The talent drain

Notre Dame’s loss of talent was minimal, and then Everett Golson decided to bypass his final year of eligibility with the Irish. Just about everybody else is back, although playing against six of the top 32 scoring defenses from ’14 will make it a bit tricky.

A total of 34 players from Notre Dame and its 12 opponents in 2015 were selected in the NFL’s seven-round draft, including seven first-rounders.

USC (DE-Leonard Williams and WR-Nelson Agholor) and Clemson (OLB-Vic Beasley and ILB Stephone Anthony) each had a pair of first-rounders while Stanford (OT-Andrus Peat), Wake Forest (CB-Kevin Johnson) and Texas (DT-Malcolm Brown) each had one.

In some instances, programs don’t have a ton of talent to lose. Others lose talent but are a consistent enough program to replenish quickly. Here is a ranking of the 13 programs and the talent drain -- from the least to most -- since the conclusion of the 2014 season.

13) Massachusetts
• Draft choices: None
• Free agents/top losses: TE-Jean Sifrin
• Summary: Blake Frohnapfel, the 6-foot-6, 229-pound quarterback who transferred from Marshall, threw for 3,345 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while commandeering the 11th best passing attack in the FBS with 311.8 yards passing per game. The loss of Sifrin – who finished second on the team in receptions with 41 for 637 yards and six touchdowns – hurts, but Tajae Sharpe (85 catches, 1,281 yards, 7 TDs) is back. Little went right on a defense last year that finished 103rd in scoring (33.0 points per game), but the whole crew is back.

12) Temple
• Draft choices: None
• Free agents/top losses: RB-Kenneth Harper, WR-Jalen Fitzpatrick, CB-Anthony Robey.
• Summary: Quarterback P.J. Walker really struggled in the passing game last year with 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, and now his top receiving threat – Fitzpatrick (53 catches, 730 yards, 6 TDs) -- is gone. A big part of the problem is the inability to rely upon a rushing attack that was formidable when Steve Addazio was still the head coach, but sunk to 115th nationally in ’14. A defense that finished fourth in scoring (17.5) while holding seven opponents to 16 points or less is the Owls’ calling card. There’s stability overall with 18 starters returning.

11) Notre Dame
• Draft choices: TE-Ben Koyack (7th)
• Free agents/top losses: CB-Cody Riggs, WR-DaVaris Daniels, RB-Cam McDaniel, K-Kyle Brindza.
• Summary: All was well in Notre Dame’s world with virtually every starter back on both sides of the football. Then Everett Golson decided to take his final year of eligibility elsewhere, and now the Irish have to face six of the top 32 scoring defenses in the country from ’14 with one-game starter Malik Zaire at the helm. Yet the Irish remain loaded. Even the loss of a mature, heady player like Cody Riggs is offset by the return of ultra-talented CB-KeiVarae Russell.

10) Navy
• Draft choices: LS-Joe Cardona (5th)
• Free agents/top losses: S-Parrish Gaines, OLB-Jordan Drake
• Summary: One could argue Navy seldom has enough talent to feel the strain of departures. No shortage of talent at the quarterback position where Keenan Reynolds returns after accumulating 2,537 yards rushing and 54 touchdowns the last two years combined. A couple of defensive cornerstones on the back seven are gone, but the Midshipmen have to piece it together every year anyway. The key is the ground game, which remains in more-than-capable hands.

9) Pittsburgh
• Draft choices: OT-T.J. Clemmings (4th)
• Free agents/top losses: S-Ray Vinopal, OL-Matt Rotheram, LB-Todd Thomas, TE-Manasseh Garner
• Summary: Yet another head-coaching change for the Panthers, who can’t seem to find the continuity necessary to regain a level of consistency. QB-Chad Voytik begins his second go-round with dynamic WR-Tyler Boyd and bruising RB-James Connor (1,765 yards rushing, 26 TDs). If Pittsburgh can tighten up against the run (26 rushing TDs allowed in ’14), they might be able to reach eight victories for the first time since 2010 with first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi, who churned out defensive thrashing machines at Michigan State.

8) Wake Forest
• Draft choices: CB-Kevin Johnson (1st)
• Free agents/top losses: CB-Merrill Noel, WR-Brandon Terry, WR-Matt James
• Summary: Most of the components to the 3-9 Demon Deacons are back, so there is something upon which to build. The problem is Wake Forest wasn’t very good at anything last year, including rushing the football (an astonishing 1.25 yards per carry and 39.9 yards per game), a 12-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and the second worst scoring offense in the country (14.8 points per game). Wake was among the nation’s top 12 in pass defense, but the stopper – CB-Kevin Johnson – is off to the NFL.

7) Georgia Tech
• Draft choices: C-Shaq Mason (4th), WR-DeAndre Smelter (4th), WR-Darren Waller (6th).
• Free agents/top losses: RB-Synjyn Days, S-Isaiah Johnson, LB-Quayshawn Nealy, FR-Zach Laskey.
• Summary: With 1,700-yard passer/1,000-yard rusher Justin Thomas returning at quarterback, the Yellow Jackets’ offensive attack – which averaged 6.1 yards per carry and more than 340 yards rushing per game – offsets the loss of C-Shaq Mason and the top two receivers in a ground-based attack. Georgia Tech does lose, however, it’s top two RBs in Days and Laskey, each of whom had nine rushing touchdowns. Of course, the rest of the offense accounted for another 29 rushing scores. The system – as much if not more than the personnel – accounts for the success in an option-based attack.

6) Virginia
• Draft choices: OLB-Eli Harold (3rd), ILB-Max Valles (6th)
• Free agents/top losses: S-Anthony Harris, WR-Darius Jennings, RB-Kevin Parks.
• Summary: The departure of linebackers Harold and Valles impacts the program after they helped establish the nation’s No. 18 rush defense. Quarterback transfers, the loss of the team’s leading rusher, and the leading yardage-per-catch receiver make building upon an 18-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio and No. 85 scoring offense difficult for HC Mike London, whose seat already is scorching.

5) Boston College
• Draft choices: OG-Ian Silberman (6th), C-Andy Gallik (6th), DE-Brian Mihalik (7th).
• Free agents/top losses: WR-Shakim Phillips, CB-Manny Asprilla, OG-Bobby Vardaro, LB-Josh Keyes.
• Summary: Based upon talent level/talent lost, one could argue Boston College lost more than any Irish opponent offensively with the departure of QB-Tyler Murphy – the ACC’s all-time rushing leader among signalcallers – as well as the entire starting offensive line, two of which were drafted and another that was signed as a free agent. Still plenty of personnel to build upon last year’s No. 2 rush defense and No. 21 scoring defense.

4) Texas
• Draft choices: DT-Malcolm Brown (1st), ILB-Jordan Hicks (3rd), S-Mykkele Thompson (5th), CB-Quandre Diggs (6th), TE-Geoff Swaim (7th).
• Free agents/top losses: WR-Jaxon Shipley, RB-Malcolm Brown, DE-Cedric Reed, WR-John Harris, LS-Nate Boyer.
• Summary: The evolution of the Charlie Strong era should take a significant step forward after a season filled with offensive woes, although they’ll have to do it with an uncertain quarterback situation, the loss of their top two receivers that combined for 127 catches, 1,600 yards and eight TDs, and the top rusher. The defensive drain is significant as well on a team that finished 11th in the country against the pass and 31st in scoring defense.

3) USC
• Draft choices: DE-Leonard Williams (1st), WR-Nelson Agholor (1st), S-Josh Shaw (4th), RB-Buck Allen (4th), TE-Randall Telfer (6th), ILB-Hayes Pullard (7th).
• Free agents/top losses: WR-George Farmer, LB-J.R. Tavai.
• Summary: Most programs would have been ravaged after the penalties imposed by the NCAA, but the Trojans have managed to hang in there. Even with the loss of Agholor at receiver, USC is formidable through the air and should show improvement upon their No. 66 ranking on the ground with a young offensive line growing up. Still plenty of weapons with Cody Kessler headlining a passing attack that offered 39 touchdown passes and just five turnovers through the air.

2) Stanford
• Draft choices: OT-Andrus Peat (1st), S-Jordan Richards (2nd), CB-Alex Carter (3rd), DE-Henry Anderson (3rd), WR-Ty Montgomery (3rd), DT-David Parry (5th).
• Free agents/top losses: LB-James Vaughters, LB-A.J. Tarpley, DE-Blake Lueders, FB-Lee Ward.
• Summary: The loss of defensive personnel is significant, although the culture of success continues after finishing No. 2 in pass defense, No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 5 in rush defense in ‘14. The challenge offensively is to get back to the pile-driving ways on the ground, which took a hit last year and must now carry on without Peat and the big-play threat offered in the passing game by Montgomery. The first real sign of a chink in the armor came last year. The next wave of talent has much to prove.

1) Clemson
• Draft choices: OLB-Vic Beasley (1st), ILB-Stephone Anthony (1st), DT-Grady Jarrett (5th), P-Bradley Pinion (5th), OLB-Tony Steward (6th).
• Free agents/top losses: QB-Cliff Stoudt, WR-Adam Humphries, DL-Josh Watson, OT-Kalon Davis, DT-DeShawn Williams, CB-Garry Peters, DE-Corey Crawford, DE-Tavaris Barnes, S-Robert Smith.
• Summary: One of just three FBS schools to limit opponents to less than three yards per rushing attempt while allowing just 11 rushing touchdowns. But an incredible amount of talent walked out the door. The loss of Vic Beasley and virtually all of the top defensive players on the 2014 squad that finished fifth in the country against the run will take a toll, particularly early in the season. Among the defensive names listed above, there were 411 tackles and 86 tackles for loss from the ’14 season alone.



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