyer, however.
Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
The Tigers defense may not have been as fierce top to bottom as it was in years past, but the defense was good enough to help squash the seven top-10 ranked teams it played. The run defense was better than advertised, limiting teams to 120.8 yards per game, which ranked 21st out of 130 FBS teams. Losing Phillips, the team’s leading tackler (113), and Queen, the third leading tackler (85), takes away the heart of the defense in the box. In addition to Phillips, Queen, and Grant Delpit transitioning to the pro ranks, Bo Pelini must also deal with the loss of edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson.
Kyle Markway, TE, South Carolina
The absence of Markway from the SEC may not be headline news east to west, but the impact for the Gamecocks could be big. Markway was the third leading receiver for South Carolina last season with 31 receptions for 349 yards with two scores. This takes away an underneath weapon for rising quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Coupled with Markway leaving, Hilinski must also find a new go-to target with the graduation of the team’s leading playmaker, receiver Bryan Edwards. Pairing the loss of the two could be troubling for the passing game in 2020.
Solomon Kindley, Andrew Thomas, and Isaiah Wilson, OL, Georgia
Winning games in the SEC starts in the trenches, and Georgia was just wiped out as the team transitioned into the offseason. Not only does new offensive coordinator Todd Monken have to fill the spots and starting experience of early NFL entrants Thomas, Wilson, and Kindley, but he also must break in a new line coach with Sam Pittman leaving for the head coaching job at Arkansas. Another hit on the depth chart was taken when junior-to-be Cade Mays transferred to Tennessee. There will be a lot of new names filling Georgia's entire offense in 2020.
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Had LSU, and the SEC as a whole, not been so deep, Justin Jefferson might have been the toast of the conference and nation with first-team All-American honors after tying for the most receptions in the FBS ranks (111). Jefferson produced the third-most receiving yards in the nation (1,540) and the second-most touchdowns (18). 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase returns to Baton Rouge for his junior season, relieving some of the blow, but Jefferson leaves a massive void in offensive production for the Tigers' new starting quarterback.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.