The commitments and decommitments that everyone is focusing on at the moment are centered around National Signing Day on Feb. 1, but one of the biggest decision days in college football already has come and gone.
That was Jan. 16, when underclassmen who wished to enter the 2017 NFL Draft had to make their choice official and apply for early entry, thus ending their collegiate careers.
While National Signing Day signifies mostly promise for the future, the decisions of players on the professional fence makes a big difference for teams right now.
With that in that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the early entrant decisions in the SEC:
The Bulldogs surprisingly hung on to junior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The trend is for running backs to get out of college while the getting is good. On top of that, Georgia’s running game inexplicably floundered last year, which seemingly would increase the chances Chubb and Michel would bolt. Instead, they stayed, meaning on Nov. 4, the Gamecocks will have to see both in red and black. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter and safety Dominick Sanders also return for the Bulldogs, who did lose wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Tim Kimbrough to early entry.
The Tide lose plenty – cornerback Marlon Humphrey, offensive tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver ArDarius Stewart – but has players coming back, too. The most obvious name on that list is running back Bo Scarbrough. Keeping a back who averaged 62.5 yards per game might not seem like a big deal, but the physically imposing Scarbrough showed his gifts during the postseason. And, don’t laugh, the return of punter J.K. Scott for his senior season will be a boost for the Crimson Tide.
Kamryn Pettway, the leading rusher in the SEC last year with 122.4 yards per game, decided to return along with Tray Matthews, which cushions the blow from the expected loss of defensive lineman Carl Lawson.
The Gators are losing a lot, notably a lot of Will Muschamp-recruited defenders. Cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are both heading out early as are defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and linebacker Alex Anzolone, and there are questions in Gainesville about whether or not coach Jim McElwain is recruiting well enough to make up for the losses. The Gators first two recruiting classes under McElwain were ranked No. 12 and No. 21 in the country and this one is ranked No. 24 at the moment (by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings).
It’s hard to believe Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s school sacks record in just three seasons, but he did and now he’s headed to the NFL Draft. Running back Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone are going with him and with running back Jalen Hurd already out after a midseason transfer, the Vols have to remake their entire backfield.
The Tigers got a sneak peak of what life without Leonard Fournette was like last season because of injuries that kept him out of the lineup consistently. Now, Fournette is gone for good, along with wide receiver Malachi Dupree, safety Jamal Adams and defensive lineman Davon Godchaux.
Defensive end Myles Garrett will be a big loss and will get most of the attention, but the most interesting name on the Aggies early entry list is wide receiver Speedy Noil. The five-star recruit from New Orleans signed with Texas A&M at the height of coach Kevin Sumlin’s popularity, but never made a five-star impact. He leaves after three seasons with 88 career catches for 1,134 yards, good but not great, kind of like the Aggies. Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones is also leaving early.
Leaving for the NFL
The early entrants to the NFL draft from SEC teams:
Alabama: CB Marlon Humphrey; OT Cam Robinson; WR ArDarius Stewart
Auburn: DE Carl Lawson
Florida: DT Caleb Brantley; OL David Sharpe; CB Jalen Tabor; CB Quincy Wilson; LB Alex Anzalone
Georgia: LB Tim Kimbrough; WR Isaiah McKenzie
Kentucky: RB Boom Williams
LSU: S Jamal Adams; WR Malachi Dupre; RB Leonard Fournette; DL Davon Godchaux
Missouri: DL Charles Harris
Ole Miss: WR Damore’ea Stringfellow
Tennessee: DE Derek Barnett; RB Alvin Kamara; WR Josh Malone
Texas A&M: DE Myles Garrett; WR Speedy Noil; WR Ricky Seals-Jones
Vanderbilt: LB Zach Cunningham