Replacements for the Early Entries
Posted Jan 23, 2007

Who'll replace the players who ducked out early for the NFL? If an non-senior is good enough to jet, he was likely a star who'll be missed, but Richard Cirminiello points out that the fill-ins aren't all that bad.

By Richard Cirminiello

The lure of the green.  The fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  The preferred alternative to maintaining a minimum grade point average.  Whatever the reason, three to four dozen players opt out of their final years of eligibility every January, putting an end to their amateur status.  For some, it’s the sensible next step in a career filled with promise and potential.  For others, it’s a desperate attempt to pluck a piece of fruit that still hasn’t ripened.

Naturally, for every sophomore or junior declaring for the NFL Draft, there are at least three eager kids waiting to fill their cleats.  It’s that sense of excitement and optimism that oozes from the next wave of young playmakers that can ease the pain of losing a star sooner than expected.  While an entire community may mourn the untimely departure of an all-conference performer, you can rest assured that his backup won’t lose many winks over this unexpected opportunity for immediate career advancement.         

In order of how much they’ll be missed:

RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Allen Patrick, Chris Brown and Jacob Gutierrez.  It’s impossible to replace a player of Peterson’s caliber, but in his absence last year, this young trio, especially Patrick, looked more than capable of filling the void.     

QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU
Opens the door for…Matt Flynn or Ryan Perrilloux.  The bad news is that Russell would have returned as one the nation’s premier triggermen.  The good news is that Flynn is a heady, fifth-year senior with a Peach Bowl MVP on his resume.  Perrilloux, a former can’t-miss recruit, who’s completed one pass in two years, is the wild card.  

WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
Opens the door for…Greg Smith.  The other Johnson—James—instantly becomes the go-to receiver after a terrific sophomore year, but Smith stands to gain the most with a starting spot up for grabs.  He has ideal size and showed flashes of potential as a freshman in 2006.  

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC
Opens the door for…Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton, David Ausberry and Jamere Holland.  You certainly don’t get better by losing a player like Jarrett, but you don’t think the cupboard is bare at Troy, do you?  The Trojans have stockpiled four and five-star prospects that are just waiting to become household names.  At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Turner comes from the same mold that gave us Jarrett and Mike Williams.

RB Marshawn Lynch, Cal
Opens the door for…Justin Forsett.  Forsett is hardly an unproven performer, having rushed for 1,625 yards and ten touchdowns as a backup the last two years.  However, with Lynch out of the picture, the 5-8 jackrabbit finally gets an opportunity to bask in the spotlight as the Bears’ feature back.     

S Reggie Nelson, Florida
Opens the door for…Kyle Jackson.  The same guy that lost his job to Nelson midway through the 2005 season stands to benefit the most from the All-Americans early departure.  After beginning his Gator career with so much potential, he’s got one final opportunity to regain his mojo and impress NFL scouts.

DT Alan Branch, Michigan
Opens the door for…Will Johnson.  It might take two bodies to replace the hulking Branch, however, at 6-5 and 295 pounds, Johnson isn’t exactly petite.  Also keep an eye this spring on Marques Slocum, who failed to qualify academically in 2006, but has the biggest upside of all of the tackles.

LB Brandon Siler, Florida
Opens the door for…Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe.  The training wheels are about to come off two of the gems of Urban Meyer’s 2006 recruiting class.  Spikes and Doe got a taste of live action last fall, but are about to become integral parts of a Gator D that’s been gutted by graduation and defections.

WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina
Opens the door for…Freddie Brown.  After catching 51 balls a year ago, Kenny McKinley is in line to become Blake Mitchell’s favorite target, but Brown figures to benefit most from Rice’s departure.  By the end of last year, he was the ‘Cocks’ No. 3 option, and at 6-3, he’s a better fit to handle press coverage out wide.

WR Robert Meachem, Tennessee
Opens the door for…Josh Briscoe, Lucas Taylor and Kenny O’Neal.  Meachem’s early exit, along with the graduations of Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, means the Vols must replace last year’s top three receivers.  Briscoe and Taylor caught just 19 passes combined in 2006, a total they’ll surpass in September alone.  O’Neal is a burner and one of this year’s most coveted junior college transfers. 

WR Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State
Opens the door for…Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, Albert Dukes and Ray Small.  The Buckeye receiving corps will be going through a complete overhaul after Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez left early for the NFL.  Steady Robiskie and Hartline are ready for promotions, while Small, who went to the same high school as Ginn, is most likely to stretch a defense.

DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas
Opens the door for…Malcolm Sheppard.  The Hogs will be holding auditions for pass rushers this spring, looking to somehow replace Anderson’s SEC-best production.  Sheppard, who earned a start and rave reviews as a true freshman, is the heavy favorite to be the successor.  

RB Michael Bush, Louisville
Opens the door for…Anthony Allen.  The silver lining to Bush’s season-ending injury last year was that it paved the way for Allen to get more reps as a freshman.  In a limited role, he scored 14 touchdowns, stamping himself a rising star and the favorite to be this year’s every down back.

LB Lawrence Timmons, Florida State
Opens the door for… Toddrick Verdell.  Verdell moved from rover to linebacker last year out of sheer necessity, but may stay on the strongside now that Timmons is gone.  He’s a rangy, athletic defender, who’ll have to add some girth to handle the rigors of the position for an entire season.

DE Charles Johnson, Georgia
Opens the door for…Roderick Battle and Marcus Howard.  Johnson’s decision is a significant blow for a Bulldog defense that must also replace sackmaster Quentin Moses on the other side.  Battle and Howard are first in line to win the jobs, but they’ll be pressed hard by about a half-dozen kids eager to seize this opportunity.   
CB Chris Houston, Arkansas  
Opens the door for… Jerell Norton and Jamar Love.  Norton will get challenged by Love in the spring and summer, but displayed enough potential as a true freshman to be considered the front-runner to fill the gaping void in the secondary left by Houston’s departure. 

CB Darrelle Revis, Pittsburgh
Opens the door for…Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel.  Berry and Chappel are both undersized, scrappy sophomores, who impressed the coaching staff throughout last fall.  One of the two is going to be Revis’ heir apparent, while the runner-up might still be good enough to challenge incumbent Kennard Cox on the other side.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Marshall
Opens the door for…Chubb Small and Kelvin Turner.  All Small and Turner are being asked to do is replace the greatest back in Herd history.  Small is only 5-9 and 190 pounds, but has powerful legs and breakaway speed.  Incoming recruit Terrell Edwards is talented enough to push for the starting job right away.   

LB Jon Abbate, Wake Forest
Opens the door for…Eric Berry.  Berry has been a reliable backup in the middle for Wake over the last two seasons.  While bigger and more physical than Abbate, he’ll need to prove that he can emulate his consistency and leadership qualities once he takes over this season.   

DE Jarvis Moss, Florida 
Opens the door for…Jermaine Cunningham.  Moss won’t be easily replaced, however, Gator coaches are cautiously optimistic that Cunningham will make the quantum leap in 2007 that Derrick Harvey, the other starting end, made in 2006.  When he fills out, the sophomore-to-be has shown flashes of being a force coming off the edge.   

TE Zach Miller, Arizona State 
Opens the door for…Brent Miller, Dane Guthrie and Andrew Pettes.  Miller’s older brother, Brent, figures to shift over from H-back and become an every down player in 2007.  Dennis Erickson, however, is planning to occasionally utilize two tight end sets, so there’ll also be opportunities for Guthrie and Pettes to pick up valuable minutes this fall.

RB Antonio Pittman, Ohio State
Opens the door for…Chris Wells.  Pittman was a very nice two-year starter in Columbus, but are the Buckeyes actually about to trade up in 2007? Wells has the tools and the upside of a superstar to go along with a 576-yard, seven touchdown freshman debut as Pittman’s understudy.   

CB Ryan Smith, Florida
Opens the door for…Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson and Jacques Rickerson.  If opponents are looking for ways to exploit the Gators this fall, the secondary would be a logical place to start.  Some combination of Pierre-Louis, Anderson and Rickerson, all true freshmen a year ago, will be trying to contain the SEC’s best receivers in 2007.

LB Jon Beason, Miami
Opens the door for…Spencer Adkins.  Beason will be missed in Miami, but there’s plenty of depth left at the school, headed by Adkins, a tremendous all-around athlete, who was beginning to contribute as a sophomore last fall before falling victim to a leg contusion in October.  

RB Darius Walker, Notre Dame RB
Opens the door for…Travis Thomas, James Aldridge and Munir Prince.  Walker’s decision was a surprise, but something the Irish believes it can overcome with a blend of youth and veterans.  Thomas, who pitched in at linebacker in 2006, is expected to return to the offense.  Sophomores Aldridge and Prince give Notre Dame a thunder and lightning presence, respectively.  Uber-recruit Armando Allen is already in South Bend with zero intention of being idle in 2007.

WR Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State 
Opens the door for… Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, Albert Dukes and Ray Small.  The Buckeye receiving corps will be going through a complete overhaul after Gonzalez and Ted Ginn left early for the NFL.  Steady Robiskie and Hartline are ready for promotions, while Small, who went to the same high school as Ginn, is most likely to stretch a defense.

LB Rory Johnson, Ole Miss
Opens the door for…Jonathan Cornell.  Johnson was expected to return as the anchor of the Rebel linebackers, but instead leaves it decimated after the graduation of Patrick Willis, dismissal of Garry Pack and departure of Quentin Taylor.  Whatever happens to the unit this year, it’ll certainly include Cornell, who played sparingly as a true freshman in 2006, but has the potential to be an SEC star before too long.  

CB Eric Wright, UNLV
Opens the door for…Nehemiah Mundy.  This is a tough blow for the Rebels, who’ll turn to California once again to bolster its secondary.  Mundy is just a true freshman, but he’s already on campus and has the combination of speed and technique that’ll help make him an instant contributor in 2007. 

CB C.J. Gaddis, Clemson
Opens the door for…Crezdon Butler, Haydrian Lewis and Chris Chancellor.  Gaddis’ exit means the Tigers will have two new starters at cornerback in 2007.  Butler, who led the team with three interceptions, and Chancellor appear to be the future at the position after turning heads as freshmen.    

TE Greg Olsen, Miami
Opens the door for…Chris Zellner and DajLeon Farr.  The next great Hurricane tight end is playing high school ball somewhere in South Florida because he’s not currently on the Miami roster.  Zellner is an H-back, who’s a fine blocker, but has yet to distinguish himself as a pass-catcher.  Shoulder surgery early last year has kept Farr from approaching his vast potential.     

RB Brandon Jackson, Nebraska
Opens the door for…Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn.  Jackson’s play was a revelation for the Huskers in the second half of 2006, but his departure eases the logjam in the Husker backfield that saw four players get at least 70 carries last fall.  Lucky, in particular, has a star quality about him if he’s given a chance to be the feature back.    

RB Dwayne Wright, Fresno State
Opens the door for…Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding.  Even without Wright, the Bulldog running game appears to be in good hands with Miller and Harding, a couple of backs that saw action as freshmen last year.  Miller is the total package, while Harding may be the fastest member of the Fresno roster. 

RB Chris Henry, Arizona
Opens the door for…Chris Jennings and Xavier Smith.  Just when Henry was starting to make a name for himself in Tucson, he bolted, leaving Jennings and Smith to duke it out this spring.  Whoever tops the depth chart better work on his pass-catching skills, an absolute must now that Sonny Dykes is running the offense.
DE Antwan Applewhite, San Diego State
Opens the door for…Siaosi Fifita and Tony DeMartinis.  The battle to replace Applewhite will last well throughout the summer and be headlined by the junior Fifita and DeMartinis, a sophomore, who’s added weight in anticipation of increased playing time in 2007. 

LB Brock Stratton, Texas Tech
Opens the door for…Paul Williams.  Williams had the best game of his career in the Insight Bowl, a harbinger, Red Raider coaches hope, of things to come in 2007.  Stratton has been a tackling machine at middle linebacker for Tech, but he also was a liability in pass coverage, a shortcoming Williams contends to address this fall.

DE Jason Jack, Texas A&M
Opens the door for…Michael Bennett and Cyril Obiozor.  Jack never approached the lofty expectations that followed his freshman year, so the Aggies likely won’t break a sweat replacing him.  Juniors Bennett and Obiozor have 48 games of experience between them and the edge rushing skills to play key roles in A&M’s 2007 defense.

RB Danny Ware, Georgia
Opens the door for…Knowshon Moreno.  Ware had slipped to third on the depth chart behind holdovers Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown, so the biggest impact will be felt by Moreno, a scout team star, who now has a clearer path to playing time in 2007.