Impact of early departures on SEC teams
JAN 16, 2014 11:42a ET
Eight All-Americans are gone. A Heisman Trophy winner is gone. Two of the biggest names in college football are gone.
The SEC is no stranger to losing stars early to the NFL draft, but this year's list of departing underclassmen might be the biggest exodus since Moses hit the desert of Shur.
Kouandjio struggled in the Sugar Bowl, but the fact remains that he was a veteran left tackle with 27 straight starts protecting AJ McCarron's blindside. Five-star prospect Cameron Robinson, the nation's top-ranked tackle, could step in but there's a likely step back at the position after such stability.
The bigger issue for the Tide after the defections is in the secondary, which had yearlong issues at cornerback. Now the unit is without Clinton-Dix and Sunseri, the ladder of which was a surprising exit.
Juniors-to-be Landon Collins and Geno Smith will bring talent in Clinton-Dix and Sunseri's leave, but without the leadership Sunseri brings young corners like Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson will have to mature in a hurry.
There could be some growing pains a year after Alabama allowed more than 387 yards through the air twice.
While it's unclear who will be the Tide's starting QB, the offense did get a boost with the return of DeAndrew White, who was tied for second on the team in receiving TDs (four) and third in yards (534) last season.
Mason became a household name under Gus Malzahn, running his way to the Heisman ceremony with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns.
While Malzahn may open things up more in the passing game with a full offseason with QB Nick Marshall, chances are we'll still see a healthy running game on The Plains.
The options to replace Mason as the lead runner are seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, youngsters Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford and incoming freshman Racean Thomas, but Mason is putting his support behind Barber.
On Barber, a high school teammate of end Carl Lawson, Mason told AL.com: "That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."
It's not as clear what will happen without Robinson, who led a line that paved the way for a nation's best 328.3 yards per game on the ground.
Redshirt freshman Shon Coleman backed up Robinson last year, but there's the potential either Avery Young or Patrick Miller, both of whom started at right tackle could move. Malzahn has also touted Robert Leff, but he has yet to start in two seasons.
The strength of the Gators last season was unquestionably its eight-ranked defense. But that unit will have a very different look with four of its top players off to the NFL.
Easley was lost at practice in late September, so the Gators have already dealt with live without him. The same with Powell, who missed all of '12.
Meanwhile, the secondary now has just three corners on scholarship heading into spring -- junior Brian Poole, sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III and redshirt freshman Nick Washington -- but help may be on the way with four-stars have already committed in Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and Jalen Tabor.
With nine players with starting experience back and a pass that rush should remain strong with the likes of Dante Fowler (3 1/2 sacks) and incoming five-star end Gerald Willis, this D should still be among the elite.
Losing mass amounts of players to the pros is nothing new to Les Miles, who had 10 bolt a year ago. But from an offensive standpoint, this go-round hurts.
The Tigers are now without 77.4 of their receiving yards from this last season and 53.2 percent of their rushing yards.
But the most receptions on the roster now belong to Travin Dural, who has seven, and only Melvin Jones has a receiving touchdown. Losing both Beckham and Landry is a critical blow there.
Ferguson and Johnson leave a hole in the middle of the D-line, but with sacks leader Danielle Hunter, seven other starts and six incoming four- or five-star recruits, it remains a deep, talented group.
The Tigers did get positive news before the deadline as well, All-SEC tackle La'el Collins and defensive ends Jermuria Rasco and Jordan Allen joining Hilliard and Magee by staying in Baton Rouge.
Not only do the Tigers see Michael Sams' eligibility run out, but Ealy also left, leaving them without two of the biggest keys to their SEC East title run.
But Gary Pinkel may not see a huge drop off if Shane Ray continues to build off his breakout season. He had 39 tackles, including nine for loss with 4 1/2 sacks and delivered a 73-yard fumble return for a score in the Cotton Bowl.
Josey's departure after a wildly successful comeback in which he ran for 1,166 yards takes away one of the most dependable backs in school history -- he was just the second Tigers RB to go over 1,000 yards twice -- but there is depth with Russell Hansbrough (685 yards) and Marcus Murphy (601) .
Who's gone: Donte Moncrief, WR
He exits Oxford ranking in the top three in every career receiving category after catching 156 passes for 2,371 yards and 20 TDs in three years.
Moncrief will be missed, but he also saw a downturn in '13 with 56 receptions for 938 yards and six scores after hauling in 66 balls for 979 and 10 scores as a sophomore. That had something to do with the arrival of then-freshman Laquon Treadwell, who led the team with 72 catches.
Treadwell broke Moncrief's first-year player records for receptions (67), yards (557) and TDs (five) in being named SEC freshman of the year, and now seems a natural to move into his role within the offense.
Gerald Dixon, a 6-foot-2, 268-pound end, appeared in 13 games last season, making 17 tackles with 1 1/2 for loss; his brother Gerald Dixon Jr., who is a 6-foot-3, 318-pound tackle, had 18 stops, including 2 1/2 for loss.
For those wondering, the boys, born months apart, were named after their father, Gerald Sr., a linebacker at South Carolina from 1990-91.
Who's gone: Antonio Richardson, OT
The Volunteers are going to have an entirely new look on both of their lines next season, losing all of their starters -- and no departure hurts more than Tiny's.
Richardson, at 6-6, 327 pounds appeared in 36 games, including 24 consecutive starts at left tackle. In that span of starts, Tennessee allowed 23 sacks, including just eight in 2012.
Redshirt junior Jacob Gilliam is listed as Richardson's backup on the depth chart, but he's virtually inexperienced, playing in two games in '13 and one in '12.
If it's not Gilliam, Butch Jones should have plenty of options to pick from with commitments from three tackles in four-star Dontavius Blair (6-7, 300) and three-stars Ray Raulerson (6-5, 275) and Orlando Brown (6-7, 340).
The question is, who will Ogbuehi be protecting and who will be said QB's chief target?
No matter your feelings on him, Manziel's impact and his legacy are undeniable and the replacing him is going to be near impossible. But the Aggies will have some intriguing possibilities to pick up the pieces.
Senior Matt Joeckel is the most experienced with 335 career attempts and he started in place of the suspended Manziel in the opener. But he's more of a pocket passer, which wouldn't seem to allow Kevin Sumlin's offense to be at its most dangerous.
Sophomore-to-be Kenny Hill has mobility and experience in a spread coming out of Texas power Southlake Carroll, but at this point he's an unknown commodity with just 22 passes thrown in four games.
The wild card here is early enrollee Kyle Allen from Desert Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.). Graded as a pro-style passer, he doesn't have the speed of Manziel or Hill, but, if his highlights are any indication, is strong throwing on the run.
Statistically, Malcome Kennedy would be most likely to step into Evans' role as the go-to receiver as the Aggies returning leader in receptions (60), yards (658) and TDs (seven). But at 6-5, 240, Ricky Seals-Jones is more similar to Evans (6-5, 225) and can provide the same matchup nightmares for DBs and LBs.
Who's gone: Chris Boyd, WR
This one doesn't have a major impact on the Commodores given that Boyd was dismissed earlier this year for his involvement in helping to cover up an alleged off-campus rape.
Jordan Cunningham has the most receptions with 15 as a freshman, followed by Trent Pruitt with three, and most glaringly, the Commodores won't bring back a TD from the WR position.
But at this point it looks like Vanderbilt will have to depend on Cunningham or Pruitt stepping up with no help (at this point) coming from the recruiting side after 6-4, 215-pound Kameron Uter de-committed after James Franklin left for Penn State.