Several top players have already made official declarations to the NFL, and we already know which players are graduating.
Let’s take an early look at every SEC West team and one player who will be missed the most:
Alabama: QB AJ McCarron
Buzz: It’s not that McCarron isn’t replaceable, but there are just so many questions as to which quarterback will do it. The Tide are stacked at the position, so numbers isn’t a problem. But to actually develop a quarterback and mold him into a McCarron-like player will prove more difficult than expected. It does help that the Tide have a loaded backfield and receiving cast in place. We’ll wait and see on which players return along the offensive line. McCarron won two championships and one SEC title, and he’ll go down as Alabama’s best quarterback in history. No pressure to the new guy.
Arkansas: DE Chris Smith
Buzz: Arkansas has several holes to fill, but none are bigger than DE Chris Smith. Smith finished with 11.5 tackles for loss and led the team with 8.5 sacks and six QB hurries. Smith embodies the essence of toughness like what Bret Bielema is trying to build at Arkansas. The reason Trey Flowers was so potent was furthered by how dynamic Smith really was.
Auburn: OT Greg Robinson
Buzz: Little known to the SEC or college football, Greg Robinson made himself into a first-round pick as the anchor of the Tigers’ offensive line. RB Tre Mason is likely to enter the draft, and DE Ford is gone. But there are players in the system there now to replace both playmakers, but Robinson was a road grader who helped Auburn have the most dominant running game in the country. You just don’t replace Robinson’s type of talent.
LSU: QB Zach Mettenberger
Buzz: The quarterback who starts will dictate LSU’s offense. This year – and for two years, it was Zach Mettenberger. LSU’s 2013 explosive offense loses several catalysts, but Mett took his game to another level and improved as a player and leader. He threw for over 3,000 yards and completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 22 TDs and eight INTs. With Mett now gone – and we got a glimpse of it in the bowl game – his production, leadership and talent will be tough to replace.
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Mississippi State: DB Nickoe Whitley
Buzz: MSU’s weathered veteran on defense will be gone next season. Nickoe Whitley finished with 55 tackles and five INTs. There’s a nice young nucleus returning on both sides of the ball, but Whitley is the toughest to replace in the secondary. He was the lone returning starter that held the defensive backs together this season, and his production and leadership will be missed. Whitley picked off an incredible 15 passes during his career.
Ole Miss: WR Donte Moncrief
Buzz: Rising sophomore Laquon Treadwell immediately becomes the top receiver with Moncrief going to the NFL. Receiver Ja-Mes Logan will also be gone because he’s a senior. That’s two of the top receivers not returning, and replacing Moncrief’s production will be tough. Jeff Scott graduated, and MLB Mike Marry will be tough to replace, too, but it will be tougher to find another threat like Moncrief that will keep double coverages away Treadwell.
Texas A&M: QB Johnny Manziel
Buzz: Surprise, right? The offense will change and will look more like Kase Keenum in Kevin Sumlin’s offense next season. You don’t just replace Manziel’s production, but in essence, a cast of Mike Evans-less players will have to take their games to the next level. Returning QBs Matt Joeckel and Kenny Hill will battle with incoming freshman Kyle Allen for the starting gig. Regardless of the Aggies’ offense, college football loses entertainment value without Johnny Football.
Photo Credit: Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE