Moving Forward: How Will Elite Football Programs Replace the Top Picks from the NFL Draft?

The pomp and circumstance of the 2015 NFL Draft has come and gone. All of the stars we spent the last four years (and sometimes less) watching are moving on to the next stage of their careers. This leaves programs around the country wondering: “Are we rebuilding or are we reloading?”

Let’s take a look at the top five picks in the NFL draft, and who is in line to replace them on their college team:


Who replaces Jameis Winston?

Winston played only two years of college football, but he left gigantic shoes to fill. FSU went 17-1 over the last two years and 16-0 in ACC games. Oh yeah, the Noles also won a national championship. So, who’s the lucky guy who will replace him?

For the short term, it’s Sean Maguire. Maguire saw action in four games last year, completing 51 percent of his passes, throwing for 339 yards and tossing 1 TD and 2 INT. Maguire has a good arm but has struggled to be consistent. Maguire also has a lot more limitations than Winston did (who doesn’t?), but there are some things he does really well. Expect Florida State’s offense to look a little different to start 2015 as the team tailors it to fit Maguire’s strengths.

Long-term, Maguire has two years of eligibility left, but he might get passed on the depth chart at some point because FSU is stocked with young quarterbacks. If you are looking to 2016, Deondre Francis is the player to watch. Francis isn’t on campus yet, but he will be this fall. He was 247 Sports’ third-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2015.

Who replaces Marcus Mariota?

Mariota spent three years at the top of the Oregon QB depth chart. During those three years, the Ducks went 36-5 with a 23-4 Pac-12 Conference record. They also won the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2014.

There are a couple of players who could replace Mariota. Mariota’s primary backup last season was Jeff Lockie. He’s a junior who played in ten games but attempted just 28 passes.

The odds-on favorite is transfer Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington. If you are a regular reader here, you’ve heard of Adams. We’ve already thrown him bouquets here and here. Adams has the potential to pick up right where Mariota left off. The big question is if he’s ready for the constant pressure and competition of the FBS (and Pac-12) instead of a being a big fish in the small FCS pond.

Who replaces Dante Fowler Jr.?

The Florida Gators went just 7-5 last year. Despite that failure, which cost Will Muschamp his job, the Gators still fielded a very good defense. Fowler led the Gators with 8.5 sacks, 15 TFLs, and 17 QB hurries. He placed fourth on the team with 60 total tackles. New coach Jim McElwain says he won’t try to replace Fowler because he was just too good.

So who replaces his production, though? Alex McCalister finished second on the Gators with six sacks last year, so he will be asked to step up as the leader in that department. Senior Johnathan Bullard is the guy that needs to step up his game. In 2012, Bullard was the top-ranked strong-side DE recruit in the country. So far in three years he has just 5.5 sacks. It’s time for Bullard to live up to his billing if the Gators want to see improvement in 2015.

Who replaces Amari Cooper?

In 2010, Julio Jones had 78 receptions with 7 TDs. The next season the Tide went with more of a ground-oriented approach as Trent Richardson ran for over 1,600 yards.

Last year, Amari Cooper caught 124 passes for the Tide. 124! The next two top receivers (DeAndrew White and Christion Jones) combined for 59 receptions, but they were both seniors.

With the Cooper crutch taken from under Lane Kiffin’s arm, where will the Tide’s offensive coordinator turn? Viewed narrowly, Chris Black is the next leading returning receiver, but he doesn’t really play Cooper’s position. Cam Sims (7 receptions as a freshman) and Robert Foster (6, also as a freshman) are more likely candidates.

Instead of one player replacing Cooper, look for Kiffin to spread the ball around more. This includes getting tight end O.J. Howard more involved in the offense. Howard had just 17 receptions last year but owns the athleticism to be a difference maker on offense for the Tide. Also, as in 2011, look for the Tide to pound the rock more since Derrick Henry should truly come into his own this season.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.