Greg OstendorfESPN Staff Writer
The deadline for underclassmen to declare early for the NFL draft has passed. Earlier, we broke down how some of the early departures affected teams from the SEC East. Now it’s time to look at the West.
Teams hit hardest: Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M
Alabama is always one of the teams hit the hardest with the way Nick Saban keeps producing NFL talent year in and year out. But the Crimson Tide only saw three players declare early this go-around. Still, it won’t be easy to replace Cam Robinson, the team’s starting left tackle for the past three seasons, and Marlon Humphrey, the team’s top cornerback. Both are expected to go in the first round. LSU also had a pair of surefire first-round picks declare early in safety Jamal Adams and running back Leonard Fournette, along with two others — wide receiver Malachi Dupre and defensive lineman Davon Godchaux. As for Texas A&M, the Aggies are losing the player many think could go No. 1 overall in Myles Garrett, along with a pair of talented wide receivers.
Most fortunate team: Auburn
It won’t be easy to replace Carl Lawson, but you can’t fault the star defensive end for declaring early. Technically, he was supposed to be a senior this past year, but he missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. Fully healthy, Lawson proved to be one of the best players in the SEC. It could’ve been a lot worse for Auburn, though. There were rumblings that running back Kamryn Pettway and offensive linemen Braden Smith and Austin Golson might join Lawson in the draft, but all three opted to return to school. Pettway, a redshirt sophomore this past year, missed four games and still finished fifth in the conference with 1,224 yards rushing. Even safety Tray Matthews flirted with the decision to leave early, but the former Georgia transfer announced Monday via Twitter that he was coming back for another year.
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver exodus
For all the quarterback struggles in the SEC this past year, it’s a little surprising to see so many underclassmen wide receivers declare early for the draft. There were five in the West alone, and the only one that makes much sense is ArDarius Stewart at Alabama, who many project to go in the first three rounds. Some team might take Dupre around that same time based on talent, but the LSU receiver caught just 41 passes for 593 yards and three touchdowns this past season. Imagine what another year might have done for him. Damore’ea Stringfellow and Ricky Seals-Jones have the size to play in the NFL but neither is ranked among the top 10 at their position, according to Mel Kiper Jr., and both have had off-field issues in the past. Lastly, there’s Speedy Noil, a former top recruit who never lived up to the hype while at Texas A&M.
Biggest individual loss: Texas A&M
Between Robinson, Humphrey, Adams and Fournette, there are four potential first-round picks leaving early from the SEC West. There’s a strong possibility that Adams and Fournette get taken in the top 10. But as much as those losses will affect Alabama and LSU in 2017, how do you replace arguably the best player in the draft? That’s what Texas A&M has to figure out with Garrett leaving early. It wasn’t a surprise. Similar to former SEC star Jadeveon Clowney, who was drafted No. 1 overall, it was obvious that Garrett was a three-and-done type of player the day he first stepped foot on campus. This past season, he battled injuries and still finished among the league leaders with 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He’s an athletic freak who has wreaked havoc in opposing backfields for the past three years, and now he’s off to do the same in the NFL.