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Replacements For The 2008 Early Entries
West Virginia RB/WR Noel Devine
West Virginia RB/WR Noel Devine
Posted Jan 20, 2008

Who'll replace the players who ducked out early for the NFL? If a player is good enough to bolt, he was likely a big-time talent who'll be missed, but Richard Cirminiello shows how each team will be able to fill the holes.

Replacing the 2008 NFL Early Entries

By Richard Cirminiello

- The 2008 Early Entries & Projections
- The 2007 Early Entry Replacements

Although juniors and redshirt sophomores will forego their final years of college eligibility for a variety of different reasons, the goal for each is always the same—fulfilling a boyhood dream by making it to the NFL.

Every January, anywhere from three to four dozen players declare as early entries into that April’s NFL Draft, sobering news for the campuses they leave behind, but not so bad news for the heir apparents eagerly hoping to move up the depth chart.  The reality is that for every athlete that leaves with unused eligibility, there are at least two or three holdovers staring at the opening with wide eyes.  It’s the natural cycle of athletics that’ll continue as long as the NFL pays for play.

From Miami to Hawaii, applications are already being taken for a bunch of new jobs that have opened up over the past couple of weeks.

G Branden Albert, Virginia
Opens the door for…Patrick Slebonick.  After caddying for Albert in 2007, Slebonick is poised to see the most extensive action of his Cavalier career.  A well-sized lineman at 6-5 and 296 pounds, the junior is a heady player with an outstanding work ethic.  However, most of Slebonick’s experience over the last two seasons has come on special teams.          

WR Adrian Arrington, Michigan
Opens the door for…Greg Mathews.  The departure of not only Arrington, but also Mario Manningham, means Mathews has a chance to improve on last year’s 39 receptions, even in Rich Rodriguez’s new run-oriented spread offense.  A physically imposing receiver, he really polished up his overall game in last year’s second season in Ann Arbor.      

WR Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
Opens the door for…Alex Washington.  There’s no easy way to replace the production of Bennett, one of the best to ever play for Vandy, on and away from the field.  Taking a stab at it will be junior-to-be Alex Washington, a diminutive slot receiver who’s caught 12 passes in his first two seasons.  Mostly a return man in 2007, he needs to provide some support to George Smith and Sean Walker, the Dores’ starting X and Z receivers.    

TE Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M
Opens the door for…Frank Avery.  Another rangy target like Bennett, the 6-5 Avery is hoping to someday provide similar pass-catching production from the tight end position.  The freshman redshirted in 2007, using his time to get better acclimated to college life, while adding some much-needed bulk in the weight room.       

WR Davone Bess, Hawaii
Opens the door for…Aaron Bain.  With Bess goes 293 career receptions and 41 touchdowns, another sign of the changing times at Hawaii.  Bain has caught 17 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in the last three seasons, numbers he’ll likely surpass in his senior season alone now that the path to the top of the depth chart has been cleared away.     

DE Calais Campbell, Miami
Opens the door for…Courtney Harris.  With Campbell moving on, Harris gets his best shot to date to show why he was such a coveted recruit in 2005.  Built like a strongside linebacker, he’s added some muscle without losing the quickness off the edge or burst off the snap.  In a limited role in 2007, Harris had 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, and half a sack.  

RB Jamaal Charles, Texas
Opens the door for…Vondrell McGee.  One of the country’s premier recruits of 2006, McGee gets a shot to be the feature back a year earlier than expected.  More of a north-south runner than Charles, who can lower his shoulder and deliver a pop, he got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 297 yards and eight touchdowns on 75 carries.

T Ryan Clady, Boise State
Opens the door for…Matt Slater.  Slater was going to take over for Clady at some point, but now he gets thrown into the deep end of the water as a third-year sophomore.  A good all-around athlete at 6-5, he’s gradually added weight since leaving River Falls, Wisc. in anticipation of a full-time opportunity.

T Anthony Collins, Kansas
Opens the door for…Matt Darton.  After starting one game for Collins last fall, Darton will spend the spring and beyond convincing the staff that he’s ready to start all 12 in 2008.  A big bookend at 6-6 and 305 pounds, he hasn’t seen much relevant action since leaving San Diego for Lawrence in 2004.  

DE Johnny Dingle, West Virginia
Opens the door for…James Ingram.  Seemingly headed toward a breakout year, Ingram’s sophomore season was wiped out after September because of a nagging back injury.  He displayed flashes of being a terrific edge rusher as a freshman in 2006, showing off the quickness and long arms that the Mountaineer staff craves now that Dingle has opted out.    

TE Jermichael Finley, Texas
Opens the door for…Blaine Irby.  Irby was recruited as the eventual successor to Finley in the passing game, but just not in 2008.  One of the nation’s top-rated high school tight ends a year ago, he moves like a wide receiver and has terrific hands, making the first two catches of his Longhorn career as a true freshman last fall. 

CB Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech
Opens the door for…Rashad Carmichael.  After backing up Macho Harris at field corner a year ago, Carmichael is the likely candidate to shift to boundary corner and take over for Flowers.  Carmichael played in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2007, showing the speed and rapid change of direction that’ll compensate for a 5-9, 175-pound frame.

DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
Opens the door for…
Lawrence Wilson
.  Had Gholston returned to Columbus, Wilson might have struggled to regain his starting job now that freshman sensation Cameron Heyward has become a fixture on the line.  Lost for the season to a broken leg in the opener, Wilson is a 6-6, 275-pound future pro that’s determined to have that breakout year which was supposed to happen in 2007.     
WR Ryan Grice-Mullen, Hawaii 
Opens the door for… Michael Washington.  Washington has had a limited role in the Warrior passing game the last three years, catching just 19 passes, but that changes in 2008 with last year’s top three receivers off campus.  One of the team’s smallest players at 5-7 and 175 pounds, he’ll be looking for soft spots underneath against opposing WAC defenses. 

DT Letroy Guion, Florida State
Opens the door for…Emmanuel Dunbar.  A top reserve at both defensive tackle spots last year and the starter in the Music City Bowl, Dunbar will be making the natural transition to the first team in 2008.  While he’s been slowed by a bad back early in his career, he’s healthy again and capable of having the type of breakout year Guion had in 2007.   

WR James Hardy, Indiana
Opens the door for…Terrance Turner.  Turner is not Hardy, but he does share some of his attributes, such as an imposing frame and the potential to make plays downfield.  He was a monster in the spring game, abusing the Hoosier defensive backs, but tore his ACL early in the year, temporarily derailing his road to big things in Bloomington.      

DE Derrick Harvey, Florida 
Opens the door for…Carlos Dunlap.  Although Harvey will certainly be missed, Dunlap has all the physical tools to be just as effective in time.  How long it’ll be hinges on how hard he works in the offseason.  At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he’s uncommonly explosive for a young defender just one year removed from high school.  Both Dunlap and classmate Justin Trattou have the potential to be beasts off the edge for the Gators.     

LB Geno Hayes, Florida State 
Opens the door for…Marcus Ball.  After picking up 24 tackles as Hayes’ understudy in 2007, Ball is well-positioned to win the job as he enters his junior season.  While built more like a strong safety, he plays with tremendous quickness and range, showing the speed to wreak havoc on the blitz.  Stronger than he looks, Ball is on the brink of a breakout year in 2008.  

LB Erin Henderson, Maryland
Opens the door for…Adrian Moten.  It was evident throughout his redshirt freshman season that Moten was ready for a promotion.  As a backup, he had 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5, doing most of his damage late in the year and in the Emerald Bowl.  The Terps are also very fond of another freshman, Alex Wujciak, who sat out last season with an ACL tear.    

CB Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
Opens the door for…Josh Nettles.  There's a long line of candidates hoping to supplant Ikegwuonu, with Nettles standing at the head of it.  One of the better all-around athletes in the secondary, he’ll have to polish up his pass coverage skills to fend off other contenders, including Niles Brinkley and Otis Merrill.  

WR DeSean Jackson, California
Opens the door for…Nyan Boateng.  Boateng is walking into an ideal situation provided he can clean up the legal mess he created last fall.  A transfer from Florida and a superb talent, he hopes to join a Cal offense that returns just one player that has caught a pass in college.  The wide-open competition in the spring and summer will also shine the spotlight on young players, such as Jeremy Ross, Michael Calvin, and members of this year’s recruiting class.

RB Felix Jones, Arkansas 
Opens the door for… Michael Smith.  Smith saw the field in nine games as a sophomore last year, rushing for 291 yards and three touchdowns on just 39 carries, a pretty believable impression of Jones.  Averaging 6.8 yards a carry through two seasons, he’s a 5-7 jitterbug that provides a nice change-of-pace for the Razorback offense.

WR Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Quentin Chaney or Adron Tennell.  With Kelly leaving and QB Sam Bradford returning, some young Sooner receiver is going to blossom into a star alongside veterans Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson.  Chaney is a 6-5 mismatch, who finished the season with six receptions and a pair of touchdowns in his last three games.  Tennell is another well-sized future star from the Class of 2006, who  must first rebound from an ACL injury suffered toward the end of last season.       
CB Justin King, Penn State
Opens the door for…A.J. Wallace.  Wallace has the experience, size, and closing speed to do just fine as the successor to King, but he and Lydell Sargeant better stay off the injured list in 2008.  The Nittany Lions appear to be perilously thin at cornerback, a situation that’s been exacerbated by King’s early departure to the NFL.    

QB Xavier Lee, Florida State
Opens the door for…
Christian Ponder
.  Drew Weatherford will be the starter in 2008, but Lee’s exit creates an opening for Ponder to be the understudy.  A member of the Noles’ Class of 2006, he has a lively arm and the quick feet to escape pressure.  He got those feet wet in the Virginia Tech game last November, going 8-of-18 for 105 yards, a touchdown and two picks.      

LB Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Lamont Robinson.  By virtue of being the No. 2 guy last year, Robinson has a head start to be the starter in the middle, but is no lock to win the job.  The junior-to-be is going to get pushed hard by former JUCO All-American Mike Reed and former high school All-American Austin Box, neither of whom saw action in 2007.  

WR Mario Manningham, Michigan
Opens the door for…Junior Hemingway.  Whoever is throwing passes in Ann Arbor next season will want to look for Hemingway, a top recruit from 2007 that lettered as a true freshman.  While he’s not a blazer, at 6-2 and 200 pounds, he can outmuscle smaller defensive backs and leap above them to make the difficult catch. 

LB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
Opens the door for…Ellix Wilson.  If defensive coordinator prefers experience in the middle, he’ll tab Wilson, Mayo’s backup a year ago and a veteran of 40 games in Knoxville.  If he opts for upside potential, there are a number of options, including shifting linebackers around in an effort to get the three best on the field at the same time.      

RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
Opens the door for…De’Anthony Curtis.  Michael Smith, last year’s third-leading rusher, will certainly get touches, but at 5-7 and 175 pounds, he’s not a feature back.  Curtis, on the other hand, just might be.  Provided he sticks with his original commitment to Arkansas, he’d be on the right campus to push for immediate playing time after arriving in August.

RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
Opens the door for…Daniel Dufrene.  It’s a good thing Dufrene got carries in every game last season because they’ll help to prepare him to the shoulder the load in 2008.  A transfer from the
College of the Sequoias a year ago, he ran for 294 yards and two touchdowns, almost half of which came in the Illini’s upset of Ohio State in November.  

DE Phillip Merling, Clemson
Opens the door for…DaQuan Bowers.  Although Kevin Alexander is next in line on the depth chart, and sure to play a role on the 2008 defense, he’ll have to be special to keep Bowers out of the lineup.  One of the nation’s top recruit, and the most heralded kid to ever sign with Clemson, Bowers has the size, speed, and athleticism to make leave an impression in his rookie season. 

S DaJuan Morgan, NC State
Opens the door for…Javon Walker.  Walker played well as a redshirt freshman last year, and has much upside as any Wolfpack safety, but could lose ground rehabbing a knee injury suffered late last fall.  If he’s not at full strength by next summer, Jimmaul Simmons, who redshirted in 2007, could step into the vacancy left by Morgan.

LB Lamar Myles, Louisville
Opens the door for…Mozell Axson or James Bryant.  While Axson will get a look because of his three years experience with the program, Bryant offers greater upside and potential as a run-stuffing middle linebacker.  A 6-3, 250-pound transfer from Miami with obvious physical attributes, he’s also a bit of head case, which is why Axson can’t be completely dismissed.    

S Kenny Phillips, Miami
Opens the door for…Anthony Reddick.  The only thing that can soften the blow of Phillips leaving would be Reddick making a full recovery from last spring’s ACL tear in his right knee, the second one in two years.  An All-ACC-caliber defender, injuries and a ugly suspension following the 2006 brawl with Florida International have kept him from fulfilling his potential.      

G Chilo Rachal, USC
Opens the door for…Zack Heberer.  Heberer started twice last season for Rachal as a redshirt freshman, so he’ll be no stranger to taking over on a full-time basis in 2008.  One of the highest-rated guards coming out of high school in 2005, he’s very quick out of the blocks and getting stronger every year since signing with the Trojans.       

QB Bobby Reid, Oklahoma State
Opens the door for…
Alex Cate
.  Reid’s departure has no impact on starter Zac Robinson, but it does thin the Cowboys’ depth at such a critical spot on the field.  Robinson takes a lot of hits outside the pocket, meaning Cate better be ready to go at a moment’s notice.  An accurate thrower with good zip on his passes, he did not throw a pass as a redshirt freshman in 2007.    

WR Darius Reynaud, West Virginia
Opens the door for…Brandon Hogan.  Dorrell Jalloh, Tito Gonzales, and Wes Lyons may catch more passes in 2008, but Hogan is the closest thing the Mountaineers have to a reincarnation of Reynaud.  An undersized burner that’ll be used a number of different ways, he can hit a seam and just keep running when there’s daylight.  Hogan had 12 catches in eight games last fall, numbers that are sure to rise next year.  
RB Ray Rice, Rutgers 
Opens the door for… Kordell Young.  As if replacing a Rutgers legend won’t be hard enough, Young will try to do so less than a year after suffering a season-ending ACL tear.  When healthy, he’s the future at the position for the Scarlet Knights, but the injury allowed the staff to also get a better look at freshman Mason Robinson, who earned 36 carries last season.      

CB Orlando Scandrick, Boise State
Opens the door for…Brandyn Thompson.  It’s a good thing that Thompson was one of five Broncos to play as true freshmen in 2007 because he’s about to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.  With eight games of experience, he’s the leading candidate to replace Scandrick in a conference that demands its corners to be thick-skinned.   

DT Pat Sims, Auburn
Opens the door for…Mike Blanc or Zach Clayton.  Blanc and Clayton, a pair of lightly-used redshirt freshman a year ago, will be counted to pick up the slack of Sims, an emerging star in the SEC.  Neither lineman arrived on the Plains with top billing, meaning both could be pushed for playing time when freshman Charles Deas joins the program in the summer.       

RB Steve Slaton, West Virginia
Opens the door for…Noel Devine.  Devine was going to have a key role in the Mountaineer offense no matter what Slaton decided, but now he’ll have a chance to be the feature back earlier than expected.  A jackrabbit in the open field, he bolted for 627 yards and six touchdowns on only 73 carries in his debut as a true freshman.   

RB Kevin Smith, UCF 
Opens the door for…Phillip Smith.  Smith is likely to be replaced Smith, but that’s where the simplicity of the transition stops for the Knights.  The Smith that will be returning to Orlando has good size like his predecessor, and has played extensively in his first two seasons, carrying 101 times for 422 yards and four touchdowns.      

CB Reggie Smith, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Dominique Franks.  A depleted Sooner secondary forced Franks into the starting lineup for the Fiesta Bowl, a role he’ll grow familiar with in 2008.  A blue-chip recruit from 2006, he possesses outstanding straight-line speed and the size to match up well with some of the Big 12’s rangier receivers.

WR Taj Smith, Syracuse 
Opens the door for…Lavar Lobdell.  If Lobdell was ever going to respond to a wake-up call, now would be the time.  Although he has the size and athletic ability to be a playmaker opposite Mike Williams, that hasn’t translated into production for the rising junior, who has caught just 13 passes for 154 yards over the last two seasons.   

RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
Opens the door for…Jeremiah Johnson.  Provided his torn ACL heals properly and academic issues are resolved, Johnson is a terrific Plan B to the departed Stewart.  Playing a complimentary role the last two seasons, he’s rushed for 988 yards and 15 touchdowns, showing a knack for snapping off long runs.  Just to be safe, the Ducks have signed JUCO transfer LaGarrette Blount, a 6-2, 230-pounder that looks like he’s cut from the same mold as Stewart.      

CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
Opens the door for…Kendrick Harper.  Talib’s departure leaves a gaping hole in the Jayhawk secondary that Harper and few others will attempt to fill.  A transfer from Butler Community (Kans.) College, he fought through injuries in 2007 to appear in eight games, making three starts and 19 tackles. 

WR Devin Thomas, Michigan State 
Opens the door for… B.J. Cunningham.  Although you don’t get better by losing a player of Thomas’ abilities, the Spartan coaching staff absolutely loves the upside of Cunningham, who redshirted last season.  He’s a big-body receiver with just two years of experience playing the game, feeding the notion that he’s not even close to reaching his ceiling in East Lansing.    

WR Mario Urrutia, Louisville
Opens the door for…Scott Long.  The Cardinals are cutting ties with last year’s top four receivers, making No. 5, Long, an important cog in next year’s passing game.  After failing to catch a pass in 2006, he played well when Urrutia was dinged up last fall, finishing the season with 27 catches for 358 yards.  He has the good size to pull down balls in traffic and the speed to settle under some of Hunter Cantwell’s deep passes.