These college football players will replace the top early departures for the 2020 NFL Draft
Some players in college football are left with some big shoes to fill after the stars left early for the NFL
Programs across the country are now officially looking ahead to their 2020 rosters with the deadline for underclassmen to enter the 2020 NFL Draft now behind us, identifying positions of need to address during offseason. So as 99 underclassmen leave the college ranks, we, like those teams, begin to consider how some of the sport's brightest stars will be replaced in 2020.
In many cases, replacing production will be a team effort, but we've highlighted a few players to watch moving forward that could be difference-makers in 2020. Since Joe Burrow was a senior and not an underclassmen, the conversation begins with the 1b: the likely No. 2 overall pick from Ohio State.
Out: Ohio State DE Chase Young | In: Zach Harrison -- The revolving door of NFL talent continues under the leadership of defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Young stands out even among names like Joey and Nick Bosa, but there's a room full of players eager to have his opportunities in the Buckeyes defense. Harrison is a former five-star prospect who saw action in 10 games as a freshman this fall, and his ceiling suggests there's potential for a breakout season in 2020. Fifth-year senior Jonathon Cooper is also in the mix along with juniors Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday, giving Johnson another season with the potential to go deep in the rotation.
Out: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor | In: Nakia Watson -- Jalen Berger is a four-star prospect that committed to the Badgers earlier this month during the All-American Bowl. Berger is the No. 11 running back in the country and one of the highest rated high school prospects the program has signed at its premier position. Berger still can't sign until the next National Signing Day on Feb. 5, but if he does, there's a chance to be a freshman starter just like Taylor. But there are other options in that room, too, including Garrett Groshek who is the most experienced of the group with 41 career games to his name. But ultimately, Watson, the team's leading returning rusher, seems to have the best chance to be the Badgers' starting running back next season.
Out: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa | In: Mac Jones or Bryce Young -- Also relevant to this discussion is the early declarations of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, but what's the wide receiver concern if we don't have the quarterback position settled? Jones threw for seven touchdowns and just two interceptions in back-to-back 300-yard passing performances against Auburn and Michigan, showing Saban how the offense might look under his direction next season. Jones might be the high-floor option in this scenario, and whether you buy into him as Tua's replacement probably has to do with your opinion on Young. As an early enrollee, the former five-star prospect and No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class will get a chance to participate in spring practice. There, he will get to learn the offense and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will have an opportunity to see what wrinkles he could add to the existing playbook which highlight Young's skill set.
Out: LSU DB Grant Delpit | In: Maurice Hampton -- We're limiting to one highlighted position per school because, really, this entire story could revolve around LSU departures and potential replacements. The Tigers had nine underclassmen from the championship team declare for the NFL Draft, far exceeding even Alabama's second-most count of six. Hampton started in place of Delpit when the Tigers' safety was battling an ankle injury, and he's expected to have a lead on that starting strong safety spot heading into next season. In addition to Delpit, replacing basically the offensive line presents another huge challenge for Ed Orgeron, who also lost passing game coordinator Joe Brady to the Carolina Panthers and defensive coordiantor Dave Aranda to Baylor. Oh yeah, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow might leave big shoes to fill. LSU fans saw their wildest dreams come true in New Orleans, and now it's back to square one with a brand-new look in 2020.
Out: Georgia QB Jake Fromm | In: Jamie Newman -- For the first time in a couple years, Kirby Smart is going to have some unknowns on the offensive side of the football. Staff turnover and the commitment of Wake Forest grad transfer Jamie Newman point to opening the offense up in 2020 after the Bulldogs played bully ball on the offensive side of the football with Jake Fromm and a consistent rotation of physical running backs and offensive linemen. Newman ran an up-tempo attack at Wake Forest and kept defenses on their heels with his ability to pull the ball and run it himself. He was a top-20 player in terms of total offense last season, and there's belief that he could be a top-10 quarterback in the country with the Bulldogs.
Out: Clemson WR Tee Higgins | In: Justyn Ross (and many more) -- Ross is the first and most obvious answer for "who replaces Tee Higgins," but expectations for the Tigers in 2020 involve a little bit more than an increase in targets for the team's leading returning receiver. Higgins' departure opens the door for a sophomore breakout season from Joseph Ngata and/or Frank Ladson Jr. Amari Rodgers has another year of eligibility as well, meaning that Trevor Lawrence should have no shortage of options in the passing game.
Out: Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb | In: Charleston Rambo -- This one hurts for Sooners fans who know that Lamb was one of the program's most electric players in the modern era. Rambo was by far the second-most targeted wide receiver and returns with expectations to lead the wide receiver room, but it's going to take some hard work from the entire offense to create the explosive plays that Lamb seemed to create on his own at least once per game.
Out: Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos | In: Micah Parsons -- Parsons, a linebacker, doesn't play the same position as Gross-Matos but he's the next man up when it comes to leading the pass rush efforts for the Nittany Lions defense. Parsons had five sacks in 2019 to Gross-Matos' 9.5, and 14 tackles for loss to Gross-Matsos' 15. After flashes as a freshman and sophomore of solid play, look for Parsons to be one of college football's stars in 2020 with a chance to make his own early entry decision in 2021.
Out: Baylor DL James Lynch | In: Dave Aranda -- The recently hired former LSU assistant is one of the top defensive coaches in the game right now, and it's a good thing for Baylor considering the massive turnover on the defensive line. The Bears started two seniors and Lynch on the front line of a 3-3-5 set, leaving sophomore Chidi Ogbonnaya and freshman TJ Franklin as the backups with the most significant 2020 experience heading into spring practice. Lynch was a first team All-Big 12 performer and the defensive line was such a huge piece of how the entire Bears defense worked, but now that Aranda is in Waco, there are likely going to be changes to the scheme and personnel coming. Lynch was an All-Big 12 performer who frequently showed up in key moments of the 2019 title game run, so replacing him will be important. But there were so many senior starters on the Bears defense that the only answer to how to replace them is their new head coach.
Out: Iowa DL A.J. Epensea | In: Chauncey Golston -- Iowa fans have been preparing for Epenesa's early exit since the start of the season, so his announcement doesn't come as a surprise. Epenesa lived up to the hype with 11.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Golston, a starter opposite Epenesa, will get more attention next season, and some combination of sophomore John Waggoner and senior Zach VanValkenburg seems to be the plan for Epenesa's position.
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