football Edit

Replacing the Stars: How programs will try to fill big holes

Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence (AP Images)

Every year college football programs have to replace stars who head off to the NFL Draft, and of course this year is no exception. Here is part one of Replacing the Stars, starting with the presumed No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

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MORE: Three-Point Stance on programs with best football/hoops programs | Quarterback steals in the 2021 NFL Draft

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CLEMSON: TREVOR LAWRENCE - D.J. Uiagalelei

The skinny: Nobody will immediately replace Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, but the Tigers are in a good position with D.J. Uiagalelei. Lawrence will be long remembered in Death Valley as one of the greatest players in the program’s history. Finishing with 10,098 yards and 90 touchdown passes, his move to the NFL as the No. 1 draft pick will give Uiagalelei the job.

Starting two games when Lawrence was out with COVID, he completed 59 of 85 passes for 781 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s a five-star replacing a five-star these days at Clemson, and the Tigers are in good shape here.

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ALABAMA: DEVONTA SMITH AND JAYLEN WADDLE – John Metchie  

The skinny: While 2020 will be remembered for DeVonta Smith’s Heisman Trophy-winning season in Tuscaloosa, the Tide will also have to replace Jaylen Waddle, who missed a majority of the season with an injury. Stepping in as the top receiving threat will be John Metchie, who began to emerge in 2020 with 55 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns.

While the Tide will also be breaking in a new quarterback, look for Metchie's production level to continue to grow. No one player can replace two first-rounders, but Metchie has shown he can be dominant.

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FLORIDA: KYLE TRASK - Emory Jones 

The skinny: After arriving in Gainesville as an under-the-radar two-star recruit, Kyle Trask leaves as one of the more productive Gators quarterbacks in recent history. Totaling 7,224 yards and 68 touchdown passes in his two seasons as a starter, Trask will be replaced by Emory Jones, unless Anthony Richardson makes a big move.

Seeing playing time in each of his last three seasons, Jones has passed for 613 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 514 yards and six touchdowns. While the Gators may lose a step with their passing game Jones should add a new dimension to the offense with his running ability. The problem? They lose so much at receiver.

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ALABAMA: NAJEE HARRIS - Brian Robinson, Jr. 

The skinny: Najee Harris surprised some by deciding to return for his senior season, during which he rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. While the Tide have been able to successfully and consistently replace star running backs over the last several years there doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite in 2021.

Most likely to get that opportunity is Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for 483 yards in 2020. However, there are plenty of additional options if Robinson Jr. doesn’t grasp the opportunity, including Trey Sanders, Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Keilan Robinson, who opted out of the 2020 season. And let’s not forget freshman Camar Wheaton is a five-star prospect.

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OHIO STATE: JUSTIN FIELDS - C.J. Stroud 

The skinny: In his two seasons at Ohio State, Justin Fields passed for 5,373 yards and 63 touchdowns while rushing for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns. While there isn’t a slam dunk candidate as a replacement, the current frontrunner is C.J. Stroud in my eyes.

Both he and Jack Miller saw spot duty in 2020, but neither attempted a pass. Stroud, however, possesses the higher ceiling and a similar skillset to Fields, which should make the transition smoother for the Buckeyes' offense. But freshman Kyle McCord could make this interesting.

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UNC: JAVONTE WILLIAMS AND MICHAEL CARTER - Ty Chandler 

The skinny: Javonte Williams and Michael Carter combined to form the most lethal running back duo in the country last season, rushing for 3,113 yards and 28 touchdowns. How the Tar Heels would replace this production was a big question mark until the landed Ty Chandler from the transfer portal in January.

Chandler arrives in Chapel Hill after rushing for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns at Tennessee, which should bring a consistent threat to the North Carolina offense.

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TEXAS: SAM EHLINGER - Casey Thompson and Hudson Card 

The skinny: Replacing Sam Ehlinger, who played in 46 games while totaling over 13,000 yards of total offense, won’t be an easy task in Austin. Hudson Card was seen by many as the favorite to become the starter, but Casey Thompson’s performance in the Longhorns’ Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado quickly changed that.

Completing 8 of 10 passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns, Thompson ran the offense like a veteran. While he isn’t guaranteed the starting job, it will be up to Card to surpass him this spring and summer.

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MIAMI: JAELAN PHILLIPS - DeAndre Johnson  

The skinny: The Canes have plenty of talent to replace at the defensive end position. Along with Jaelan Phillips, Quincy Roche is also heading to the NFL and Gregory Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft.

Getting DeAndre Johnson from the transfer portal should answer some of these concerns. As a first-year starter at Tennessee in 2020, he had 28 tackles, six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He should be able to seamlessly slide into the Miami defense and make an immediate impact.

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TCU: TREVON MOEHRIG AND AR’DARIUS WASHINGTON – TJ Carter/La’Kendrick Van Zandt/Nook Bradford  

The skinny: Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington formed the top safety combo in the country in Fort Worth. Luckily for the Horned Frogs, they do have some viable candidates. Both La’Kendrick Van Zandt and Nook Bradford started at the third safety position during different times of the season, but the most intriguing option is transfer TJ Carter. While he played cornerback at Memphis, he will likely slide into one of the two safety spots this fall at TCU.

The Horned Frogs may lack depth after these three options, but if they can avoid injuries they should be able to have success at the position.

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ALABAMA: PATRICK SURTAIN - Jalyn Armour-Davis 

The skinny: While Alabama’s secondary will be loaded in 2021, replacing Patrick Surtain may prove to be one of the Tide’s biggest challenges during the offseason. The All-American totaled 37 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2020, and the options to replace him seem limited.

Jalyn Armour-Davis and Marcus Banks have the most experience, but mostly on special teams. JUCO addition Khyree Jackson will be given an opportunity, although he doesn’t arrive until the summer, and Brandon Turnage brings potential.

Look for Armour-Davis to start the season at the position, but don’t be surprised if others get an opportunity. And let’s not count out late 2021 class addition Terrion Arnold, who has a ton of potential as a true freshman.