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Analyzing likely replacements for SEC East draft picks

Wade Payne/Associated Press
Darius English will have big shoes to fill in his attempt to replace Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina.

On Jan. 16, the day after a record 98 underclassmen officially became early NFL draft entries, college football coaches everywhere stood on the rim of the crater and surveyed the roster damage that, along with outgoing seniors, had been done to their programs. Weeks later, the rebuilding process began with spring practice, and in August, the replacement cast of ready-or-nots will be set. College Football 24/7 turns its daily focus to next year's crop of draft talent with a look at the up-and-comers looking to replace 256 draftees plus dozens of gifted undrafted free agents, beginning with the SEC.


DL Dominique Easley

Round 1 (29), New England Patriots
Possibilities: Easley's most likely fill-in is ... a former FSU Seminole? Yes, Darious Cummings indeed began his career at rival Florida State, transferred to JuCo, then transferred from there to UF. The 6-foot-1, 300-pounder saw more extensive action last year after Easley went down with a knee injury.

DB Jaylen Watkins

Round 4 (101), Philadelphia Eagles
Possibilities: Marcus Maye lost his grip on playing time last year and should get another shot this season with much of UF's secondary departing. But he doesn't have the versatility to play a little corner the way Watkins did. Maye is strictly a safety.

LB Ronald Powell

Round 5 (169), New Orleans Saints
Possibilities: Neiron Ball is one option for UF coach Will Muschamp at the Sam position, where Powell played last year. Ball worked the weak side last season and made 25 tackles in seven starts. The highlight? Albeit in a blowout loss to rival FSU, Ball had a sack of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.

OG Jon Halapio

Round 6 (179), New England Patriots
Possibilities: Trenton Brown moved from tackle to guard in the spring and nailed down the right guard job to replace Halapio. Brown is positively massive (6-8, 350), the biggest player on the team, and should help maintain UF's push for the inside running attack. He made five starts at right tackle on an injury-depleted line late last season.


TE Arthur Lynch

Round 5 (155), Miami Dolphins
Possibilities: Jay Rome will come off an injury that kept him out of action in spring practice, but should be the starter for the Bulldogs after catching nine passes last year for 99 yards. At 6-6, 254, he's a typically imposing Georgia tight end with some of the receiving skills Bulldogs tight ends are also known for.

QB Aaron Murray

Round 5 (163), Kansas City Chiefs
Possibilities: Hutson Mason gave Georgia fans an early look at their next quarterback last year with three end-of-season starts after the veteran Murray went down with a knee injury. The results: 67-of-110 passing for 968 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. More importantly, UGA was 2-1 and scored 124 points in those starts. Mason is a strong-armed pocket quarterback who will make plenty of throws, but won't have Murray's experienced awareness.


LB Avery Williamson

Round 5 (151), Tennessee Titans
Possibilities: Mark Stoops may not be ready to declare a replacement for the Wildcats' best defender, but junior Josh Forrest distinguished himself as much as anyone in the spring. Forrest made just 16 tackles a year ago, so the experience void is one that neither Forrest nor anyone else can replace. But he's an athletic option who came up with an interception and blocked two kicks last year as a sophomore.


DL Kony Ealy

Round 2 (60), Carolina Panthers
Possibilities: The Tigers have Markus Golden stepping in for Ealy with high hopes and a proven track record. Golden made 55 tackles last year with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, an unsung hero on a defense that had Ealy and Michael Sam as its pass-rushing headliners. Golden could be primed for double-digit sacks after a strong spring.

OL Justin Britt

Round 2 (64), Seattle Seahawks
Possibilities: Senior Mitch Morse is an experienced tackle who will take on Britt's leadership role and key pass protection task on the left side. He started at right tackle last year and has notched 25 consecutive starts for Mizzou. Connor McGovern was slotted in to Morse's old right tackle spot during spring practice.

CB E.J. Gaines

Round 6 (188), St. Louis Rams
Possibilities: One of the SEC's most promising young cornerback talents replaces Gaines in the form of Aarion Penton, who was excellent as a freshman last season. Penson made 16 stops with an interception, and is expected to start in a young secondary for the Tigers this fall. At 5-10, Penton is small like Gaines was, but has excellent speed and instincts.

DE Michael Sam

Round 7 (249), St. Louis Rams
Possibilities: Shane Ray, like Golden, proved himself as a disruptive force last year with nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 11 quarterback hurries, which ranked second on the team. Ray is undersized at 6-3, 245 pounds, however, and could have trouble on early downs against power-running teams. Athletically, however, he poses problems for offensive tackles on the edge.

South Carolina

DL Jadeveon Clowney

Round 1 (1), Houston Texans
Possibilities: Darius English figures to be the man stepping into some of the biggest shoes in college football. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he's got plenty of length and frame, but not as much bulk. While there's no way English will measure up to Clowney from an athleticism standpoint, it will only take four sacks all year to beat out the No. 1 overall pick in that category.

WR Bruce Ellington

Round 4 (106), San Francisco 49ers
Possibilities: Watch for sophomore Pharoh Cooper to play a much more significant role in the Gamecocks' offense at receiver this season, and with Ellington moving on, it will be much-needed. Cooper saw some action as a quarterback in the wildcat formation last year, and returned kickoffs and punts, as well.


OL Ja'Wuan James

Round 1 (19), Miami Dolphins
Possibilities: At James' right tackle position, freshman Coleman Thomas took command of the position in spring practice. At 6-6, 311 pounds, he certainly has the size to hold his own in the SEC. Game experience is where Thomas is lacking, but on a completely re-tooled offensive line, Thomas won't be the only one learning on the job.

OL Zach Fulton

Round 6 (193), Kansas City Chiefs
Possibilities: Kyler Kerbyson, a fourth-year junior, figures to step in at Fulton's guard position after an impressive run through spring practice. Kerbyson (6-4, 305 pounds) will be counted on for some leadership even though he's not got the starting experience to go with it.

DL Daniel McCullers

Round 6 (215), Pittsburgh Steelers
Possibilities: Owen Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry will try to replace McCullers in anchoring the middle of the Volunteers' defensive line. McCullers brought more size (6-7, 350) than anyone could hope to replace, but inconsistency and stamina issues limited McCullers' effectiveness at times. Saulsberry (6-4, 300) gives the Vols the most hope at the position, if he can stay healthy.


WR Jordan Matthews

Round 2 (42), Philadelphia Eagles
Possibilities: Jordan Cunningham caught 15 passes for 123 yards last season, which is all he needed to return as the Commodores' most accomplished receiver. Matthews' 112 receptions didn't leave much room for young guys. A redshirt freshman to watch for as a potentially hot newcomer: DeAndre Woods.

OT Wesley Johnson

Round 5 (173), Pittsburgh Steelers
Possibilities: Andrew Jelks not only has a big void to fill from a performance standpoint, but from a leadership one, too. Johnson was a commanding locker-room presence along with being a standout blocker. Jelks (6-6, 290) is just a redshirt freshman.

CB Andre Hal

Round 7 (216), Houston Texans
Possibilities: Hopes are high for sophomore Paris Head, who made three interceptions last season for the Commodores as a redshirt freshman, to step in for Hal as the team's top cover man. Being its top cover man and doing it as well as Hal did, however, are different propositions entirely.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.



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