Biggest shoes to fill in the SEC
Arguably the deepest and "best" conference in college football, it makes sense that SEC teams would have some of the biggest shoes to fill. In April, we saw the conference break NFL draft records for 1st round picks, top 10 picks, top 15 picks, and most picks in the first 2 rounds. LSU also tied the single team record for most players drafted. Because of this, there are many replacements needed. Here are the ones with the biggest shoes to fill.
Joe Burrow set the world on fire with his performance for the national champions last year. He won nearly every major award, including the Heisman Trophy, set several team, conference, and national records, and became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. That's a ton for anyone to live up to. The unlucky successor is junior Myles Brennan, who is the only QB on the Tigers' roster with NCAA game experience.
Another QB that set the world on fire for most of his college career was Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa. Tua took over for Jalen Hurts in the 2017-18 National Championship game against Georgia, leading the Tide to an overtime victory. Considered a generational talent, he may have beat out Burrow for the top NFL Draft pick, if not for a late-season injury. Mac Jones returns after filling in as Tua's replacement after the injury. While this experience should give him a leg up, heralded freshman Bryce Young is expected to also push for the job. There are 4 other QBs on Alabama's roster that are seen as lesser threats for now.
The Bulldogs lost D'Andre Swift and Brian Herrien from last year's team. Swift is definitely the more notable loss after becoming Georgia's 7th all-time leading rusher and earning All-Conference honors. Herrien was the team's second leading rusher in 2019 and a key contributor on special teams, mainly kickoffs. The 2020 Bulldogs have high hopes for James Cook and Zamir White. Cook, a junior, has played in 27 games for the team and was a high school All-American. He is also the brother of Minnesota Vikings running back, Dalvin Cook. If he's anything like his brother, he'll be a good one. The sophomore White was 3rd on the team in rushing last season, which makes him the team's leading returning rusher. Building off that season can create a nice duo in Georgia.
LSU Offensive Line
LSU lost 4 of the 5 starting offensive linemen from 2019. Senior OT Austin Deculus is all that remains. Any team will struggle to replace that many starters, but they should rely on their experienced players. However, they don't have many; just juniors Ed Ingram and Chasen Hines and Harvard transfer Liam Shanahan. The rest of their o-linemen are all sophomores or freshmen. While several were highly recruited, it will be tough for them to face some of the defenses in this conference. Better hope the experienced guys step up.
The Tide always seem to replace great players with more great players. They'll have to do so again in 2020 at the outside linebacker position, after losing Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings to the NFL. Lewis finished the 2019 campaign 9th in the SEC in sacks and earned All-SEC honors. Jennings also earned All-SEC honors and was 4th in the conference in sacks. As a team that likes to use OLBs as pass rushers, these two will be difficult to replace. Ben Davis and Christopher Allen appear to be next in line. Davis played in 11 games last season, while Allen played in 13.
The LSU offense was phenomenal last year, and that might be an understatement. They have 2 star receivers returning, Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, but lost 2 receivers and 2 tight ends. I listed this as "TE" because, with no stars at the position, that's where they have the bigger need. Even though Thaddeus Moss was only in Baton Rouge for 1 season (after transferring from NC Sate), he set LSU single-season records for receptions and receiving yards for a tight end. Stephen Sullivan is also in the NFL after playing both tight end and wide receiver throughout his career. He was a productive player in 49 games, including 11 starts. Senior Jamal Pettigrew seems like a logical choice, but they also have Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, Arik Gilbert, coming in as a freshman.
Auburn lost both Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson from its defensive line, both of whom were drafted in the first 2 rounds. Brown was a 3 year starter, winner of multiple national awards, and the 1st defensive tackle selected in April. He recorded 170 tackles in his Auburn career. Davidson was a 4 year starter and also earned All-SEC and All-America honors. He made 175 tackles and ranks 8th is Tigers' history in sacks. Fellow starters Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell return, but there are 2 big spots to fill with many unproven options. T.D. Moultry is the most experienced, and extending his role would make the most sense.
The Vols lost pass rushing LB Darrell Taylor and middle Linebacker Daniel Bituli. Taylor was an All-Sec performer and finished 2019 2nd in the conference in sacks. Bituli was the team's leading tackler for 3 straight seasons and also earned All-SEC honors. 2019 Freshmen All-American Henry To'o To'o returns, and senior Deandre Johnson will see an expanded role. Several other sophomores may also see their roles increase.
Mississippi State LB
The Bulldogs lost stars Wilie Gay and Leo Lewis form the middle of their defense, along with several depth players. While Gay had some off-the-field troubles that limited his playing time, he was one of their best defenders when on the field. The Kansas City Chiefs even deemed him worthy of their 2nd round draft choice. Lewis was a 4 year starter, recording 235 tackles in his career. He received several awards during his freshman season in 2016. Errol Thompson returns for his senior year. Thompson has 217 career tackles and was the Bulldogs' leader in the category last year. He is also a captain and All-SEC performer. The other LB spots are a mystery.
The Gators lost 4 senior wide receivers in Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, and Freddie Swain. Jefferson was the team's leading receiver the past 2 season and a popular sleeper pick among NFL Draft pundits. Hammond, Swain, and Cleveland were all extremely productive role players, who each had over 900 career receiving yards. That might not sound like much, but Florida's QBs struggled for most of these players' careers. Trevon Grimes assumes No. 1 WR duties with help coming from RB/WR Kadarius Toney and the expanded role of Jacob Copeland. Expect to see them use their tight ends to lessen the load.
The Bulldogs will have to replace Solomon Kindley, Isaiah Wilson, and Andrew Thomas on the offensive line. Thomas and Wilson were both first round picks, and Kindley was drafted on Day 3. Thomas was even considered by some as the best tackle in this class. That's bad news for Georgia. The good news is All-SEC performers Ben Cleveland and Trey Hill both return on the interior. That leaves both tackle spots and a guard spot to fill. Jamaree Salyer saw some starting action in a couple games at right tackle last year. Justin Shaffer played a few at the guard spot. The rest have limited action, so we'll have to see what the coaches decide.
Alabama WR: Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy are gone, but Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith are both back and have big NFL potential.
LSU LB: The Tigers lose Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips in the middle along with K'Lavon Chaisson on the outside. If not for North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox, this would have made my list. The combination of Cox and Damone Clark, with enough depth and seniority to replace Chaisson on the edge, should be adequate enough to keep the defense at a high level.
LSU DB: Stars Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton have moved on, but Jacoby Stevens, Derrick Stingley Jr, and several other role player return from 2019.
Florida RB: Lamical Perine was a force in the Gators' backfield, showing great ability as a runner and a receiver. That will be sorely missed. Kadarius Toney can help lift the burden with a breakout year. His speed is game-changing. Dameon Pierce also has experience at the position.