Last Updated: Feb 25, 2013 5:06 PM
It’s all part of the process for every team in every sport. Eventually, players will move on to bigger and better things. In this case, it’s the NFL. The stars of the 2012 college football season all left an imprint on their prospective teams, and in turn, will leave massive shoes to fill for 2013.
Here’s a look at some of the younger players that will look to fill the void of those that have come before them.
1. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
In 2013, Devin Gardner will look to fill the shoes of a quarterback that never tied his shoelaces. Denard Robinson came to Michigan as an unknown 3-star athlete out of Florida, and left one of the most prolific players in school history. While Robinson had has struggles as a passer, he became a Wolverine legend with his dynamic plays and track star speed. Gardner will improve the quarterback play, but the explosive plays and, most importantly, the leadership that ‘Shoelace’ brought to the table will assuredly be down next season.
2. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
One of the more intriguing announcements to come before signing day was that of JUCO quarterback Jake Waters. Once thought to be a Penn State shoe-in, Waters surprised many by signing with the Wildcats. With the skill set that he brings to the table as a dual-threat quarterback, this seems like the right decision. That said, he is not a shoe-in to be the starter as he will battle with Daniel Sams to take over for 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein. Whoever wins the quarterback derby will have to make up for the 3,500 yards of offensive production that is lost with Klein departing.
3. James White, RB, Wisconsin
Of all the players on this list, White may be the one that has seen the field most often in his career. But from a production standpoint, White has the biggest task ahead of him as he is replacing a guy in Montee Ball that ran for over 3,700 yards the past two seasons in Madison. That said, White has already rushed for 1,000 yards in a season so far in his career, and has gotten extensive carries behind Ball so it should be a quick transition. White should remain fresh throughout the year as backup Melvin Gordon will spell him frequently.
4. Marteze Waller, RB, Fresno State
Despite playing on a smaller stage, Waller has some massive shoes to fill at Fresno State. Robbie Rouse was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, and topped 1,100 yards rushing in each of those three seasons. Not only that, Rouse was a workhorse that rarely left the field because of his importance to the offense, both running the football and catching the ball out of the backfield in a pass-happy offense. This competition figures to go right up to the start of the season, but Waller will get the first crack at it as he is the only running back on the depth chart returning next year that carried the ball in 2012.
5. De’Anthony Thomas/ Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
With the way that Oregon likes to run the football, it will never just be one player taking over the running back duties. Most everyone that follows college football is already aware of Thomas. The unknown is Byron Marshall, who flashed throughout the season, displaying the type of speed we consistently see from Oregon backs. Both Thomas and Marshall, among others, will try and replace the 1,700+ rushing yards that were lost with the departure of Kenjon Barner.
6. Max Wittek, QB, USC
We got a glimpse of what USC fans could expect at the quarterback position next season when Matt Barkley missed the final two games of the year with a shoulder injury. And the early returns were not good. Wittek displayed some promise in the game against Notre Dame, but looked completely out of sync against Georgia Tech in the bowl game. Cut him some slack, though, as the entire team quit that day. Wittek has the talent to get it done. He has great size for the position, and a huge arm. But there is a ton of pressure on him already to not only fill the shoes of Matt Barkley, but to hold off prized recruit Max Browne.
7. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
This season, Yeldon will not just be trying to fill the shoes of the departed Eddie Lacy. He is following in the footsteps of Lacy, Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and the rest of the famed tailbacks in Alabama history. That being said, experts and fans alike were raving about the running skills that Yeldon possesses. His frame needs to fill out a bit more to be an every-down back, but when you have facilities like this (Alabama Weight Room), Yeldon will certainly bulk up. The challenge will be two-fold: (1) running behind a less-experienced/talented offensive line, and (2) the talented group of freshman coming in to steal some carries.
8. Matt Jones, RB, Florida
Mike Gillislee made a significant impact in only one season for the Gators, but with the way Florida likes to run the football, the loss of the senior back hurts the offense as of right now. That could change once spring practice starts, as the Gators have a bunch of promising backs waiting in the wings. Look for sophomore Matt Jones to be the starter in Week 1 because of his experience already with the offense, but it is not a stretch to expect freshman early enrollee Kelvin Taylor to get a bunch of carries early on.
9. Mike Davis/Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina
Despite missing a good portion of his career for the Gamecocks (due to multiple season-ending injuries), Marcus Lattimore is leaving some grown man-sized shoes to fill. The guy was a workhorse for an offense that lacked a vertical passing attack, and depth behind him at the running back position. Last season, he and wide receiver Ace Sanders were the only consistent playmakers the Gamecocks had on offense. With Lattimore off to the NFL, and no clear replacement, multiple players will look to fill in including speedster Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds who is returning from a season-long injury.
10.Vincent Dallas/Alton Howard, WR, Tennessee
While Tennessee as a team was not very good, their passing attack was. Quarterback Tyler Bray led the show, but it was the play of Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson that made the Volunteers’ passing game thrive. Both declared for the draft early, and both are expected to be first-round draft picks, so you know that they leave big holes behind. Vincent Dallas and Alton Howard are the most talented wideouts returning in 2013, but the problem is both are less than six feet tall. It’s difficult to imagine both being starters, but they will assuredly see the field often next season.
Best of the Rest: