Replacements For The 2012 Early Entries - Def
LSU CB Tharold Simon
LSU CB Tharold Simon
Posted Jan 16, 2012

Who has to fill the huge shoes left by the top NFL early entries? - Defense

Replacements for the Early Entries

The shoe-fillers on D for 2012

E-mail Richard Cirminiello
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- 2011 Early-Entry Replacements
- 2010 Early-Entry Replacements
- 2009 Early-Entry Replacements
- 2008 Early-Entry Replacements
- 2007 Early-Entry Replacements 

- 2012 Early-Entries - Good or Bad Move?
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Winners
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Losers
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Offensive Replacements
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Defensive Replacements  

While juniors and third-year sophomores forego their final years of college eligibility for all kinds of different reasons, the goal for each is always the same—fulfilling the life-long dream of making an NFL roster, and cashing the enormous paychecks that come with the new gig.

Each January, four to five dozen athletes leave amateur eligibility on the table, declaring as early entries into that April's draft. While somber announcements for the campuses they leave behind, the news isn't so disturbing for those heir apparents eagerly hoping to climb up the depth chart.

The reality is that for every player who leaves school with unused eligibility, there are at least two or three holdovers staring at the opening with opportunistic and wide eyes. For the bean-counter in you, it's a perpetual system of debits and credits, and a natural cycle of attrition that'll remain as long as the NFL continues to pay for play.

From the Farm to the U., applications are already being taken for a mess of new jobs that have opened up over the past month or so. The labor market may be soft elsewhere, but on select campuses across the country, it's just beginning to percolate with possibilities.

DT Michael Brockers, LSU
Opens the door for… Anthony Johnson

Hey, no one in Baton Rouge is happy to see Brockers go, but it's not as if the Tigers' cupboard will be bare on the defensive line. The move simply means more reps and a faster trip to national recognition for Johnson, one of the country's mega-recruits from 2011. The total package in an interior lineman, he's set to explode into a star next fall.
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
Opens the door for…Brandon Johnson

Burfict and his possible successor couldn't be more different. While the former was a can't-miss recruit, with a questionable work ethic, the latter is a try-hard walk-on from Oakland who hustled his way into a backup role. Johnson had just 13 tackles as a sophomore, but has the inside track on next year's opening in the middle.

CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
Opens the door for… Tharold Simon

Claiborne's decision is great news for Simon, the natural choice to slide up a peg into the regular lineup. As a sophomore, he started a pair of games, made 40 tackles and tied Claiborne for the team lead in passes defended. He's a long defender, a plus when defending taller receivers, with the improving coverage skills to excel in an expanded role.

DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
Opens the door for… Devin Jones

After playing the role of valuable backup for the past couple of seasons, Jones is set to capture a spot in the starting lineup next to incumbent Josh Boyd. At 6-0 and 255 pounds, he lacks prototypical size on the interior, but compensates with the quickness and get-off to beat linemen into the backfield.

DT Marcus Forston, Miami
Opens the door for… Curtis Porter

It's go time for Porter, whose considerable potential has been stunted by injuries the past two seasons. Projected as a top backup, he missed most of 2011 following a surgery in September. If he can stay healthy and maintain his conditioning, there's an opening on the D-line that Al Golden desperately needs to fill next fall.

CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Opens the door for… Victor Hampton

The Gamecocks will have some heavy lifting to do at cornerback in the offseason. Both starters are gone, putting pressure on Hampton to perform like a veteran in 2012. As a redshirt freshman, he was Gilmore's backup, recovering from an apparent dismissal from the program in June. A second chance in Columbia should be parlayed into a starting gig.

CB Cliff Harris, Oregon
Opens the door for…Troy Hill

Since Harris was booted from the team months ago, he's not so much creating an opening for Hill as he is hastening his development. His exit, along with the graduation of Anthony Gildon, puts the redshirt freshman in a position to build on an exciting debut. The six-game starter was in on 43 tackles, while breaking up seven passes.

LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Opens the door for… Trey DePriest

It's ‘Bama and Nick Saban, so the next wave of defensive stars are never far behind. While it's possible that senior-to-be Nico Johnson moves inside, DePriest has the potential to prevent it from becoming necessary. The top-ranked high school inside linebacker of 2011 earned a letter as a rookie, chipping in on defense and special teams.

DE Max Holloway, Boston College
Opens the door for… Brian Mihalik

The Eagles harbor a handful of youngsters up front who are set to inherit expanded roles in 2012. Holloway's exit means a couple of them, like Mihalik, will get a golden opportunity to start opposite sophomore Kasim Edebali. As a rookie, the lanky, 6-8 Mihalik came off the bench in eight games to make six tackles.

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
Opens the door for…Detrick Bonner

The Hokies are rarely at a loss for talented cornerbacks, so there'll be high expectations for Bonner to excel in the secondary along with All-ACC sophomore Kyle Fuller. As a redshirt freshman, Bonner earned four starts, putting down a solid base. If Fuller moves to safety, another rookie, Kyshoen Jarrett, could slide into the lineup as well.

DE Chandler Jones, Syracuse
Opens the door for… Brandon Sharpe

It's suddenly now or never for Sharpe, the veteran along an Orange front decimated by graduations and early entries. The former linebacker has played plenty during his career, but primarily as a backup, making 45 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and 7.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher over the last three seasons.

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
Opens the door for… John Fulton

Since the Tide employs so many nickel and dime packages—and DeQuan Menzie is also graduating, three new corners are actually needed. Dee Milliner has one spot locked up, leaving Fulton and some talented JUCO transfers to compete for the others. This could be just the type of situation that incites the promising career of Fulton in his third year in Tuscaloosa.

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Opens the door for… Steele Divitto

Kuechly leaves some enormous shoes to be filled, and a lot of tackle opportunities for his successors. The Eagles could consider a shift inside for Divitto, who started all 12 games at strongside, and was third on the team with 72 tackles. If he can add a few pounds to his 6-3, 225-pound frame, he could be a good fit in the middle of the D.

DE Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
Opens the door for… R.J. Washington

This will be Washington's best chance to date to fulfill the weighty expectations that come with being a former five-star recruit. The career reserve and situational pass rusher is suddenly an important piece of the 2012 defensive puzzle, needing to pick up some of the slack left by Lewis and Frank Alexander. With Lewis out of the Insight Bowl, Washington had the first two-sack game of his career.

LB Terrell Manning, NC State
Opens the door for… D.J. Green

This is a huge blow for the Pack, which is already losing Dwayne Maddox and Audie Cole to graduation. Green returns from injury, after starting seven games opposite Manning at strongside, as does Sterling Lucas, who missed all of 2011 with a knee injury. A host of underclassmen will be scrapping for that third opening in Raleigh.

DE Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy
Opens the door for… Xavian Evans

This is a crushing development for Troy. And an encouraging one for Evans, who spent his first season removed from Itawamba (Miss.) Community College scrapping for snaps from the second team. He's a 6-5, 265-pounder, with an important year of experience behind him, and an opportunity to become the Trojans' premier pass rusher off the edge.

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
Opens the door for…Tim Kynard

The sophomore showed noticeable growth as a sophomore, working his way into a backup assignment behind Mercilus. While he left the bench sparingly, making three tackles behind the line, the coaching staff is pleased with his work ethic, ability to stop the run and overall athleticism.

DE Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina
Opens the door for… Tim Jackson

Paige-Moss got passed on the depth chart by Kareem Martin, and had become a distraction, so this could be a case of addition through subtraction. Jackson is positioned for a promotion after backing up Quinton Coples on the other side in 2011. The 6-5, 265-pound sophomore played intermittently last fall, but does have starting experience from 2010.

DE Nick Perry, USC
Opens the door for… Wes Horton and Devon Kennard

It'll be a huge senior year for both Horton and Kennard, who've yet to reach their full potential on the outside. Each Trojan started six games in 2011, with neither getting to the quarterback more than three times. With NFL scouts looking on, and reps more plentiful, both players could use next fall as a jump-off point toward a payday.

DT Dontari Poe, Memphis
Opens the door for… Corey Jones

The Tigers figure to be a lot smaller and quicker on the inside now that the 260-pound Jones is primed to supplant the 350-pound Poe. The sophomore, though, will need to show that he can clog running lanes, and provide support against the run. He's lettered in each of his first two years, starting games as a freshman in 2010.

CB Josh Robinson, UCF
Opens the door for… Jarrett Swaby

Robinson is a tough loss for the Knights, who'll call upon Swaby to help fill the opening next fall. The lanky sophomore served as a backup and a special teamer a year ago, making a dozen tackles, and earning a start versus East Carolina. UCF will also benefit from the return of A.J. Bouye, who missed the second half with a knee injury.

DE Olivier Vernon, Miami
Opens the door for… Shayon Green

Rookie Anthony Chickillo earned his stripes at one end position last fall, but who'll help form a bookend with him in 2012? This is a pivotal year for Green, whose potential has been stifled ever since he arrived from high school. When at full-strength, however, he has the raw athleticism in a 6-3, 255-pound frame to help offset the premature loss of Vernon.

DT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
Opens the door for… Micajah Reynolds

Reynolds will enter his fourth season in East Lansing with considerable expectations. He hasn't played much as a Spartan, in part because he's bounced between the offensive and defensive lines. However, there's an opening on the D-line next to starter Anthony Rashad White, and the coaches are intrigued by the quickness of Reynolds, a powerful 6-5, 320-pounder.

- 2012 Early-Entries - Good or Bad Move?
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Winners
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Losers
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Offensive Replacements
- 2012 Early-Entries - The Defensive Replacements