Next men up: Potential 2018 stars filling the biggest shoes in college football
These are the players who have to replace not only star value but major production next season
Who can replace a legend? That's the question a lot of teams in college football are asking this spring. The good news for a few teams is that they actually have an answer but a few of those teams actually have an answer. As we say goodbye to some NFL-bound titans of the college game, here are a few players that may effectively step into those shoes.
Out: Baker Mayfield | In? Kyler Murray -- Murray still has to win the starting job from Austin Kendall, and while that's no given, Murray has the upside to do Mayfield stuff on the field. Remember, this is the guy that threw for over 8,384 yards, rushed for 2,826 yards and compiled a 31-0 record during his junior and senior seasons in high school at one of the top programs in the country. He's small but dynamic and should provide plenty of highlights reminiscent of Mayfield.
Penn State running back
Out: Saquon Barkley | In? Miles Sanders -- There is no replacing Barkley, but don't let last season's 33-carry workload from Sanders fool you. This is a talented back who has been waiting his turn as Barkley received heavy workloads in State College, Pennsylvania. Sanders was an Under Armour All-American, actually had better athletic testing numbers than Barkley coming out of high school and brings similar explosiveness to Barkley ... if not quite the same power.
Oklahoma State wide receiver
Out: James Washington | In? Tyron Johnson -- Replacing a Biletnikoff Award winner is no small task, but at Oklahoma State, Washington isn't even the only 1,000 receiver departing. Combined, Washington and Marcell Ateman accounted for over 2,700 of Oklahoma State's 5,059 receiving yards last fall. Jalen McCleskey is the most accomplished returner, but Johnson is the guy that will need to step things up. Johnson is a former five-star prospect and LSU transfer that has the downfield size and playmaking ability that Washington and Ateman showed. He has yet to live up to his lofty billing coming out of high school, but the physical tools are there and the opportunity awaits this fall.
Alabama wide receiver
Out: Calvin Ridley | In? Henry Ruggs -- With 967 yards receiving last fall, Ridley has 366 percent more production as a pass catcher than any other Alabama wide receiver. He leaves a huge void and yet the Tide is incredibly well-equipped to compensate. Ruggs, with 229 yards, was the team's third-leading receiver last year, but he also led the team in touchdown receptions with six on only 12 catches. He's the fastest, most talented receiver in a loaded room and yet he's nowhere close to his ceiling. Look for 2018 to be his breakout year.
USC running back & receiver
Out: Ronald Jones II | In? Stephen Carr -- If not for injuries, Carr would already be one of college football's household names. Early in the season as a true freshman, Carr was one of the most exciting young players in the nation. He rushed for 119 yards against Stanford, 82 more against Cal and in a close game against Western Michigan he scored twice on seven carries, averaging nearly 10 yards per tote. From a talent standpoint, Carr is every bit the player that Jones was last season. But injuries as a freshman limited him, and he's sitting out the spring after having back surgery, so health will be the key to Carr breaking out again in the fall.
Out: Deontay Burnett | In? Tyler Vaughns -- Jones isn't the only dynamic playmaker that has to be replaced for USC. Burnett was a Biletnikoff semifinalist in 2017 with 1,114 receiving yards. He developed steadily over the course of his USC career, and we're about to see the same kind of development out of Vaughns. Vaughns redshirted his freshman season as he added weight and strength and last fall really came into his own late in the year. His 119 yard receiving day against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl punctuated a season in which he had become one of USC's most reliable targets in big moments.
Out: Dante Pettis | In? Chico McClatcher -- Washington's offense took a step back in 2017 with the departure of John Ross and with Dante Pettis as the only viable perimeter option. With Pettis gone in 2018, the pressure is on for Washington to find not only multiple threats in the pass game but also in the return game. McClatcher is hoping he can be that guy. Though he's small, McClatcher's speed makes him a matchup problem in space and he has experience in the return game. If you can pair McClatcher with another bigger receiver like Ty Jones that can be a legitimate vertical threat, Washington can suddenly feel much better about the future of its pass game.
Out: Roquan Smith | In? Channing Tindall -- Nobody on the Georgia roster will be able to replicate what Smith -- a probable first round NFL Draft pick -- was able to do for that defense in 2017. There are guys that can be suitable replacements on campus now, guys that can be really good SEC players, but the one guy with the upside to grow into a Roquan Smith-type of player is incoming freshman Tindall. He's 6-foot-3, 220-plus pounds. He's the best athlete at the position in the Class of 2018, and he's a striker. It will be interesting to see how quickly the summer arrival can pick up that Georgia defense and whether we'll need to wait until 2019 before he breaks out.
NC State defensive end
Out: Bradley Chubb | In? Darian Roseboro -- The depth and talent along the NC State front has muted how talented Roseboro is on the field. He's only started two games in his career, but he's about to watch the guys that were in front of him sign some pretty lucrative NFL contracts. Despite his backup role, Roseboro still ranks 15th in school history with 13.5 career sacks including seven as a sophomore in 2016. It's now Roseboro's opportunity to be the focal point of that NC State defensive front and he's got the ability to make some serious noise.
Notre Dame guard
Out: Quenton Nelson | In? Alex Bars -- Notre Dame had the best offensive line in college football last fall in the eyes of a lot of experts. Bars was part of that unit, starting at right guard. He also started at right tackle as a sophomore and filled in some for Nelson at left guard as a redshirt freshman. Nelson is likely to be the first offensive lineman off the board in this April's NFL Draft, so replacing him will be less about filling a spot on a depth chart and more about setting the tone that Nelson manufactured. It's time for Bars to be that leader on a unit that still returns a lot of NFL level talent.
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