A record 75 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft, which is a huge talent drain from college football.
Goodbye to an amazing 10 LSU players — and that doesn’t even count 2012 exile Tyrann Mathieu. So long to Jarvis Jones and Luke Joeckel and Bjoern Werner and Demontre Moore and Dee Milliner … well, you get the idea.
Maybe not quite to this degree, but this happens every year in college football. For a while, it seems impossible to fill all those shoes … and then it happens. There are always returning stars, emerging stars, new stars.
Some of the 2013 preseason All-Americans are already mostly set in stone, but there are tough calls at some spots. We’ll take all spring, gathering input from coaches and scouts and our correspondents before finalizing a list for our magazines, but here’s a quick look at who could very well be the best of the bunch this fall.
Here is our pre-preseason All-American team:
QB — Johnny Manziel, So., Texas A&M
Tempted to go with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, who should have a monster year in coach Urban Meyer’s second season, with the Buckeyes aiming to make a run at the national title. But Manziel deservedly won the Heisman and gets the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to avoid a sophomore slump.
RB — Ka’Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona; Todd Gurley, So., Georgia
Carey was the nation’s leading rusher in 2012 and plays in a Rich Rodriguez offense that rewards talented running backs. But with so many of the top major-college running backs graduating or leaving early, the second spot on this list is wide open. Washington’s Bishop Sankey? Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, who will have a bigger role after the departure of Eddie Lacy? For now, the pick is Gurley, who ran for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Dawgs as a freshman.
WR — Marqise Lee, Jr., USC; Jordan Matthews, Sr., Vanderbilt
Lee is a no-brainer, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. He’ll have to make due with a new quarterback, but, even so, no receiver matches his sheer ability, especially after the catch. Matthews impressively posted five 100-yard games against SEC defenses, finishing with 94 catches for 1,323 yards.
TE — Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
He’ll be the most freakishly athletic tight end in the country after a standout season in which he made 69 receptions for 852 yards and seven touchdowns.
OL — C Gabe Ikard, Sr., Oklahoma; OG Cyril Richardson, Sr., Baylor; OG Spencer Long, Sr., Nebraska; OT Jake Matthews, Sr., Texas A&M; Taylor Lewan, Sr., Michigan
Matthews and Lewan surprisingly bypassed the NFL Draft. We reserve the right to replace one of them on this list with Stanford tackle David Yankey, who would definitely make our pre-preseason team if we didn’t insist on two guards and two tackles. Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin is going to be another one to strongly consider.
DL — DE Jadeveon Clowney, Jr., South Carolina; DT — Louis Nix, Jr., Notre Dame; DT Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State; DE Stephon Tuitt, Jr., Notre Dame
Clowney is a gimme. He should be everyone’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year and a Heisman candidate. Tuitt and Nix give the Irish a foundation to stay at a high level after reaching the national championship game. Sutton is a dynamic returning All-American whose decision to return could propel ASU into the preseason Top 25.
LB — Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA; LB C.J. Mosley, Sr., Alabama; LB Kyle Van Noy, Sr., BYU
Some of the toughest calls will come at this position, but it’s hard to argue with this trio. Mosley is a returning consensus All-American. Barr was a revelation in his first year at outside linebacker after moving from offense; athletic and rangy, he had 21.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. The sky is the limit. Van Noy, after his brilliant bowl game, gets the nod for now to round out this group. Stanford’s Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, are among a large cast of deserving others.
DB — CB Jason Verrett, Sr., TCU; CB Bradley Roby, Jr., Ohio State; S Lamarcus Joyner, Sr., Florida State; S Ty Zimmerman, Sr., Kansas State
All four consensus All-Americans are gone, so there is some starting over to do here. Athletic Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one to watch; so is Stanford safety Ed Reynolds. There is plenty of cornerback talent in the Big 12 beyond Verrett, with Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.
K Cairo Santos, Sr., Tulane; P Kyle Christy, Jr., Florida; AP Dri Archer, Sr., Kent State
Santos made all 21 of his field goals in 2012, with 12 of his attempts coming from beyond 40 yards, including a 57-yarder. Christy averaged 45.8 yards per punt, the top returning mark in the nation. Archer ran for 1,429 yards, had 561 yards in receptions and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.