Here are 20 SEC players tasked with replacing those who are leaving school early to enter the 2023 NFL Draft.
As the SEC continues to churn out national championship football teams, it also continues to funnel players into the NFL. Each year, more SEC players are drafted than from any other conference. Younger SEC stars see how high their brethren are being selected and oftentimes, when they get their chance, the next wave heads to the NFL early as well.
But all that does is set the SEC up for the next cycle. Waiting in the wings is another group of insanely talented players that will probably be eyeing the next level in 365 days. Here are 20 SEC talents that are moving on and their possible replacements in 2023.
Gone: Bryce Young, QB
Besides winning a national title and the Heisman Trophy (in 2021) as a starting quarterback, Young could not accomplish much more during his time in Tuscaloosa. He quite possibly could be the first quarterback taken in April, if not the No. 1 overall pick.
In: Ty Simpson
It will most likely be Simpson or Justin Milroe. Milroe had his shot when Young was banged up this season and he proved to be more advanced as a runner than a thrower at this time. Simpson came in as a decorated five-star prospect and is my projection as the Week 1 starter for the Tide this fall.
Gone: Will Anderson Jr., LB
Anderson also will be among the top players taken in this year's draft. A freaky athlete on the edge, the Alabama defender had 58.5 tackles for a loss and 34.5 sacks in his three-year reign of terror.
In: Chris Braswell
In Alabama's 2020 recruiting class, Anderson was considered the nation's top-ranked weak-side defensive end and the 17th overall prospect. The No. 2 WDE and No. 19 overall prospect was Braswell. Stuck behind the incomparable Anderson for three seasons, Braswell now has his day in the sun.
Gone: Brian Branch, S
Branch had a monster 2022 season, finishing second to Anderson for the Crimson Tide with 14 tackles for a loss and third on the team with seven pass breakups. Most mock drafts have Branch going in the middle of the first round.
In: Caleb Downs
I'm buying the hype. It's Alabama, so there are many talented athletes already on campus that are poised to take this spot. But there are some that feel that Downs is as ready to play as any incoming freshman.
Gone: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB
The transfer from Georgia Tech was extremely productive in his one season with Alabama, leading the team in both rushing yards and receptions. Finding a starting tailback is one thing, but finding one that provides the same type of versatility and big-play potential is another.
In: Jase McClellan
It will probably be a committee approach at running back for the Tide in 2023, as the team is loaded with quality depth in the backfield. But McClellan should get the starting nod after finishing second on the team in rushing and showing an aptitude for catching the ball out of the backfield.
Gone: Jalen Carter, DT
If the Chicago Bears hold onto the first pick and don't trade it to a team needing a quarterback, Carter will most likely be their selection. The player that every opposing team had circled, Carter was a unanimous All-American.
In: Bear Alexander
Carter was a bear inside and he could end up being drafted by the Chicago Bears, so it seems appropriate that a guy named Bear would be his replacement. Kirby Smart likes to rotate a lot of guys on the defensive line to keep everyone fresh and Alexander figures to have a key role in 2023.
Gone: Broderick Jones, OT
The guy protecting Stetson Bennett's blind side this season, Jones decided to leave despite having two more years of eligibility remaining. Considering most analysts have him as a solid first-rounder, it was a smart choice.
In: Amarius Mims
Mims started in the College Football Playoff semifinal game at right tackle in place of an injured Warren McClendon, but he is expected to switch to the left side starting this spring. The Dogs' top-rated prospect in the 2021 class, Mims entered the transfer portal early in 2022 only to return to Athens for his sophomore season.
Gone: Kelee Ringo, CB
The star of last year's national championship game, Ringo did not take a step forward in 2022, though he was good enough to be named second-team All-SEC. It appears that his draft stock remains high, as he is likely to be another Bulldog first-rounder.
In: Daylen Everette
The battle for Ringo's vacant cornerback spot will likely come down to Everette and Nyland Green. Green is a year older, but Everette saw more action this fall, which may give him a leg up as they go into the spring.
Gone: Darnell Washington, TE
Washington has NFL tight end size (6-7, 270) and then some. Though he is a dangerous weapon in the passing game, his blocking ability may push him into the first round.
In: Oscar Delp
As good as Washington was, he was the No. 2 tight end on his own team, and considering that Brock Bowers returns for his third year at Georgia, that is Delp's ceiling in 2023. Delp won't be the same type of blocker as Washington, but he could replicate Washington's 28 catches for 454 yards.
Gone: Kayshon Boutte, WR
It was an up-and-down 2022 season for LSU's star receiver and his 48 receptions for 538 yards and two touchdowns were not what most expected. Still, he was a presence on the field and on talent alone he will be a Day 2 selection.
In: Aaron Anderson
It's always nice to grab a talented player away from your archrival. Anderson comes to LSU after one season at Alabama. While a knee injury limited him this fall, Anderson has an enormous upside and was a top-50 prospect coming out of Edna Carr High School in New Orleans.
Gone: B.J. Ojulari, DE
Ojulari was a dependable, consistent player during his time in Baton Rouge. In three seasons, he had 128 total tackles and 16.5 sacks.
In: Savion Jones
Jones was the top reserve this past fall and was very productive when he saw action, registering 4.5 sacks. The St. James, Louisiana, product was a four-star prospect in the class of 2021 and had offers from Florida, Florida State, and Texas A&M.
Gone: Jaquelin Roy, DT
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Roy was a space-eater in the middle of the line that could make plays. Depending on what NFL teams are looking for up front, he could possibly be a third-round pick.
In: Jacobian Guillory
Guillory has the size (6-2, 315) needed to fill Roy's spot. With three years at LSU behind him and two years of eligibility remaining, Guillory is in a position to be the starter at nose next fall.
Gone: Jalin Hyatt, WR
Hyatt came into the season hoping to be the No. 2 option behind Cedric Tillman. He left as a unanimous first-team All-American, though his slight build may keep him from climbing too high on some draft boards.
In: Dont'e Thornton
After averaging more than 21 yards per catch for the Oregon Ducks, Thornton chose to go east and hop aboard the big-play Tennessee Volunteer train. The Baltimore native was a top-75 overall prospect when he signed with Oregon out of high school.
Gone: Anthony Richardson, QB
He's big, fast, and has a rocket arm. But Richardson also completed just 54 percent of his throws this season, which is almost identical to his career mark. The physical traits are first-round quality; the college production is not. We'll see what wins out come draft night.
In: Graham Mertz
Gator fans are not thrilled by Mertz's arrival. His tenure at Wisconsin was one unfulfilled promise and after four years, the college football world has a pretty good idea of what Mertz is as a quarterback.
Gone: Gervon Dexter, DT
Dexter is a large (6-6, 303) man that played in every game over the past two seasons. As an inside tackle in a 4-3 alignment or an end in a 3-4, Dexter has some versatility to be a factor at the NFL level.
In: Chris McClellan
Playing in all 13 games as a true freshman, McClellan gained experience as he enters 2023 looking to earn a starting role. The 305-pounder from Oklahoma was pursued by all the big boys coming out of high school, including Alabama, Ohio State, USC, and the home state Sooners.
Gone: Rashad Torrence, S
Despite leading the Gators in tackles in 2023, and totaling 171 stops over two years, Torrence is not expected to be a high pick in April's draft. Still, replacing that production is never easy.
In: Kamari Wilson
A reliable option as a true freshman, Wilson will have an increased role with Torrence off to the League. The Gators' top signee the last recruiting cycle, Wilson has All-SEC potential.
Gone: Devon Achane, RB
Achane ran for 2,012 yards in his final two seasons as an Aggie and he closed his career in style by rushing for 212 yards and two scores in A&M's season-ending upset of LSU.
In: Rueben Owens
There may be a learning curve, but at some point Jimbo Fisher is going to give Owens the rock and let him run. The five-star was the No. 1 running back in this class according to the 247Sports Composite Index and had 7,089 career rushing yards at El Campo (Texas) High School, with 2,989 of those coming in his junior year.
Gone: Emmanuel Forbes, CB
If you want cornerback stats, Forbes had them in 2022 – including 10 passes defended with six interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. Obviously, Forbes was a first-team All-SEC honoree.
In: Khamauri Rogers
The Mississippi native was a heavily sought-after prospect that signed with Miami before the 2022 season. But things didn't work out in Coral Gables and he will get another chance back in his home state.
Gone: Drew Sanders, LB
After two seasons at Alabama, the former five-star linebacker transferred to Arkansas and lived up to his recruiting accolades. His 103 tackles and 9.5 sacks put him in position to get drafted in the first or second round.
In: Antonio Grier
Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman is hoping another transfer works out just as well. Grier was not a decorated prospect when he headed to USF in 2018, but he had 234 tackles and 10 sacks as a Bull. A second-team All-AAC pick in 2021, Grier was a preseason first-team selection by Athlon before a hand injury ended his season early.
Gone: Tank Bigsby, RB
Many will remember Bigsby as the guy that ran out of bounds, giving Alabama the opportunity to get the ball back to win the 2021 Iron Bowl. But he was also a player that rushed for more than 800 yards in each of his three seasons on the Plains and leaves Auburn seventh in career rushing yards.
In: Jarquez Hunter
In his two seasons, Hunter has 1,261 yards on the ground and was a valuable complement to Bigsby in '21 and '22. This year, he will be the primary ball carrier and should see a spike in his numbers.
Gone: Zach Evans, RB
Evans had to have had some interesting thoughts this season. He left TCU for Ole Miss the year the Horned Frogs made the College Football Playoff National Championship. And despite a very good 936-yard, nine-touchdown season, he was second fiddle to freshman star Quinshon Judkins.
In: Kedrick Reescano
The fact that Judkins is still around takes a lot of the pressure off the true freshman Reescano. The four-star that originally committed to Michigan State and considered Penn State, Oklahoma State, and Arkansas will be used in a supporting role for the Rebels this coming season.
– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.