2019 NFL Draft: Top college football players who spurned the pros to return for another season

Several college football stars decided to bail on our lovely sport to head to the NFL, and potentially make millions playing the game that we love. It is sad to see Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, LSU linebacker Devin White, Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver and the rest of them to go, but there are still plenty of players who passed on the NFL to come back to college for another shot at glory.

Who are the best players who decided to return to school? Here's a breakdown.

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: The return of the 6-foot-6, 233-pound rising senior was perhaps the biggest surprise of the young offseason. Herbert was sensational last year for the Ducks, throwing for 3,151 yards, 29 touchdowns, only eight interceptions and added two more rushing touchdowns just for good measure. Herbert will have another year in coach Mario Cristobal's program to grow with a solid rushing game led by CJ Verdell to fall back on, as the Ducks look to replace leading receiver Dillon Mitchell. With Herbert's skills and leadership in the locker room, the Ducks could make a run at the College Football Playoff. 

Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn: If Herbert was the biggest surprise returnee, Brown probably fits that category on the defensive side. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound rising senior with the strength to play inside, violent hands and surprising quickness notched 48 tackles last season, had 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries. Even when Brown isn't making tackles, the attention defenses are forced to pay to him and his ability to disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage make him one of the most dangerous defensive players in the game. 

Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State: The 6-foot-3, 245-pound rising senior tied for the team lead in tackles last year with 81, and is one of several Buckeyes who chose to stick around Columbus for Ryan Day's first full season as head coach. In addition to his tackling prowess, Harrison had 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and broke up four passes. Defense was the Achilles' heel that derailed the Buckeyes' College Football Playoff hopes in 2018, and Harrison's return will go a long way toward fixing the problem in 2019.

Jordan Fuller, DB, Ohio State: Who did Harrison tie for the team lead in tackles? Fuller, of course. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound rising senior safety is a force against the run, picked off a pass a year ago, broke up four more passes and is one of the most versatile defensive backs in the country. With Fuller and Harrison back, the Buckeyes will likely be the preseason favorite in the Big Ten.

Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: Instead of going one-and-done in Ann Arbor, the rising senior is going to give it one more shot with the Wolverines in a critical year for coach Jim Harbaugh. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder threw for 2,600 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and rushed for 273 yards and two more scores -- all while Harbaugh slowly tried to build the offense around him. The offense couldn't go point-for-point with Ohio State and Florida to close the season, so it'll be up to Patterson and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to make the Wolverines more explosive in 2019.

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Patterson will be the key to Michigan's success in 2019. USATSI

Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama: The Crimson Tide were hit hard by departures, but Davis' decision to stick around will serve as the jumping off point for a defense that depends heavily on its versatile linemen playing at the top of their games. Davis had 55 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last year on a unit that not only rotates quite a bit, but didn't see the field very much in the second halves of games thanks to the Tide's undefeated regular season. At 6-foot-7, 316 pounds, Davis is a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines. 

Zack Moss, RB, Utah: The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder was having one of the nation's best seasons going until a knee injury ended his 2018 campaign after the Nov. 3 game at Arizona State. Prior to that, the rising senior from Florida toted the rock 179 times for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns. He finished second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game at 121.78, and sixth overall in rushing yards despite missing five games.

Collin Johnson, WR, Texas: If Texas truly is back, the return of the 6-foot-6, 220-pound monster will play a big role in determining if Tom Herman's crew is a true College Football Playoff threat. He caught 68 passes for 985 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago alongside Lil'Jordan Humphrey. With Humphrey gone and quarterback Sam Ehlinger entrenched as the starting quarterback, the ceiling for Johnson is as high as any wide receiver in the country.

Rashard Lawrence, DE, LSU: The Tigers are typically decimated by early entrants to the draft, but this offseason is a welcomed change for Tigers fans. The most notable returnee is Lawrence, who was a force off the edge for Ed Orgeron's crew in 2018. The 6-foot-3, 317-pounder had 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season. He did his best work down the stretch, when he had five tackles and a sack in the regular season finale vs. Texas A&M, and took over the Fiesta Bowl win over UCF with four tackles for loss and two sacks.

K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford: The Pac-12 North is wide open in 2019, and the Cardinal offense will be in good hands with their senior signal-caller back. Quietly, Costello threw for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2018, and produced one of the most prolific passing seasons in program history. What's even more impressive is that Costello had very little help from his rushing attack despite Bryce Love lining up in the backfield for the majority of the season. 

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Stanford QB K.J. Costello USATSI

Kenny Willekes, DL, Michigan State: The season didn't end the right way for the 6-foot-4, 260-pound rising senior when he broke his leg in the Redbox Bowl, and he intends to finish with a bang in 2019. The 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year had a whopping 20.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and will be the centerpiece of the Spartans defense heading into the offseason. Mark Dantonio's defense should be one of the nation's best thanks to his return and that of linebacker Joe Bachie.

Lamical Perine, RB, Florida: Perine led the Gators in rushing in 2018 with 826 yards and seven touchdowns, and will be the unquestioned No. 1 back thanks to the departure of Jordan Scarlett. At 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, Perine is fast enough to be dangerous on the edge but does most of his damage between the tackles. In an offense that will undoubtedly expand in coach Dan Mullen's second season at the helm, Perine's return could be the key piece for a potential SEC East title run.

K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State: The 6-foot, 198-pound rising senior was the second-leading receiver for the Buckeyes last season when he caught 68 passes for 865 yards and six touchdowns. With Parris Campbell gone, Hill will likely slide into the No. 1 role for Ryan Day's offense. The player throwing him the passes is still unknown. But whether it's Justin Fields or somebody else, the Buckeyes passing attack will be just fine with Hill lining up outside.

Kristian Fulton, DB, LSU: The next in line to be "DB1" at "DBU" is Fulton, after the 6-foot, 190-pound native of Metairie, Louisiana, decided to come back and be the leader of the Tigers secondary. In his first season back from a suspension, Fulton had 25 tackles, one for loss, one interception and nine pass breakups for coordinator Dave Aranda's defense. 

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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