5 SEC teams with biggest roster questions in 2017
It’s the same story every year: Seniors exit the program and top juniors are lured into early departures by the bright lights and big money of the NFL. Some programs simply reload while others struggle for replacements.
Looking at the latter, here are five SEC teams that will be charged with the biggest tasks of replacing those who have departed their respective programs.
Tennessee: Butch Jones will have his hands full in filling some extremely big shoes. Obviously finding a talent equal to that of QB Joshua Dobbs is virtually impossible, but perhaps just as difficult will be trying to replace DE Derek Barnett, who declared early for the NFL Draft.
The Vols’ career leader in sacks (33), most of any college player over the past three seasons, Barnett might have been overshadowed by some bigger names in the game but few could equal his production.
In addition, Tennessee must replace its leading receiver (Josh Malone) and its leader in all-purpose yardage (Alvin Kamara) among others.
LSU: New head coach Ed Orgeron stepped into a precarious situation in Baton Rouge. Sure RB Derrius Guice will help make the loss of Leonard Fournette to the draft as seamless a transition as possible. But who will step up in place of DEs Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux, WRs Travin Dural and Malachi Dupree, OL Ethan Pocic and Josh Boutte, LBs Tashawn Bower and Duke Riley, and DBs Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White?
Few teams returned more talent in 2016 than the Tigers, and few will have to replace more in 2017.
That’s a lot of patchwork to piece together before next fall. Orgeron’s first full season as head coach will be an extremely busy one.
Florida: The Gators perhaps don’t have as many gaps to fill as the Vols, then again who does, but still there are some areas of concern, especially on defense. The strength of the program since the arrival of Jim McElwain has been its defense, and that’s why this offseason is producing some anxiety. Six starters are gone from that squad, which ranked second in the SEC behind Alabama in total yards allowed per game.
Replacing CB Teez Tabor is tough enough. But with fellow CB Quincy Wilson following suit and also leaving early for the NFL Draft, McElwain is left scrambling for experienced talent at the position. And that’s not even counting the departure of linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, as well as linemen Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox, Jr.
Texas A&M: In addition to having to replace QB Trevor Knight, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies will he hard-pressed to find suitable successors to DEs Myles Garrett (below) and Daeshon Hall. Likewise, LB Shaan Washington and S Justin Evans will be sorely missed, as will senior OTs Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor.
Sumlin pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he plucked Knight from Oklahoma. He’ll need to come up with more magic tricks if he hopes to keep the Aggies at the 8-9 win level.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are relatively thin in the ranks and losing a LB the caliber of a Zach Cunningham could prove devastating in regards to the 2017 season. The SEC leader in tackles, with 125, Cunningham gradually increased his productivity until his breakout season as a redshirt junior. It was his second consecutive 100-plus tackles season, so finding anyone even close to those numbers would be a equivalent to a minor miracle.
The Commodores have quite a lot coming back next season, but filling the gaping hole left by the early departure to the draft by Cunningham won’t be at all an easy task.