|Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel is expected to be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft. (US Presswire)|
Now that the deadline for underclassmen entering the NFL Draft has passed, time to check in on the programs hit the hardest by early departure and yes, it's the SEC took the brunt of the early exits.
1. LSU: The Tigers lost a staggering number of good players who are leaving Baton Rouge early. In all, if you include Tyrann Mathieu, who would technically be a senior in 2013, LSU loses 11 players and five of those guys figure to be among the first two rounds in the April NFL Draft: Sam Montgomery, Keke Mingo, Eric Reid, Bennie Logan and Kevin Minter. The Tigers defense also loses rangy CB Tharold Simon and, of course, Mathieu. The departees, if you also add in the stats of outgoing punter Brad Wing and Michael Ford, accounted for 388 tackles, 43 TFLs and 16.5 sacks, and that's just from the guys who had eligibility remaining. Also gone, OT Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Ford. Tiger sources say almost all of the departures were expected. An exception: Minter, who proved to be a revelation in 2012 and had 130 tackles and 15 TFLs, came on so fast last season that no one before the year inside the program would've imagined he'd have the chance to bolt.
As for the two backs, keep in mind they probably were going to get limited action because young Jeremy Hill has taken over and established himself as The Guy at LSU now. Plus, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are still there. As for the defense, there are still plenty of studs up front with Anthony Johnson (10 TFLs) and Ego Ferguson along with Jermauria Rasco. A few other positives in the wake of all the departures: safety Craig Loston blossomed last season (55 tackles, three INTs), and he opted to come back. Jamie Keehn, who filled in for Wing, also averaged almost 44 yards per punt.
2. Tennessee: There is a pretty big gap between what LSU lost and the next batch of teams. I went with the Vols here because they not only lost a three-year starter in Tyler Braybut also will provide the NFL Draft with this year's two biggest "Freak" wideouts in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. D-lineman Darrington Sentimore was inconsistent but did manage four sacks in his one season at UT.
3. Florida: The Gators' defense, which was so solid until the Sugar Bowl, lost three really talented guys -- one at each level of the defense. DT Sharrif Floyd could be dominant (13 TFLs, two blocked kicks) while safety Matt Elam was a playmaker in the secondary (76 tackles, 11 TFLs, four INTs). LB Jelani Jenkins struggled with injuries and didn't have much to show for his time at UF in terms of production. Versatile TE Jordan Reed, who caught 45 passes for 559 yards, also will be missed. DT Dominique Easley (8.5 TFLs) is a guy some suspected might jump but didn't.
4. Texas A&M: The bad news: Many are touting two Aggie juniors as the top two picks in the draft: LT Luke Joeckel and DE Damontre Moore. The latter really stepped up in 2012, becoming much more of an effort guy. The good news: OT Jake Matthews surprised some by announcing he is coming back for 2013. Aggie O-line coach B.J. Anderson sure was relieved when hearing he still had Matthews, who will slide over to left tackle, while he is confident in shifting starting OG Cedric Ogbuehi to right tackle. A&M is counting on Julien Obioha, who started 12 games as a true freshman in 2012, to step up in the wake of Moore's exit.
5. Florida State: The loaded Noles defense was stacked on the D-line going into the 2012 season, but injuries took their toll and now FSU loses standout DE Bjoern Werner (18 TFLs, 13 sacks). Worse still, CB Xavier Rhodes, a stud in the secondary (three INTs), also has jumped. Menelik Watson, who emerged at OT in 2012, will be missed on the O-line, but junior Bobby Hart has some experience and figures to get a long look in the spring as the replacement.
6. Georgia: Given all of the supposed future NFL talent the Dawgs had in 2012, they certainly seemed to underwhelm (No. 6 in the SEC in total defense and in scoring defense). But they'll still really, really miss OLB Jarvis Jones, who had 24.5 TFLs and has declared for the NFL Draft, and they'll also miss two others who will enter the draft: leading tackler Alec Ogletree as well as big DT Kwame Geathers (40 tackles, five TFLs). Expect rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins (eight TFLs) to emerge one of the Dawgs new stars in 2013.
7. Alabama: The two-time defending BCS champs would be higher on this list if not for the fact that they've proven so adept at replacing stars. Still, each of the three underclassmen moving on were standouts in 2012. Eddie Lacy still has some Notre Dame fans cringing, and imposing OT D.J. Fluker already has NFL scouts doing triple takes at his frame. DB Dee Milliner was one of the nation's top DBs in 2012. The O-line, which also loses standout OG Chance Warmack and versatile Barrett Jones (both seniors), will have its hands full replacing three key guys. The other two departures should be more seamless, especially with young T.J. Yeldon, a budding star at tailback, already having broken through.
8. Oklahoma: A team that got destroyed its last time out in the Cotton Bowl by Texas A&M also lost three good underclassmen. Kenny Stills was OU's leading receiver with 82 catches for almost 1,000 yards and 11 TDs, and Tony Jefferson led the team in tackles by far with 111. Tom Wort (53 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, two FFs) also left early.
9. Michigan State: The Spartans had a disappointing season, especially on offense (No 108 in total offense), but the one aspect of the attack that did shine was Le'Veon Bell, who averaged 138 rushing yards per game. He left early, as did big TE Dion Sims (36 catches, 475 yards). Talented DE William Gholston also has exited MSU after making 50 tackles and 12 TFLs in 2012.
10. Stanford: David Shaw's program has made more than its share of tight ends, but he loses two very good ones in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. They combined for 95 catches and 10 TDs last season. CB Terrence Brown (65 tackles) was an honorable mention All-Pac 12 performance, and he won't be back. But the Cardinal still should be excellent on defense with Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov all opting to return to Palo Alto.