Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
There are many college football stars headed off to the NFL as we saw at the NFL Combine. But who will replace these stars? Here is Part 2 of Replacing The Stars, led by the freakiest linebacker in the draft.
VIRGINIA TECH LB TREMAINE EDWARDS
The skinny: Along with his brother Terrell, the Hokies will have two Edmunds’ holes to fill during this off-season. However, it is Tremaine who should prove to be the more challenging to replace, especially with his back-up, Anthony Shegog, also gone. We will give the early nod to Dylan Rivers, who despite seeing only limited action in seven games last season, has shown a good amount of potential. If Rivers’ doesn’t grab the opportunity, look for Rico Kearney, Jaylen Griffin or even Alan Tisdale, who is an early enrolled freshman who has already created good buzz.
Farrell’s take: Edmunds is hard to replace for obvious reasons because you just can’t find a linebacker with his size and athleticism very often. I’m not sure there is a linebacker on the roster that will fill the gap, although Rivers is a solid player. This could end up being a big hole in the Hokies defense and many players will have to step up to account for Edmunds loss.
IOWA CB JOSH JACKSON
The skinny: After a somewhat quiet start to his Iowa career, Jackson exploded onto the national season with his performance in 2017. At different points, both Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia were the most likely candidates to replace Jackson, but both have under-performed to this point for the Hawkeyes. And with their lackluster play, Matt Hankins has grabbed the opportunity and now is the most likely to replace Jackson in 2018. As a true freshman last season, Hankins played in nine games, totaling 21 tackles, His level of play improved throughout the season, as did his confidence. Look for him to solidify his status during the spring and summer.
Farrell’s take: Jackson has great ball skills and was a huge playmaker for the Hawkeyes, but the coaching staff does a great job of the “next man up” mentality and they will be able to replace at least his coverage skills. The ball skills are hard to match but Hankins has talent and should emerge as a standout for Iowa this season.
ALABAMA WR CALVIN RIDLEY
The skinny: It is somewhat silly to say that it will be easy to replace someone of Ridley’s production and talent, but with the young wide receivers Alabama has stockpiled, it really shouldn’t be a lingering issue. Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III all flashed last season, including in the national playoffs where they showed everyone that the Tide wide receiving corps can actually improve in the next two seasons. It is difficult to pick one above the other two, but we’ll continue with the Florida trend and go with Jeudy, who follows Amari Cooper and Ridley in becoming the next great Dade/Broward receiver in Tuscaloosa.
Farrell’s take: This will be more of a committee approach to replace Ridley and with Alabama’s improved passing game, the ball should be distributed more evenly. Jeudy has the skill to be the next guy from Florida, but there is an embarrassment of riches here and ‘Bama will be just fine at wide receiver despite Ridley’s ability to dominate.
LSU RB DERRIUS GUICE
The skinny: After going from Leonard Fournette to Guice, LSU actually has some serious question marks at the position leading up to 2018. On top of losing Guice, capable Darrel Williams is also gone, so who will step up? Senior Nick Brossette is the most likely candidate, but he doesn’t possess the game-breaking abilities the Tigers are accustomed to. So while Brossette will get his fair share of carries, look for Edwards-Helaire, who has the quicker burst, to establish himself as the big play back in Baton Rouge this fall.
Farrell’s take: This could be a huge drop off here as Fournette-to-Guice is hard to keep going. Both had speed, ran with power but both also had injury issues, so perhaps the replacement will be able to stay off the training table. But I still don’t see a guy who can come in and mimic what Guice did for LSU and this could be a big hole to fill.
USC RB RONALD JONES
The skinny: This will be one of the easier replacements of a top level player in the country, with Carr primed for a breakout season. Carr did miss four games with a foot injury in 2017, but managed to rush for 363 yards and three touchdowns. He has all the tools to have a big season this fall. And when he needs a breather, senior Aca’Cedric Ware has proven himself as a reliable back-up during his time with the Trojans.
Farrell’s take: Carr is ready and Carr will be great, so I don’t have any worries despite how effective and dynamic Jones was for USC. I expect Carr to be the same dangerous weapon as Jones as early as this season and the USC running game will be just fine.
MICHIGAN DL MAURICE HURST
The skinny: The Wolverines have been stockpiling defensive talent in recent years, and with elite defensive coordinator Don Brown leading the way, there are a couple of possible replacements for Hurst. The first is fifth-year senior Marshall, who has been very patient, while improving his overall game from year-to-year. If the Wolverines don’t go the route of the veteran, Michael Dwumfour has impressed the coaching staff with his tenacity and quickness over the last year. Look for both to get ample playing time in 2018.
Farrell’s take: This could be a huge drop off because Hurst did so much. He not only stuffed the run but he was excellent at pressuring and flushing the passer and I doubt there is someone on the roster who could do the same thing from his position unless they go with Rashan Gary in the interior, which wouldn’t be the best move. Brown can get the most out of players, but even he knows it will be hard to replace Hurst.
TEXAS LB MALIK JEFFERSON
The skinny: Jefferson became the heart-and-soul of the Texas defense, so aside from losing his production, the Longhorns will also be looking for a new leader. While neither of these two players will likely became an overnight leader in Austin, both Johnson and Anthony Wheeler have the potential to ease the loss of Jefferson. Johnson, who arrived last season from a junior college, totaled 57 tackles and six tackles for a loss in 2017, while Wheeler added 45 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss. Johnson is the more likely candidate at this time, but both will get a long hard look during the off-season.
Farrell’s take: I like the talent left behind here and while they will struggle to replace Jefferson’s production, the potential is there. Both candidates have experience and have produced so Texas is actually in a good position here in replacing Jefferson.
OHIO STATE DL SAM HUBBARD
The skinny: The Buckeyes have been in the business of just reloading their defensive line in recent years, and while Hubbard will be missed, both Young and Jonathan Cooper are more than capable of playing opposite Nick Bosa. However, while Cooper has flashed potential, it is Young who has Ohio State fans even more excited. Totaling 18 tackles, five tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble in limited action as a true freshman last fall, Young very well may be the next great Ohio State defensive end.
Farrell’s take: Next man up at Ohio State and this won’t be a huge problem. I love Hubbard’s motor and that will be hard to replace, but when it comes to skill, the Buckeyes have the talent waiting in the wings.
LOUISVILLE QB LAMAR JACKSON
The skinny: After Lamar Jackson’s last two seasons, hopes need to be tempered a bit in Louisville for the successor. Look for Malik Cunningham to get a fair opportunity, but for Pass to push hard for the starting job. Pass was impressive as Jackson’s back-up last season, as he completed almost 70 percent of his passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 62 yards and one touchdown. While these numbers are impressive, they came from only 33 attempts and in low-stress situations when the game was already settled. It is unclear how smoothly this transition will go, but the Cardinals do seem to have a quarterback that they can mold their offense around.
Farrell’s take: Both Cunningham and Pass have talent and will be good fits in Bobby Petrino’s system, but no one replaces Jackson, sorry. He’s a once-in-a-decade talent and there will be a drop off in productivity, there’s no doubt about it. How far a drop there is will determine how successful Louisville can be.
TEXAS A&M WR CHRISTIAN KIRK
The skinny: Kirk was the best offensive weapon that Texas A&M had since he stepped foot on campus three years ago. Now with him gone, it is likely that a couple of players will be relied on to ease his loss. Jhamon Ausbon has the skillset to become an NFL caliber receiver, but his frame and style won’t confuse anyone with Kirk. Camron Buckley is closer to what Kirk brought to the table, and will also contribute on special teams. So in other words, don’t look for one player to try to replace Kirk, but the Aggies do have the talent to make the transition somewhat painless.
Farrell’s take: A lot of this depends on quarterback play, but replacing Kirk will be tough simply because he gained separation so consistently and there might not be a receiver on the roster who can do the same thing. I like the young guys at the position, but there is no Kirk waiting in the wings.