The early signing date and the omnipresent NCAA transfer portal are two increasingly important factors in shaping personnel projections in college football. But don't forget about the NFL draft deadline for underclassmen to declare.
Monday marked the final date for non-seniors to enter the draft, held April 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee. We now know who is staying and who is leaving. It's time to select the teams that got through the deadline feeling good, and those cringing at the roster damage.
As a reminder, I try to identify teams retaining players who had the opportunity to be drafted fairly high, or teams that lost multiple players who could have returned. Teams that lose a group of players with strong draft grades -- Clemson, Ole Miss, Florida qualify -- shouldn't be branded as losers. Some teams fall somewhere in the middle, as Ohio State and Stanford did this year.
Here's the rundown.
Texas: Other than Clemson, no team emerged from college football's postseason feeling better than Texas. There's serious momentum with the Longhorns, who overwhelmed Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and lost only one underclassman to the draft. While Lil'Jordan Humphrey will be missed at wide receiver, Texas got a big boost when wideout Collin Johnson announced he would return. Safety Brandon Jones also is coming back for 2019. Johnson and Jones both ranked No. 8 in their respective positions on Mel Kiper's list of draft-eligible prospects. Texas also regains linebacker Malcolm Roach, who should have a big season in 2019 if he stays healthy.
Oregon: Days after signing ESPN's No. 5-rated recruiting class, the Ducks got even more good news when quarterback Justin Herbert announced he would be back in 2019. Although Herbert had given indications that he wanted to play one final season in his hometown, he still projected as possibly the top quarterback in the draft. Kiper rated Herbert as the top quarterback and No. 6 overall prospect. Oregon will lose leading receiver Dillon Mitchell (75 receptions for 1,184 yards) to the draft, but top tackler Troy Dye returns at linebacker and versatile offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton also elected to come back.
Auburn: The big victory here is getting Derrick Brown back for one more season. Kiper ranked Brown as the No. 5 draft-eligible defensive tackle and No. 15 overall prospect. Brown will anchor a formidable Auburn defensive line in 2019 alongside Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe, who also return after considering the NFL draft. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was an expected departure after two seasons as the Tigers' starter. Wide receiver Darius Slayton certainly could have stayed for one more year, but Auburn regains tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr.
LSU: Typically, the Tigers are among the national leaders in underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft. Six LSU players declared last year, and the program had a two-year stretch when 17 players declared (after the 2012 and 2013 seasons). While Ed Orgeron's defense loses Butkus Award winner Devin White, standout cornerback Greedy Williams and defensive tackle Ed Alexander, several others are coming back. Defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, who had 10.5 tackles for loss this season and was defensive MVP in LSU's Fiesta Bowl win, opted to return. So did cornerback Kristian Fulton, linebacker Michael Divinity and defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko. Kiper projects both White and Williams as top-five picks, so you can't penalize LSU for their departures.
Michigan State: The defense remains MSU's foundational unit, and all but one of the Spartans' draft-eligible defenders will be back in 2019. Standout linebacker Joe Bachie and dynamic pass-rusher Kenny Willekes both said no to the NFL draft, giving Michigan State a combined 180 tackles, including 29 for loss, and four forced fumbles. Defensive tackle Raequan Williams also is returning after helping MSU lead the nation in run defense. Cornerback Justin Layne (72 tackles, 15 pass breakups) will be missed, but MSU should once again boast one of the nation's stingiest defenses in 2019.
The ACC: The conference celebrating its third national championship in the past six seasons also should be pleased about a relatively small number of underclassmen turning pro. Clemson loses four players, but defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell are likely first-round picks, while Kiper ranks cornerback Trayvon Mullen and linebacker Tre Lamar in his position rankings. Syracuse retained three productive draft-eligible defensive linemen after a 10-win season. Florida State lost only one underclassman, defensive end Brian Burns, a possible first-rounder, and Pitt, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech all had zero early entries. There are a few tough departures, especially at wide receiver -- Wake Forest's Greg Dortch, NC State's Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina's Anthony Ratliff-Williams -- but the league emerged better than most.
Penn State: This is a program that can always expect some early entries to the draft, but five seems like a high number, especially for a 9-4 team. It's not a surprise to see Connor McGovern, Kiper's top offensive guard prospect, make the jump, or Miles Sanders, Kiper's No. 9 running back prospect. But the departure of defensive tackle Kevin Givens came as a surprise and, to a degree, so did offensive tackle Ryan Bates.
Georgia: The Bulldogs had four offensive skill players declare as underclassmen, including their top three pass-catchers, wideouts Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta. None is rated among Kiper's top prospects at their respective positions. Would they have left if Georgia passed the ball more? We'll never know. Quarterback Jake Fromm will have a largely new group of targets in 2019. Running back Elijah Holyfield's departure made sense as D'Andre Swift remains in Athens and Zamir White returns from injury.
Texas A&M: Running back Trayveon Williams had to go after logging 600 career carries and leading the SEC in rushing this past season. But the other three Aggies to depart -- linebacker Tyrel Dodson, tight end Jace Sternberger and offensive lineman Erik McCoy -- all could have stayed, based on their NFL projections. Sternberger had a huge year and could parlay it into a good draft slot, but he isn't ranked among Kiper's top 10 tight end prospects.
Notre Dame: Three early draft entries isn't an overwhelming amount, but Notre Dame could have had all three back. That includes cornerback Julian Love, an All-America selection in 2018 who Kiper has No. 4 in a valuable position group. But a return would not have been outrageous, especially after Love barely played in Notre Dame's CFP semifinal loss to Clemson. Miles Boykin isn't ranked among Kiper's top 10 wide receivers and had good numbers (59 catches, 872 yards, eight touchdowns) but not overwhelming ones. Kiper ranks Alize Mack as the No. 9 draft-eligible tight end. But Mack's numbers, like Boykin's, don't suggest he'll be an early selection in April.
Alabama: I was on the fence about Alabama's place until safety Deionte Thompson and linebacker Mack Wilson both declared for the draft Sunday, a day after cornerback Saivion Smith declared. It brings the Crimson Tide's departure total to seven, a record during the Nick Saban era. Although most of Alabama's entries are projected high in the draft and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis is coming back, the Tide were hit hard on both sides of the ball. There are some obvious first-round picks in the group -- defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, most likely Thompson -- but also others who could have returned, such as Smith.
Iowa: This has long been a program with a better reputation among NFL evaluators than college fans/media, but four early entries is a high number. The Hawkeyes lose both of their star tight ends -- Noah Fant, who Kiper has as the nation's top draft-eligible tight end, and T.J. Hockenson, the 2018 Mackey Award winner. Safety Amani Hooker earned Big Ten defensive back of the year honors in 2018 but isn't ranked on Kiper's list. Although Anthony Nelson made Kiper's list of defensive end prospects, he's at No. 10 and could have returned for one more year. While most programs on this list are used to losing a chunk of underclassmen, Iowa's ability to reload will really be tested in 2019.