Biggest Beneficiaries Of Underclassmen Declaring For NFL Draft

    Nearly 100 underclassmen have declared for the NFL Draft, creating an equivalent number of opportunities for their successors to shine in 2017.

    January 13, 2017

    Nearly 100 underclassmen have declared for the NFL Draft, creating an equivalent number of opportunities for their successors to shine in 2017.

    Underclassmen, both juniors and third-year sophomores, will forego remaining eligibility for all kinds of reasons. Their ultimate goal, however, is the same—fulfilling the lifelong dream of being chosen in the NFL Draft.

    Every year at this time upwards of 100 student-athletes declare as early entries, setting sail for the long and exciting journey that is the pre-draft process. While each of their absences will be felt on some level, it also creates an opening for the holdovers. College football is a zero-sum game, an eternal system of debits and credits that simultaneously produces concern and hope every January.

    The natural cycle of change in college athletics is unending, and the following returners are in position to benefit from their teammate’s decision to leave school early.

    20. DL Boss Tagaloa for Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)

    Tagaloa earned the right to play as a true freshman, picking up valuable reps in the rotation. In 2017, he’ll transition from a luxury to a necessity for a defense getting a facelift up front. He had a positive impact on the Bruin run defense, finishing the year with a season-high five tackles versus Cal. Tagaloa is strong and quick, with the motor to disrupt plays before they can develop.

    19. OLB Christian Bell for T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

    Bell is eligible after transferring from Alabama last summer, and his availability couldn’t come at a better time. The Badgers are losing both of their impactful outside linebackers, Watt and senior Vince Biegel. The 6-4, 247-pound Bell has the size and the skill to compete for playing time with the likes of holdovers Zack Baun and Garrett Dooley, the veteran of the new-look unit.

    18. WR DaeSean Hamilton for Chris Godwin (Penn State)

    If Hamilton is going to recapture his rookie form, now is the time to do it. His production has fallen off since catching 82 balls in 2014. But with Godwin gone and Saeed Blacknall landing in the doghouse before the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions need a deep threat to maximize the home run potential of QB Trace McSorley and an offense that took off for coordinator Joe Moorhead in 2016.

    17. RB Abdul Adams for Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon (Oklahoma)

    It’s tough enough losing one prolific back, let alone two. But that’s the situation facing the Sooners, who will need to develop playmakers to complement QB Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma is at its best when it can run the ball with authority, setting up Mayfield on play-action. OU is hopeful Rodney Anderson can stay healthy and compete with Adams, who ran for 283 yards in seven games as a rookie.

    16. WR Deon Cain for Mike Williams and Artavis Scott (Clemson)

    From Deshaun Watson to Williams, Scott and TE Jordan Leggett, Dabo Swinney’s passing game is undergoing an extreme makeover this offseason. One of the few constants will be Cain, the long ball threat about to become Clemson’s most dangerous weapon on the outside. In two seasons, the junior-to-be has turned 72 receptions into 1,306 yards and 14 scores, with the speed to take the top off defenses.

    15. DE Marlon Davidson for Carl Lawson (Auburn)

    Last year, Davidson was the apprentice, becoming the first true freshman D-lineman to start for the Tigers since at least 1985. This season, he’ll be an integral part of a pass rush looking to replace Lawson’s lost production. Davidson laid a terrific foundation for future success by starting every game and finishing fourth on the team with a half-dozen tackles behind the line.

    14. QB Josh Jackson for Jerod Evans (Virginia Tech)

    Quarterbacks flourish when Justin Fuente is the coach. It’s become a historical fact. Jackson is poised to become Fuente’s next prolific pupil after redshirting this past season. The dual-threat son of a coach is mature beyond his years, convincing the Hokies that he can run the offense early in his career. For now, Jackson’s only competition for the job is former Nebraska and JUCO hurler A.J. Bush.

    13. LB Josh Metellus for Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)

    The Wolverines are cautiously optimistic that Metellus could be the next star at “Viper,” the team’s hybrid linebacker-safety spot handled so well by Peppers. While no one in Ann Arbor is ready to make apples-to-apples comparisons, Metellus possesses many of the same traits as Peppers, from his range and athleticism to his instinctive feel for the game. After lettering as a true freshman backup, he could erupt this fall.

    12. RB Jacques Patrick for Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

    Patrick has been Cook’s trusted complement the past two seasons. Now, he’ll be the successor to the best back in Seminole history. The 231-pound Patrick rushed for more than 300 yards in 2015 and 2016, so he’s no stranger to the field. Cook’s departure will also benefit incoming five-star recruit Cam Akers, who’ll have an immediate shot to earn reps in a backfield light on proven depth.

    11. DE Marcell Frazier for Charles Harris (Missouri)

    At D Line Zou, the loss of one dominating pass rusher simply opens the door for another to walk through. Columbia has long been a revolving door of topflight defensive linemen, with Frazier bucking to be the next man up. The 6-5, 265-pound Portland, Ore. native roared in November with 6.5 sacks in a final three-game stretch that’ll be a precursor of what’s to come in his salary run year.


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