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Replacing the Stars: Who can fill some big shoes next season?

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Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray (AP Images)

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

College football, as always, is losing a ton of talent to the NFL Draft. So, who will step in and replace these stars? Here’s part one of two of Replacing the Stars, headlined by the question of who will replace the Heisman winner.

MORE: Five big QB questions heading into the 2019 season | Five RB questions

  Kyler Murray – Oklahoma   

The skinny: Just a year ago, we did the same article with Baker Mayfield, and that obviously turned out very well for the Sooners. But can the same smooth transition happen yet again with the departure of Kyler Murray to the NFL? Luckily, Oklahoma managed to land transfer Jalen Hurts from Alabama, and he comes in with more big-game experience than basically any returning quarterback in the country. While true freshman Spencer Rattler is likely the quarterback of the future for the Sooners, that future will very likely have to wait until 2020, as this will be Hurts’ team to run this fall.

Farrell’s take: Hurts is the guy, and he puts Oklahoma in good hands. Will he win a third Heisman in a row for Oklahoma? I doubt that, but he can put up some big passing and rushing numbers and will be mentioned if he leads the team to the playoff. If I’m an Oklahoma fan I’m happy that Hurts is on board, but I’d temper my expectations compared to Mayfield and Murray when it comes to throwing the ball.

  Quinnen Williams – Alabama  

The skinny: Not many people expected Williams to put together the amazing season that he did in 2018. So is there anyone on the roster who has the ability to replace him? Alabama is one of the few programs in the country that very well might have that player. While there is no obvious replacement, LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis have the potential to become household names this fall. Ray raised his level of play last fall with 39 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Will he be able to continue to improve in 2019? Mathis was eased onto the field as a redshirt freshman season last fall, and he has people in Tuscaloosa excited about his future.

Farrell’s take: Ray is the guy I see stepping in, but obviously he won’t be Williams, as no one can be. Williams was the best inside pass rusher in the country last year and excellent against the run, so these are big shoes to fill, but Ray has talent and Mathis will be in the rotation as well. Big things are expected of both.

  Nick Bosa – Ohio State  

The skinny: With Bosa missing the majority of the 2018 season, this will be one of the smoothest transitions in the country. Chase Young began to reach his potential during Bosa’s absence, so expectations are through the roof in Columbus that he will take his game to an even higher level in 2019. Possessing the potential to become a high first-round NFL Draft pick, will he be able to put it all together this fall?

Farrell’s take: Young is a special talent, and I don’t see much of a dropoff here at all. In fact, he could be the kind of talent that gets that top five NFL Draft talk as Bosa has (although Bosa has been mentioned as No. 1). Replacing a five-star with a five-star is what makes Ohio State special.

  Josh Allen – Kentucky  

The skinny: Replacing a star is never easy, but for Kentucky replacing Allen may be impossible. He was a generational player for the Wildcats, so expecting one, or even two, players to produce at his level is not realistic. However, the Wildcats have recruited well in recent years, so there are a couple of players to keep an eye on. Likely to get the first crack to fill Allen’s void is senior Kengera Daniel, who has only totaled 13 tackles and one sack during his time in Lexington. Possessing a higher ceiling is Joshua Paschal, who showed promising potential back in 2017 before playing only two games last season due to his diagnosis of malignant melanoma. Fully healthy now, he should be given the opportunity to shine this fall.

Farrell’s take: No one will come close to replacing Allen. Kentucky is recruiting well but we’re not talking about Oklahoma, Alabama or Ohio State here – there will be a drop-off. The senior leadership from Daniel will help and Paschal has a lot of potential but look for a big drop-off in production at the position.

  Devin White – LSU  

The skinny: While LSU regularly has to replace defensive stars, replacing the Dick Butkus Award winner at linebacker may prove to be a little bit more challenging. Most likely to take over for White is Patrick Queen, who was the starter when White served his one-half suspension against Alabama. Finishing with a season-high nine tackles in that game, Queen looked comfortable at the position. Also worth keeping an eye on is Jacob Phillips, who actually made the defensive calls during the first half against Alabama. While he does not have the experience that Queen has at the position, he may be able to slide over and excel if given the opportunity.

Farrell’s take: Queen is a solid replacement, but he’s no Devin White. Phillips however has similar athletic talent and upside so keep an eye out for him even if he doesn’t play the same role. LSU will be fine at linebacker even without White, although he will be missed for his on- field leadership and non-stop effort. White was a lead-by-example guy and someone needs to step into that role.

Byron Murphy – Washington  

The skinny: While replacing Jake Browning and Myles Gaskins will likely get more attention in Seattle, Murphy quietly became a star in the secondary for the Huskies. Luckily, Washington has successfully stockpiled talent in recent years. One of the talented players who has waited for a bigger role is Elijah Molden. Despite only starting two games in 2018, Molden was still named Second-Team All-Pac-12. The former four-star has all the physical attributes to become a star in the Pac-12, which should happen this fall. .

Farrell’s take: Murphy is a special talent and so smooth and effortless at what he does on the field that he will be missed, but Molden looks like a good replacement. Like Murphy, he’s not the biggest corner in the world but he has great instincts and has learned from one of the best. If I’m a Washington fan I think Molden is the next star in the defensive backfield, which is becoming a yearly thing.

  Rashan Gary – Michigan  

The skinny: This is another situation where the transition should be relatively smooth. When Gary missed some time with injuries, Kwity Paye slid into his spot and showed a great deal of potential. And even when Gary was healthy, Paye established himself as a regular member of the defensive line rotation. Having defensive guru coach Don Brown as the leader of the unit should also help Paye this fall. Finishing with 29 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss in 2018, a breakout season is very possible for Paye in 2019.

Farrell’s take: Michigan will need Paye to step up and be a star, because experience and depth at the defensive line position is a question mark. In his time last season, Paye showed he can carry his share of the load, but there will be a drop-off because of all the attention Gary got from opposing offenses.

  Clelin Ferrell – Clemson  

The skinny: There will be a complete overhaul in Clemson’s defensive line, but this transition may prove to be the smoothest of the bunch. Ferrell was a star on the field during his time in Death Valley, and equally important in the locker room. Xavier Thomas brings star potential to the field, but does he have the qualities to also become a team leader? While it may take a little time for Thomas to establish himself in that respect, it would be surprising if he didn’t break out statistically for the Tigers in 2019.

Farrell’s take: I’m tempted to say it, so I guess I will – Thomas will be better than Ferrell this season. He’s more powerful, works off contact better and he’s equally as explosive. We’re talking about replacing a first-round defensive end, and Thomas will be an upgrade. That’s heady stuff. Thomas, to me, is a Nick Bosa-type of talent.

  Noah Fant/TJ Hockenson – Iowa  

The skinny: Iowa has established itself as one of the top tight end programs in the country, but that will be tested after both Fant and Hockenson exited after the 2018 season. The reality is that the remainder of the tight ends on the roster have combined for only two receptions, so there are plenty of question marks heading into the fall. Shaun Beyer is the most intriguing of the candidates, but he is coming off an injury that shortened his 2018 season. Now healthy, he is the likely starter if the season were to begin tomorrow. Nate Wieting, a former walk-on, brings the most experience to the group with three starts, but is considered more of a blocker. The wildcard of the trio is Drew Cook, who actually signed as a quarterback but eventually made the move to tight end. Athletic, but still unproven, the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff is hopeful that he makes substantial progress this off-season.

Farrell’s take: There has to be a drop-off here when you’re talking about two first-round talents at the tight end position. There is little experience here for good reason, so it will be a struggle at first, but watch out for Cook. I have a feeling Iowa will turn him into a tight end standout. Maybe not this season, but down the road.

Jerry Tillery – Notre Dame   

The skinny: It may have taken Tillery a couple of years to truly reach his potential, but when he did he played at an All-American level in South Bend. Two players are likely going to be tasked with replacing Tillery in the middle. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa brings the most experience on the field, but he is coming off of a foot injury that saw him only play two games last fall. He still has to prove himself as a playmaker, but the tools are there to accomplish just that. While young and still raw, it may be Jayson Ademilola who brings the most potential to the field. Forced into playing time as a freshman due to injuries at the position, he showed he has a bright future despite his lack of adequate strength. As that aspect of his game improves the Irish could have a future star on their interior defensive line.

Farrell’s take: Tillery didn’t get as much credit as he deserved when it comes to how key he was to the Notre Dame defense, and he will be tough to replace. Ademiola has excellent athletic upside and Tagovailoa-Amosa showed power in his limited time, so this could be a two-replacing-one situation, unless one emerges. My money is on Ademiola, but it could take a little time.