Monday, Jan. 15 was the final day underclassmen could declare for the 2018 NFL draft. Many of the decisions by juniors and redshirt sophomores to declare for the draft like UCLA QB Josh Rosen and USC QB Sam Darnold were unsurprising. Some decisions by players like Stanford RB Bryce Love and Clemson DL Christian Wilkins to stay in school were surprising.
With the deadline now in the past. Let’s take a brief look at some of the teams who were impacted — either positively or negatively — by players’ draft decisions.
Clemson: Holy crap, it’s more and more remarkable just how much talent is returning to Clemson in 2018. The return of LB Kendall Joseph, DE Austin Bryant and CB Mark Fields made some sense, but we’re stunned that DE Clelin Ferrell and especially DL Christian Wilkins decided to come back for their senior seasons. They were both possible first-round picks.
Bryant, Ferrell and Wilkins return with sophomore Dexter Lawrence to form what will be the best defensive line in the country in 2018. And, perhaps because the team was prepping to lose two or three players to the draft, they’ll be joined by two five-star recruits on the defensive front. Clemson signed five-star defensive end Xavier Thomas in December. Thomas is the No. 1 DE in the country and the No. 4 player overall in the class of 2018. Not too far behind him is K.J. Henry, who is the No. 3 defensive end in the class.
Stanford: Running back Bryce Love’s return to the team means Stanford’s offense should be absurdly efficient in 2018. Especially if it gets good quarterback play from either Keller Chryst or K.J. Costello.
Love was one of two players who rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2018 and averaged over eight yards a carry. Cameron Scarlett returns to back him up and Scarlett had 389 yards rushing and 174 receiving in 2017. If Love works on his pass-catching ability and plays the 2018 season completely healthy he’s going to be the runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy. No pressure, but it’s time for a Stanford star to not finish second in the voting.
Notre Dame: The Irish are losing a lot on offense with running back Josh Adams and offensive linemen Quenton Nelson heading to the draft. But Notre Dame got some great news Monday with the return of defensive stars Jerry Tillery and Te’Von Coney.
Tillery had 56 tackles and led the Irish with 4.5 sacks in a breakout 2017 season. Coney was the team’s leading tackler with 116 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. The Irish will have a bit of a transition on defense now that defensive coordinator Mike Elko is at Texas A&M, but the team elevated linebackers coach Clark Lea to replace Elko. The system should remain primarily the same.
Missouri: Is 2018 Missouri’s shot to be the top challenger to Georgia in the SEC East? The Tigers’ two best underclassmen are returning in quarterback Drew Lock and defensive tackle Terry Beckner.
Beckner, one of the best recruits in the class of 2015, had 35 tackles and tied for the team lead with seven sacks. He would have likely been an early-round pick in the draft.
Lock could be the top quarterback in the 2019 NFL draft with a repeat season in 2018. Lock led the country with 44 touchdown passes and set an SEC record in the process. Lock would have been a candidate to rise up draft boards via private workouts in 2018 because of his arm strength. But if he succeeds in new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s offense, pre-draft workouts next year won’t have to serve as a proving ground.
West Virginia: The Mountaineer offense was lost at the end of the 2017 season after QB Will Grier’s finger injury. Hopefully West Virginia spends much of the offseason leading into the 2018 season being better prepared for Grier’s absence.
Ideally, of course, Grier plays the full season. He’s coming back for his senior season along with wide receiver David Sills, who led the nation in touchdown receptions. That’s a boost in a wide-open Big 12. If Oklahoma is the favorite, trying to figure out the order of the next four or five teams is a brainteaser.
USC: As we said above, Darnold’s departure to the NFL isn’t much of a surprise. Neither is the loss of running back Ronald Jones to the NFL. Don’t be surprised if Jones is a second-round pick this spring. But wide receiver Deontay Burnett is also going pro, meaning USC has to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver.
That’s a lot to replace for any team. The Pac-12 South is setting up to be a fascinating division in 2018 with the additions of Chip Kelly at UCLA and Kevin Sumlin at Arizona. The Trojans should still be the favorite, but quarterback Matt Fink will have to step up along with running backs Stephen Carr and Aca’Cedric Ware.
Florida State: The list of Florida State early entries reads like the departure list from a team that was 10-3 and not 7-6. Safety Derwin James is off to the NFL along with CB Tarvarus McFadden, DE Josh Sweat, DE Jalen Wilkerson, WR Auden Tate and TE Ryan Izzo.
Again, how did this team go 7-6?
New coach Willie Taggart is having to play catchup on the recruiting trail but made some strides during the early signing period. With all of the departures to the NFL on the defensive side of the ball, FSU’s defense is going to need to quickly find some new impact players.
Marshall: The declaration of Houston quarterback Kyle Allen was surprising and so was the decision of Marshall quarterback Chase Litton to head to the NFL.
Had Litton come back, Marshall’s offense was nearly coming back intact. The team returns the entire offensive line, top two wide receivers and top three rushers from a year ago. Add Litton to the mix, and that’s one of the best offenses in Conference-USA along with Florida Atlantic.
Marshall’s offense still can be pretty good. But it’s a curious decision on the surface to go pro by Litton given that he’s not going to be one of the top quarterbacks selected in the draft.
Pittsburgh: The highlight of the Panthers’ 2017 came when Pitt ruined Miami’s undefeated season in the final week of the regular season. The win put Pitt at 5-7 for the year.
In 2018, Pitt will have to try to get back to a bowl game without three key players. Wide receiver Quadree Henderson is the biggest name of the three. Henderson should be an instant-impact player on special teams in the NFL. He averaged nearly 12 yards per punt return in 2017 and scored two touchdowns. Safety Jordan Whitehead was suspended at the start of the season but still finished third on the team in tackles with 60. And All-ACC left tackle Brian O’Neill is off to the NFL too.
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