The 5 college teams hurt most by early departures
The deadline for players to file their declaration papers with the NFL has passed, and a list of those who have publicly stated their intentions can be found here. As always, some teams are hit worse than others, whether because of the volume of players that they lose, the quality, or the surprise nature of their departure.
Underclassmen lost: 6 – CB Marshon Lattimore; CB Gareon Conley; S Malik Hooker; LB Raekwon McMillan; RB/WR Curtis Samuel; WR Noah Brown
One year removed from a record-setting draft class, Ohio State is once again set to be a major supplier of talent to the NFL, with six underclassmen declaring for the draft. In Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown, the Buckeyes lose their two leading receivers, with Samuel being the tougher to replace. A hybrid runner/receiver, Samuel was the most dynamic player on the Buckeyes roster. On defense, Raekwon McMillan has been excellent, but it is the departure of three members of the secondary that really hurts. Corners Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley earned coverage grades of 86.0 and 85.0, respectively, and combined for eight interceptions and 13 further passes defensed. Malik Hooker had seven picks and earned an 85.2 coverage grade, rangy ball-hawking safeties aren’t easy to find, he will definitely be missed. Few programs are as capable of dealing with attrition as the Buckeyes, but losing 13 underclassmen over the course of two seasons will stretch their resources.
Underclassmen lost: 4 – WR John Ross; DT Elijah Qualls; CB Sidney Jones; S Budda Baker
After a run to the College Football Playoff, it stands to reason that Washington would lose some talent. However, having only just returned to college football’s upper echelon, the Huskies roster isn’t as deep as the other contenders, leaving them less able to cope with high-profile departures. While speedy wide receiver John Ross had an excellent season, the offense should continue to improve, it’s the defensive losses that are a concern. Much of the Huskies success was derived from their defense, so losing Elijah Qualls (84.6 overall) from their vaunted defensive line is a blow, but it could have been worse — Qualls’ partners on the line, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines could also have declared. The secondary was less fortunate, with corner Sidney Jones (86.5) and safety Budda Baker (85.5), joining senior corner Kevin King (82.6) in the departure lounge.
Underclassmen lost: 3 – QB Mitch Trubisky; RB Elijah Hood; DT Nazair Jones
The Tar Heels lose three underclassmen, and each of them important to the team. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones was the team’s most disruptive run defender, he finished the season with an 86.5 run defense grade. Running back Elijah Hood was limited by injury, but still averaged 3.8 yards after contact, and forced one missed tackle for every 3.21 touches on offense, an impressive rate. The biggest loss is unquestionably that of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and while his decision is entirely understandable, the difference between the Tar Heels 2017 prospects with, and without Trubisky, is significant. If he had returned, the Tar Heels offense would have been led by a talented second-year, and likely improved, quarterback, a return to the ACC title game would have been a distinct possibility.
Underclassmen lost: 4 – QB Deshaun Watson; RB Wayne Gallman; WR Mike Williams; WR Artavis Scott
There is little surprise about Clemson’s losses — all four were expected to be NFL-bound — but expecting them and being able to cope with them are two very different things. Running back Wayne Gallman and receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott were all key contributors for the Tigers, but their production can be replaced, and their absences dealt with. The same cannot be said at the quarterback position, where Clemson loses Deshaun Watson, the best quarterback in program history and the key to the offense. Watson threw for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns, rushed for 707 more yards and another nine touchdowns (we don’t count yardage lost to sacks), and finished the season with a 91.2 overall grade. Clemson will choose his replacement from a bunch of highly recruited players, but it will not be easy to fill Watson’s boots.
Underclassmen lost: 3 – QB Jerod Evans; WR Isaiah Ford; TE Bucky Hodges
Virginia Tech loses three underclassmen — two of them expected, the third very much a surprise. The expected departures were Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. Ford has been the team’s best wide receiver since he started as a true freshman, leading the team in receiving in each of his three seasons in Blacksburg; Hodges, a tight end in name only, has been a red-zone weapon (as has Ford). They will be missed, but their departures were very much anticipated. The surprising departure is that of Jerod Evans, a JUCO transfer student and one-year starter, who was expected to return for his senior season. A dual-threat quarterback, Evans was the team’s leading rusher, with 1,001 yards (again not including yards lost to sacks) and 12 touchdowns, earning an excellent 91.2 rushing grade.