Earlier today, we looked at the SEC’s numerous departed quarterbacks and evaluated which players will be most difficult to replace. But what about the non-quarterbacks from the league?
Think about guys like Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry or any number of the Crimson Tide’s star defenders (starting with defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland), Ole Miss’ trio of Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. All of those guys left behind enormous voids when they departed for the NFL.
Our SEC writers discussed which of the conference’s non-QBs will be most difficult to replace and came up with three names. Here are our choices:
Sam Khan Jr. -- Few players did as much for their teams as former South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper did for his. He was the best offensive weapon for the Gamecocks and had a role on special teams, too. In the last two seasons combined, Cooper caught 135 passes for 2,109 yards and 17 touchdowns, he rushed for 311 yards and three scores and even threw three touchdown passes. He also served as the team's primary punt returner. The Gamecocks did bring in five receivers in their recruiting class, including ESPN 300 prospect Bryan Edwards, who enrolled in January. While the U.S. Army All-American is a promising prospect, replicating what Cooper did -- at least right away -- is a tall task.
Greg Ostendorf --A lot of potential first-round picks come to mind, names like Ragland or Hargreaves, but what about Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers? He’s not expected to be taken in the first round, but no player in college football had more tackles than Brothers (152) did last year. In fact, going back to 2008, no SEC player has ever had that many tackles in one season. The guy was all over the field for a Missouri team that finished second in the conference in total defense. He also had 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three blocked kicks. Good luck replacing that type of production. The Tigers do get back fellow linebackers Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom -- and Brandon Lee is waiting in the wings -- but Brothers was a rare talent. His on-field ability, along with his leadership, won’t be easy to replace.
David Ching -- Those are great choices, but I’m making possibly the easiest pick from the conference. The distinct possibility that he will become the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft is all the evidence I need. The guy I’m referring to is Ole Miss offensive tackle Tunsil, of course. He was one of the conference’s most impressive left tackles as soon as he entered the SEC and remained near (or at) the top of the list for the next three years. Hugh Freeze hopes he already has the next Tunsil on board in five-star offensive tackle signee Greg Little. Maybe he does, but that’s far from a sure thing. Players of Tunsil’s quality don’t come along often, and even if Little also develops into a special player, he almost certainly will not be at Tunsil’s level immediately.