The date for underclassmen to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone and some top talent is off to the NFL.
While many fantasy owners are probably cursing their stud running back or quarterback for leaving them high and dry, it certainly opens the door of opportunity for others. Such is the circle of life in college football.
Here is a look at a few players that benefit the most from their compadres deciding to leave school early to pursue their NFL dreams.
David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech - With Darren Evans and Ryan Williams moving on, Wilson should be one of the top running backs this fall. Wilson was one of our top rated running back recruits in 2009 and he showed flashes of his potential in this season as both a running back and a kick returner. As the feature back, he should put up staggering numbers.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama - If you're not in a keeper league, Richardson will likely be the first running back off the board based on name recognition alone. Barring injuries he should see over 200 carries this fall and with his speed, that should equate into a good chunk of yardage and touchdowns.
Montee Ball & James White, RB , Wisconsin - Let the debate begin as two which one will rack up more yards and touchdowns. White moved passed Ball on the depth chart early in 2010, but injuries to him and John Clay -- now prepping for the NFL Draft -- flip flopped their roles down the stretch. Ball is the power back and White is the homerun hitter. There is room on the Badgers for both to put up big numbers.
Ray Graham, RB, Pitt - There was scuttle that Graham was the best running back on the team back in 2009 when Dion Lewis was running wild. With Lewis getting off to a slow start this season we saw why. Despite what you might think, Todd Graham's teams at Tulsa ran the ball more than they threw the last four seasons. Most of those runs can from the quarterback position, but he'll feed his talent at Pitt. Graham should be well over 200 carries and 1000 yards rushing this fall.
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson - With Jamie Harper moving on to the NFL, Ellington takes over as the feature back. Ellington had 116 carries for 681 yards and 10 scores in 2010. Clemson will be installing a new offense this spring that could give Ellington even more touches and room to roam.
Jason Ford, RB, Illinois - Your sleeper running back of the group. My colleague Brian has been high on Mikel LeShoure for some time. Not a draft would go by that he didn't take a shot at the back in Champaign, Il. And his persistence finally paid off as LeShoure had a break out season in 2010 and is off to the NFL. Ford has come with the same type of hype from the Illinois fan base and now it will be his turn to carry the load. With Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback and Ford at running back, the future looks bright for the Illini offense, even without LeShoure.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame - The redshirt freshman was invaluable for the Irish attack once Kyle Rudolph went down with injury. Look for his role to expand in 2011.
Damarlo Belcher, WR, Indiana - With Doss moving on, Belcher becomes the clear #1 receiving option in Kevin Wilson's attack. At 6-foot-5, he should be able to improve his touchdown output. He's a BCS league sleeper.
Devin Street & Mike Shanahan, WR, Pitt - Two more early season sleepers to chew on. With Coach Graham taking over the offense, you can expect some fireworks. As noted above, Tulsa has run the ball more than they've thrown in three of the four years under Graham (in 2007 they had just two more pass attempts than rushing attempts). But his uptempo offense results in more plays and a more wide open offense. Keep an eye on Street and Shanahan this spring.
Complete Early Entry List
Soooooooo what about the quarterback replacements at Auburn, Arkansas and Missouri? Let's face it, you don't just replace Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett or Blaine Gabbert. Barrett Trotter, Tyler Wilson and James Franklin have their work cut out for them.
Wilson is arguably the most talented of the bunch; we'll have to see how each progresses during spring practice.
Notice too that I left off the Cal running back position, a mainstay in fantasy play. For the past decade there has been a clear succession plan: J.J. Arrington to Marshawn Lynch to Justin Forsett to Jahvid Best to Shane Vereen. This season the heir apparent is not as clear. Isi Sofele was Vereen's primary backup last season, but he's not a lock to be the starter or the workhorse back we've grown accustomed to. Spring and fall camp should give us a better indication on whether Sofele or another back will carry the load.
Stick around, we'll obviously be here all offseason breaking down recruiting, coaching changes, spring practices and more.