Which head coaches will inherit the most talent in 2016?
Jeff Dooley takes a look at the production grades for five rosters that will be under new leadership next season.
Which head coaches will inherit the most talent in 2016?
The college football coaching carousel can be difficult to keep track of, but once again there are new head coaches taking over at some of the nation’s biggest programs this offseason.
Which coach will inherit the most talent? We took a look at our PFF production grades for returning players to find out.
- Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs
Smart was the coordinator of a lot of great defenses at Alabama, and he will take over a unit with several productive players next season. The Bulldogs ranked No. 14 in our overall defense grades this season, and while star outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins will depart, there is a lot of returning talent.
The entire secondary will be back, led by cornerbacks Malkom Parrish and Aaron Davis, and there are several young linebackers who earned positive grades on limited snaps this season, including Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick and Davin Bellamy (who recorded an impressive 16 total pressures, including four sacks). Nose tackle Trenton Thompson looks like a potential 2016 breakout player after grading very well as a true freshman.
The offense will require more work, but the Bulldogs’ three top-graded linemen return along with playmaking wide receiver Terry Godwin, and the running back tandem of Nick Chubb (No. 5 in PFF grades last year, who missed most of this season due to injury) and Sony Michel (No. 40 in PFF grades this year) should be one of the best in college football.
- Clay Helton, USC Trojans
Quarterback Cody Kessler is a big loss for this program, and the Trojans will have to replace a lot of production on the defensive line. But Helton, who took over as interim coach following Steve Sarkisian’s dismissal and was rewarded with the full-time job at season’s end, will welcome back some very good playmakers on both sides of the ball.
JuJu Smith-Schuster ranked near the top of PFF’s wide receiver grades for much of the year, and running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones both graded well this season. Adoree Jackson was a big-play threat in his limited action on offense, but the team needed him more on D, where he graded as USC’s best corner. If linebacker/safety hybrid Su’a Cravens decides to pass on the NFL draft and return for his senior year, this could be one of the conference’s most talented returning units.
The offensive line also figures to be in good shape, particularly if PFF’s No. 10 offensive tackle, Zach Banner, comes back for another year.
- Mark Richt, Miami Hurricanes
The former Georgia coach is leaving behind a lot of talent in Athens, but he’ll have some pieces to work with at his new job. The Hurricanes have several returning players on defense to be excited about, starting with edge defender Al-Quadin Muhammad, who graded well against the run and the pass this season and is expected to return for his senior year. Cornerback Corn Elder is reportedly contemplating the NFL draft, but assuming he’s back, the Canes will return a talented coverage unit in 2016.
The offense isn’t quite as promising overall, after a year in which the unit did not grade well, but quarterback Brad Kaaya could have a breakout campaign in 2016. He had poor games against Virginia and UNC but otherwise graded well this year, ranking No. 22 in passing grade among Power-5 QBs. Another positive sign? He completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls against Power-5 teams this season, the ninth-best rate in the country. He should have a trio of talented weapons at his disposal in wide receiver Stacy Coley and running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton.
- Barry Odom, Missouri Tigers
To be clear, Odom has his work cut out for him on offense. This was a unit that featured just two regular contributors who earned good grades: wide receiver Cam Hilton and guard Conner McGovern, who graduates this year.
The good news is that the defense is a completely different story. The line will be loaded, particularly if star edge rusher Charles Harris, who ranked No. 8 at his position in PFF grades this year, doesn’t leave early for the NFL draft. Freshman tackle Terry Beckner Jr. had an excellent season prior to his year-ending injury, excelling against the run and also having an impact as a pass-rusher. A.J. Logan was a very good run defender and Walter Brady showed a lot of promise, particularly in the season-ending game against Arkansas.
The loss of star linebacker Kentrell Brothers will be difficult to deal with, but the back seven should be in good shape with the likes of LB Donavin Newsom and CB Aarion Penton.
- Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech Hokies
There is work to do on offense, particularly at the quarterback position with 2015 starter Michael Brewer graduating. But the good news is that the supporting cast has some solid building blocks heading into next year. All-ACC wide receiver Isaiah Ford was one of the nation’s best deep threats this season, drawing a high volume of targets 20 or more yards down field (19th-highest percentage in the country) and coming down with a high percentage (ninth in deep-ball catch rate).
Left guard Wyatt Teller struggled in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game, helping to open up holes for freshman Travon McMillian, who ranked No. 20 in PFF’s running back grades versus Power-5 competition.
The Hokies had a good pass rush in 2015, and that should again be the case next year with the return of defensive end Ken Ekanem and defensive tackle Woody Baron. Both players graded negatively against the run but were effective at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In the secondary, Fuente will have a pair of big cornerbacks in Chuck Clark (6-foot, 208 pounds) and Brandon Facyson (6-2, 189), who might make up the nation’s best tackling duo at corner next season. Clark graded out better in coverage but both proved to be very good in run defense. Clark led the nation among corners in run-stop percentage, while Facyson ranked seventh in tackling efficiency at the position.
Jeff Dooley | Editor-in-Chief
Jeff is the Editor-in-Chief of PFF, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post's NFL coverage. He previously worked as the editor for ESPN Insider's NFL, Fantasy, and College Football coverage.