Next Man Up: Replacing the biggest opt-outs in college football
Many big-time players have opted out of the season despite an opportunity to play this fall. Who will step up and replace them on the field?
Mark Pszonak contributed to this feature.
Oklahoma RB Kennedy Brooks
The skinny: With the transfer of Trey Sermon to Ohio State, it seemed as though the running back job in Norman was Brooks’ to have. But with his decision to opt out, there is now a hole at the position. This will likely be more of a team effort this fall, with Rhamondre Stevenson (depending on suspension) and T.J. Pledger the two likeliest candidates to be make an early impact. Look for the two to split carries, and if one gets hot, they will get a bulk of the work.
Farrell’s take: I look for Pledger to be the guy to step up here as he has the highest ceiling and has shown flashes. Pledger was a big-time recruit out of high school and was made for this opportunity. Brooks is a big loss and there might be a step back in production but Pledger can be a star.
LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase
The skinny: With Chase opting out and Justin Jefferson now in the NFL, there is a huge opportunity for several players at the wide receiver position in Baton Rouge this fall. However, the one most likely to embrace the spotlight is Terrace Marshall. While he did not reach the absurdly impressive production levels of Chase and Jefferson in 2019, he still made a significant impact with 46 receptions, 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even with some questions at quarterback, with Joe Burrow also in the NFL, expect that Marshall becomes the main receiving threat for the Tigers this fall.
Farrell’s take: Marshall will certainly step up and be target No. 1 for LSU and should have a big season. He doesn’t have the same skill set as Chase, though, and I think Trey Palmer will have a huge impact this season as well. Marshall is one of the best red zone targets in the nation but he will catch more balls overall this year.
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
The skinny: The Hokies had several candidates to replace Farley, mainly Armani Chatman and Jermaine Waller, but they likely found their full-time answer approximately a week ago with the arrival of grad transfer Devin Taylor. Taylor became available after Illinois State cancelled its 2020 season. Obviously the level of play will increase for him, but coming off a season when he totaled 24 passes defended, he has the talent and confidence to make his mark in Blacksburg.
Farrell’s take: Farley will be missed greatly but Taylor has a ton of talent and plays the ball so well in the air. He is a step down from Farley when it comes to experience and playing at the Power Five level but I feel the Hokies are in good hands.
Memphis RB Kenny Gainwell
The skinny: Gainwell established himself as a huge threat both on the ground and through the air, so this is a major blow to the Tigers’ offense. Likely to get the first opportunity in the backfield will be Kylan Watkins, who rushed for 325 yards in 2019. However, a more interesting name to remember down the road is Asa Martin. The former four-star transferred to Memphis from Auburn but then had to sit out the 2019 season.
Farrell’s take: Watch out for Martin here as he has a ton of talent but Watkins will be the guy to step up first and get the opportunity. And it’s a great opportunity with a talented offense. He can easily push for a 1,000-yard season.
Miami DE Greg Rousseau
The skinny: Rousseau burst onto the national scene last season with 54 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks. Adding Quincy Roche as a grad transfer will definitely help the Canes, but who will step up on the opposite side? This finally seems like the perfect opportunity for Jaelen Phillips, the former five-star, to reach his potential. The UCLA transfer has yet to play in Coral Gables, as he sat out the 2019 season after his move to the East Coast, but all eyes will be on him this fall to see if he makes the most of this new opportunity.
Farrell’s take: Phillips has amazing upside and is one of the most physically gifted prospects I’ve seen out of high school. The buzz around him is impressive and he’s wowing people in practice so if he can stay healthy he can be an instant star. He was a consensus five-star out of high school.
LSU DT Tyler Shelvin
The skinny: Shelvin was expected to be a key cog in the center of the defensive line for the Tigers this season, so finding a replacement won’t be simple. However, coach Ed Orgeron has a reputation for developing players at the position so there is optimism that someone will step up this fall. True freshmen Jaquelin Roy and Jacobian Guillory have made positive early impressions and Glen Logan made the move from end into the interior, but the most likely to make an immediate impact in 2020 is Siaki Ika. Despite some struggles to maintain his weight in 2019, he still showed flashes of stardom while totaling 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. If motivated, he has a chance to excel this season.
Farrell’s take: Ika is a lot like Shelvin as a big interior lineman who struggles with his weight but has quick feet and agility for his size. He’s going to be the run-stuffer in this new defense and while Shelvin will be missed and was more active this will be a chance for Ika to step up.
Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt
The skinny: With Surratt missing a portion of the 2019 season with an injury, Wake Forest already had an opportunity to try and look into its future without him. However, this opportunity did not produce any clear answers. Grad transfer Donald Stewart, who arrived from Stanford, immediately gains more importance, and Nolan Groulx has the potential to excel but has yet to find his stride in Winston-Salem. Showing the most potential thus far has been Donavon Greene, who totaled 13 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns in only four games. Without Surratt attracting much of the attention, will Greene continue to develop? He will have to if Wake Forest hopes to move the ball offensively in 2020.
Farrell’s take: Greene is my choice for a guy to step up but watch out for Groulx who has a ton of talent. Replacing Surratt won’t be easy and it will take a few people to do so but there is talent waiting in the wings. Groulx was one of the highest rated recruits for Wake Forest in recent history and he will show that soon.
Pitt DT Jaylen Twyman
The skinny: Trying to replace 41 tackles and 10.5 sacks from the interior of their defensive line will be a challenge for the Panthers. However, their defensive line is one of the deeper positions on the team so there are viable candidates. Keyshon Camp returns after suffering a season-ending knee injury in camp last August and Tyler Bentley continues to improve, but the choice here is Devin Danielson. He won’t get after the quarterback like Twyman did, but he is a force against the run and has impressed with his strength and athleticism.
Farrell’s take: Danielson was a high three-star out of high school and a powerful prospect who could push the pocket. He can’t chase like Twyman can but he’s adding athleticism to his game. Camp coming back will be huge and take pressure off others.
LSU S Kary Vincent
The skinny: The Tigers generally reload in the secondary, and while there is plenty of young talent prepared to replace Vincent, there is no surefire candidate. One reason for this was Vincent’s versatility, which will likely require a couple of players to ease his departure. Based on his play last season, and coach Ed Orgeron’s public opinions about him, look for Cordale Flott to be given the biggest opportunity to become a vital part of the Tigers’ secondary this fall. Showing increased confidence during the 2019 season, Flott finished with 15 tackles and three pass breakups. Expect him to take that next step in 2020.
Farrell’s take: Vincent will be missed because of his versatility and Flott will have to step up for sure. The corner position is loaded which will help make safety easier but there is quite a drop off from Vincent to Flott.
Auburn LB Chandler Wooten
The skinny: Coming off his best collegiate season in 2019, many projected Wooten to have a breakout season this fall. Now that will have to wait, and the Tigers are left to try and replace the former three-star. He was also a vocal leader, which may even be tougher to replace. However, with a linebacking group that also includes Owen Pappoe, K.J. Britt and Zakoby McClain, the position is deep. Josh Marsh was a likely replacement, but he then also opted out this season. So right now the two players who have emerged are redshirt freshman Kameron Brown and true freshman Wesley Steiner. With the veterans around them, there should be room for growth for whoever takes over the position this fall.
Farrell’s take: The linebacker group at Auburn is very deep so this won’t be a huge problem and I look for Brown to step and and help the Tigers not lose a beat. Wooten said he will be back in 2021 but for now all is still fine at Auburn at linebacker with three stars and a lot of depth.