The 5 SEC teams who were hurt the most from early entries for NFL Draft
Everyone knows it’s coming. Whether they can brace for it and roll with the punches is a different question.
I’m of course referring to the early draft entries, some of whom leave their teams with gaping holes to fill.
Plenty of SEC teams suffered key losses as a result of players leaving for the NFL. Who suffered the most?
I ranked the top 5:
5. Ole Miss
Early departures — WR A.J. Brown, WR D.K. Metcalf, OL Greg Little
It’s quality, not quantity here. Consider this. The 5-win Rebels might have 3 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, all of whom were underclassmen. That’s pretty remarkable.
Not surprisingly, they’re all on the offensive side of the ball. What Brown and Metcalf did to make Ole Miss exciting during the 2-year sanction period cannot be understated. And losing a player like Little certainly wasn’t surprising, though you could bet Matt Luke would love to have one more year of him protecting the blindside.
New offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez will have some significant holes to fill on offense for a group that was blessed with loads of talent on the outside the past couple years.
4. Texas A&M
Early departures — RB Trayveon Williams, TE Jace Sternberger, LB Tyrel Dodson, OL Erik McCoy
I could make a good case to put the Aggies as high as No. 2 on this list. Why? Well, they lost a first-team All-SEC running back, an All-American tight end, a 2-year starting linebacker and a 3-year starting center. That’s a ton of experience, talent and production.
Williams and Sternberger, especially, were revelations in Year 1 of Jimbo Fisher’s offense. The Aggies had a 1-2 punch that few offenses had, and they probably weren’t likely choices to leave school early heading into the 2018 season. Both found a happy home and now will get paid as a result.
The good news for the Aggies is that Fisher recruited even better than expected. The roster depth is in a much better place than it was a couple of years ago, and the losses probably won’t prevent A&M from starting the season as a top-15 team.
Early departures — WR Mecole Hardman, WR Riley Ridley, TE Isaac Nauta, RB Elijah Holyfield
Let’s start with the good news. J.R. Reed and Rodrigo Blankenship are back. Those are some key returns that Georgia fans are grateful for. And hey, the Dawgs didn’t lose any defensive players early to the draft. It could have been much worse.
As for the offense? Yeah, that’s a ton of talent to lose.
That’s a 1,000-yard rusher and the Dawgs’ 3 leading receivers. That doesn’t include the graduated Terry Godwin or the transferring 2018 blue-chip recruits Justin Fields and Luke Ford. This discussion, however, is just about early NFL Draft entries. Fortunately, having a 2-year starter in Jake Fromm and consecutive top-2 recruiting classes will ease the blow.
Early entrees are going to be par for the course as long as Smart as in Athens. From now on, we should probably assume that at least a handful of Dawgs will leave early for the NFL.
Early departures — DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DE Jachai Polite, LB Vosean Joseph, RB Jordan Scarlett, OL Jawaan Taylor
One assumed that after the year that was in Gainesville, there were going to be several players hoping to cash in. Did Dan Mullen expect 5 Gators would leave early for the NFL? Probably not, but he won’t mind having a slew of players come off the board early. Taylor and Polite could be first-round guys and Gardner-Johnson probably won’t be very far behind them.
Todd Grantham wishes he could’ve had multiple years with Polite and Joseph, who thrived in his system. That probably extends to Gardner-Johnson, who benefitted from their ability to get pressure on the quarterback. All of them were more than capable of taking advantage of mistakes.
Fortunately for Florida’s defense, David Reese, Jabari Zuniga and Adam Shuler decided to return. Offensively, leading rusher Lamical Perine and leading receiver Van Jefferson are back, as well, as is the underused weapon Kadarius Toney.
Still, the Gators lost a wealth of key pieces early and it’ll make that daunting 2019 slate even more difficult.
Early departures — CB Saivion Smith, S Deionte Thompson, TE Irv Smith, RB Josh Jacobs, OL Jonah Williams, LB Mack Wilson, DL Quinnen Williams
Lather, rinse, repeat.
This year is special, even for Alabama standards. Never has it had 7 players leave early for the draft. Including last year, that’s 12 players in a 12-month stretch who have left Tuscaloosa early for the NFL.
That isn’t just recruiting 5-star studs, either. That’s development. Guys like Jacobs and Smith were 3-star recruits. Williams was outside of the top 100 recruits and he was easily the best defensive player in the country as a redshirt sophomore. He’ll be Alabama’s biggest loss, and given the rare lack of depth at the position, you could argue that Smith will be the Crimson Tide’s second-toughest loss.
The good news is that unlike last year with the secondary, no one position group was hit too hard. The early entries were spread out pretty well position-wise.
It’ll be a strange day when Alabama isn’t losing more early draft talent than anyone. Today, however, is definitely not that day.