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Ka’Deem Carey and Bishop Sankey Lead This Year’s PAC 12 Early Entries: Offensive Edition

With the date for underclassmen to apply for the NFL draft been abd gone, it is time to address the small matter of which players are departing their respective schools early. While for NFL fans, this is merely a chance to see much ballyhooed talent a year or two earlier than was once the case, there are greater ramifications for the jilted schools. While some can just slot in the next great talent, many may suffer a dropoff that could impact the program for years. This article will look at each early entry in the PAC 12, how it will impact the particular team, and who is likely to get the first shot at replacing him.


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Ka’Deem Carey, running back

Easily one of the most productive running backs in the country over the last couple of years, Carey brings an intriguing blend of power and speed packed onto his 207-pound frame. The consensus all-American has been nigh on unstoppable the last two seasons as Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats rode him to consecutive bowl games. The junior stayed relatively healthy, despite a hefty 652 carries over the last 2 seasons. He stands a good chance of being the first running back selected in April.

Can he be replaced?

To quote the Boromir/Sean Bean meme that’s been doing the rounds – “one does not simply replace over 4200 yards of total offense” – that’s how much production Carey contributed to the Wildcats effort, more than many quarterbacks came up with. With his backup, Daniel Jenkins, out of eligibility, Arizona may need to pull a rabbit out of their hat to spark the running attack next season.

Who will replace him?

Excellent question! The number 3 back last season was junior Jared Baker, who had just 27 carries for 127 yards, tore his ACL in the Duel in the Desert, and is highly unlikely to be ready for the start of the season. Quarterback BJ Denker will carry some of the load, but no other returning running back had a carry last season. Speedy Pierre Cormier and power back Zach Green (not the actor) will likely vie for, or share carries, but the Wildcats have some good-looking freshmen on the way too.



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Brendan Bigelow, running back

On first glance, this looks like one of those head-scratching early departures, but it does require a little further investigation. Bigelow’s talent is undisputed, and he’s capable of making big plays both as a runner and a receiver. So, the question is – if he has all the tools to succeed, why hasn’t he? Saying he’s injury prone is the wrong answer. He struggled with a knee injury in 2012, but Bigelow has had a history of concussions that have limited his game time. Bearing this in mind, he’s taking a chance at the pros, where he’s good enough to be at least a solid kick returner.

Can he be replaced?

A total of 882 rushing yards over 3 years is hardly irreplaceable, and Bigelow’s inability to stay on the field has provided opportunities for others to strut their stuff. If Cal can’t find someone to not only take over Bigelow, but improve on his production, head coach Sonny Dykes could have a very short career in Berkeley.

Who will replace him?

Sophomore Khalfani Muhammad is small, but sprinter fast, and made some plays last season. He’s not going to carry the load, but then again, neither did Bigelow. There is a ton of other young talent on the roster of differing abilities, so a committee approach is most likely next season. Expect to see the Bears try to get the ball to Muhammad in space as often as is possible.

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Richard Rodgers, tight end

Rodgers is a decent sized tight end who switched to inside receiver when the new administration (under Sonny Dykes) took over this season. After being limited by a hand injury in 2012, Rodgers started to show what he could in 2013, looking like a big-play threat at times, while not being a factor in other games. He really could have done with another season in college, but he was one of the first early entries, suggesting he thought otherwise. Someone will pick him up, he has some tools.

Can he be replaced?

If he’d been more consistently dominant, I’d have said yes, but big slot receivers aren’t particularly rare. More of a concern for Cal fans may be the drain of talent from a team that finished 1-11 last season. Not everyone who jumped ship is NFL good, but the Bears can’t afford to lose too many of their more experienced players.

Who will replace him?

Cal has plenty of big receivers, but none of the tight end-sized guys have a lot of experience, unless they use one of the “smaller” receivers such as Darius Powe. Don’t be surprised if recruit Devante Downs takes the spot. The multi-talented player has good size and hands, but also runs like a running back. If he plays offense, this could be his spot.



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Paul Richardson, wide receiver

Richardson was just starting to scratch the surface of his potential when a massive knee injury cost him the entire 2012 season. One year later, with a new knee, a new quarterback and a new coaching staff, Richardson finally showed what he could do, and it was good. Tearing up the PAC 12 en route to all-conference recognition, Richardson showed no signs of any ill effects from his surgery, and didn’t take long in announcing his early departure when the season ended. It could be a smart move considering his knee injury.

Can he be replaced?

Highly unlikely, at least at this early stage. Colorado have been a mess lately, and while new head coach Mike MacIntyre could turn them around given time, whether the talent currently in place is a huge question. After winning 4 games this season, the same amount they won over the last two, they look to be on the way up, but Richardson was a big part of that.

Who will replace him?

Junior Nelson Spruce was the second leading receiver last season with 55 catches,  and had some fine games along the way. He’s not in the same league as Richardson though, and may struggle as the top target. DD Goodson, who was running back up until last season, has great speed and could see more action with a year under his belt.


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Colt Lyerla, tight end**

Lyerla is here more for convenience, as he left the team early in the season after a suspension, and the truth has never really been made clear. If a team is comfortable with his explanations, he could go high in the draft based on talent alone.

Can he be replaced?

Already has.

Who will replace him?

Johnny Mundt started his career with a bang, having a huge game against Tennessee, but cooled off after that as he was targeted less. He should be a bigger factor as a sophomore.

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D’Anthony Thomas, running back

Everyone and their mother knows of Thomas, a productive multi-talented player who has been in Heisman talk since his freshman season. More than just a running back, Thomas has also played receiver and is an adept return man. In fact, he’s so talented, there was talk of him moving to cornerback out of high school. He’s never going to be Jerome Bettis, pounding out yards between the tackles, but he’s going to provide a nice talent for some offensive coordinator to play around with.

Can he be replaced?

Yes and no. Thomas has never been a feature back, nor will he ever be, but that’s not what made opponents scheme to contain him. No matter what way Thomas touches the ball, he’s a threat to score, whether it be run, reception or return. Oregon has been drawing in premium talent lately, and running back has been no exception, so their offense will still roll without Thomas, but the special teams may take a hit.

Who will replace him?

Easy answer – Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner combined for nearly 1800 yards last season and will split the load again next season. Both are very capable backs. Someone will need to step up in the receiving game, especially with Josh Huff gone, although there are options. The biggest concern may be as a kick returner, but the Ducks must have someone who can shorten the field. Of course, they’ll likely need 3 players to replace one.


Oregon State

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Brandin Cooks, wide receiver

The Biletnikoff Award winning receiver broke PAC 12 records with 128 receptions for 1730 yards, and scored 18 TDs (2 rushing) along the way. At 5’10 and 183 pounds, he lacks the ideal size of many of his peers, but he doesn’t necessarily project as an outside receiver in the pros. Instead, he’s more likely to patrol the slot where his his quickness and agility will make him a difficult mark for defenders to cover, while his open field running skills and vision should provide many highlight reel plays. He almost single-handedly made Sean Mannion a better quarterback.

Can he be replaced?

An emphatic no, at least not right away. The Beavers spread the ball around well last season, with everyone from running backs to tight ends providing options for Mannion, but no one appears to have Cooks’ skill set. Mannion will be back, but he’ll have to find a new number 1 target to come up with the goods when a big play is needed.

Who will replace him?

Richard Mullaney would appear to be the obvious choice. He’s a big target with great hands, but he disappeared down the stretch as he struggled with injuries. Kevin Cummings, another receiver who missed time with injury, proved to be a reliable target on 3rd downs, and while he may not possess Cooks’ skill set, he may find more balls coming his way in Cooks’ absence.


Southern California

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Xavier Grimble, tight end

Grimble’s early departure is a bit of a surprise, as he hasn’t exactly lit up the conference, but he has the measurables necessary to turn some NFL heads. He has great size, good speed, and decent hands. Whether he should have stuck around for another year to prove himself is academic at this stage.

Can he be replaced?

Yeah, Grimble’s best years may be ahead of him, as he never really lit it up in Southern Cal. If a top talent like Marqise Lee has his replacement in the wings, you better believe there are any number of guys ready to step up and take over for Grimble.

Who will replace him?

There isn’t a whole lot of experienced tight ends on the roster, with Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick’s 1 reception leading the way, but it may not matter if Bryce Dixon stays true to his commitment. One of the top tight end recruits, his receiving skills will ensure Dixon sees plenty of action on passing downs while his blocking skills develop.

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Marqise Lee, wide receiver

Is Lee the top receiver in the draft? That’s a question for another article, but he is certainly the real deal. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner had a monster season the previous year, but struggled with injuries all through training camp and throughout this season. There was also the questionable playcalling of Lane Kiffin prior to his firing, not to mention the inconsistent play of quarterback Cody Kessler. The 2013 season was tough on Lee, who is bursting with talent, both as a receiver and returner, and it’s hard to blame him for jumping ship a year early, particularly with more change afoot in the shape of a new coaching staff.

Can he be replaced?

I like Lee. He’s a fantastic talent and I fully expect him to have a great pro career, but this is USC, where big-time college receivers seem to grow on trees, whether they are successful pros or not. The question is whether the new coaching regime can take full advantage of the talent they should have at their disposal.

Who will replace him?

Just like Lee did with Robert Woods the previous year, Nelson Agholor showed signs of stepping into the lead role (not quite to the same degree Lee did), and the Trojans have to be happy with his progress. He’s also an excellent punt returner. Freshman Darreus Rodgers flashed some ability last season, and looks to be good enough to ride shotgun with Agholor, but don’t be surprised if Southern Cal has someone else waiting in the wings.

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Marcus Martin, offensive center

Martin was a solid but unspectacular left guard his first couple of seasons with the Trojans, but all that changed when he moved to center at the beginning of 2013. The move was a stroke of genius, as Martin not only earned all-PAC 12 honors for his efforts, but he will likely be one of the first centers drafted. Centers tend to go lower in the draft, but every team knows the value of a good one.

Can he be replaced?

The same question was probably asked last season when his predecessor left, but Martin surprised many with his outstanding play. School’s like USC tend to have plenty of talent waiting in the wings, so don’t be surprised if the next great Trojan center is ready to go.

Who will replace him?

…and that next great Trojan center may be Khaliel Rodgers, a redshirt freshman who was brought in last season with the purpose of taking over at center in 2014. Of course, with a new administration, that could all change, but for now, Rodgers looks to be the guy.



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Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle

Fleming is a three-year starter who has improved every season since his redshirt freshman year. Joining what appears to be a mass exodus of Stanford lineman this year, the big right tackle was a key part of a strong Cardinal unit. Offensive lineman generally could do with staying another year, but Fleming has his degree and has already been on campus for 4 years.

Can he be replaced?

Good question in this case. Fleming is a decent player, a solid product of the Stanford offensive line factory, but he’s no superstar. The problem here is that the Cardinal are losing 4 starting offensive linemen – and that is always difficult to compensate for. Still, don’t be surprised if next year’s edition of the Cardinal line just carries on like the last.

Who will replace him?

Stanford has a bunch of guys waiting in the wings, but senior Brendon Austin and junior Kyle Murphy have the most experience, having played as reserves. Either one could take over for Fleming, but there are plenty of redshirt freshman who will battle for a spot. Lucky there are a few to go round.


David Yankey, offensive guard

How good is Yankey? Not only was he an all-American this season and regarded as one of, if not the, best guard in the NCAA, but in 2012 he moved out to left tackle to replace Jonathan Martin and allowed just 1 sack. This kind of versatility doesn’t go unnoticed, and Yankey should be drafted early, and make a splash at the next level.

Can he be replaced?

It will be tough for the Cardinal to replace a player of Yankey’s caliber, especially considering the lack of experience returning along the front lines. There is no doubt the heir apparents are well drilled and ready to go, but experience can exceed talent when it comes to the offensive line.

Who will replace him?

There are 2 returning guards on the roster, and neither have a lot of experience. Junior Joshua Garrett has the most experience, having played at both guard spots the last 2 years, earning a couple of starts along the way. He’s athletic enough to have played some fullback too.



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Xavier Su’a-Filo, offensive guard

Su’a-Filo was a fine lineman for the Bruins, starting from day 1 as a true freshman, then being voted all-PAC 12 his last couple of seasons. What’s even more impressive is he missed 2 seasons on a mission, yet came back better than ever. It’s likely his somewhat advanced age is the reason for his early departure to the NFL. He should do well though.

Can he be replaced?

Not straight away. It’s hard to replace a 2-time all-conference player, especially one who has experience at both left tackle and left guard. He also brought a level of maturity that kept his teammates under control.

Who will replace him?

UCLA has done a good job of bringing in quality guys, and shouldn’t have to sweat too much trying to locate a solid replacement. There are a few young candidates ready to step in, but don’t be surprised to see former defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds holding up the interior line next season after a learning year.



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Jake Murphy, tight end

Murphy may not be a big name on the national spectrum, but he has the size required to be an NFL tight end, and has shown the ability to make big plays. More importantly, he’s tough, having recovered from a broken wrist to play in the last 3 games of the season, and catching 13 passes over the last 2. He’s 23 years old (mission), but is mature physically and mentally, a big plus in the pros.

Can he be replaced?

It certainly won’t be easy, as Murphy is more than just a playmaker on the team, but a leader too. He’s also a safe pair of hands when the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball in a hurry, and his toughness inspires his teammates.

Who will replace him?

Sophomore Siale Fakailoatonga is the only returning tight end to catch a pass last season, or 2 in his case, and he has a long way to go to take over Murphy’s role on the team. Joe Tukuafu is a nice all-round talent who has committed to Utah, but don’t be surprised to see them go the JUCO route for help either.



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Bishop Sankey, running back

Keith Price gets most of the headlines, as any good quarterback should, but Sankey was the beating heart of the Husky offense over the last couple of years. On a similar career path to Carey, Sankey exploded in his sophomore year, then cemented his legacy with a superior 2013. Heavy 2-year workload aside, Sankey is a fine back who doesn’t stand out in any area, but is a strong all-round back. He’s at his best between the tackles where he runs aggressively, despite his 203 pound size, and he’s adept at slipping tackles. He’s also a solid receiver, blocker, and has enough speed to break the occasional big gain.

Can he be replaced?

This could be a particularly nasty loss for the Huskies, especially with Price leaving too. Sankey didn’t miss a single game in 2 seasons, despite touching the ball a massive 677 times. He also played his best in big games, and was often the sole threat when the passing game struggled. A new coach and a many new faces on offense will make it tough for any back to match Sankey’s production straight away.

Who will replace him?

Time to dust of the name Jesse Callier again. Callier was the  starter entering the 2012 season, but he has been hampered by knee injuries. If he can stay healthy, he’s good enough to be a top option. Also in the mix are Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington. All have made the most of their few opportunities, and even a committee approach should be effective.

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Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end

The top tight end in his recruit class, Seferian-Jenkins took the PAC 12 by storm, in his first 2 seasons, paving the way for a monster junior year. That was when things started to go pear-shaped. A March DUI led to an indefinite suspension by head coach Steve Sarkisian, even though no one believed that would carry into the season. A broken pinkie finger in fall camp hindered him well into the season, and he finished with a rather average season, at least by his standards. It doesn’t matter though, ASJ has talent up the yin-yang, and won’t last long in the draft due to the recent emergence of tight ends in NFL offenses.

Can he be replaced?

Nope! While there are some quality tight ends in the NFL, they don’t grow on trees in the FBS, and it could be a decade before the Huskies see another of his ilk. Washington are losing some good players this season, and they may be heading back towards the wrong end of the division.

Who will replace him?

The only other tight end to catch a pass for the Huskies last season was Joshua Perkins, and that was just 5 (3 TDs). Michael Hartvigson is the most experienced, and has good size, but he hasn’t played a lot with Seferian-Jenkins on campus. Washington have a couple of good recruits on the way, but replacing the mere threat of ASJ could be nigh on impossible.


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