The deadline for underclassmen to leave college early for the 2018 NFL Draft passed on Monday. While the official list of early departures won't be announced by the NFL until Friday, unofficial lists have already been compiled after weeks of public declarations. (NFL.com has tracked the moves here.)
So what do 2018 draft decisions mean for the 2018 college football season? Here are 10 takeaways.
1. Bryce Love gives 2018 an early Heisman favorite.
Love has only one full season of starting experience, but it couldn't help but be surprising when he confirmed on Tuesday that he will stay at Stanford for his senior season. Upon replacing Christian McCaffrey, Love rushed 263 times for 2,118 yards and 19 TDs, averaging eight yards per carry while hitting big plays at an extraordinarily high rate. Love did this despite dealing with an ankle injury in the second half of the season. The result was a second-place Heisman Trophy race finish -- Stanford's fifth second-place finish in nine years -- and that means that Love will be the only 2017 Heisman finalist returning in '18, with winner Baker Mayfield a senior and '16 winner Lamar Jackson heading to the NFL early. Love's decision puts him in rare territory, too:
Bryce Love is the first draft-eligible player in FBS history to rush for at least 2,000 yards and then return to school the following season.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2018
Christian McCaffrey in 2015 and Troy Davis in 1995 both rushed for 2,000 yards and returned, but were not draft-eligible.
Love's return bolsters what should be an improved Cardinal offense as a whole, with a more experienced receiving corps and expected improvement at quarterback from K.J. Costello.
2. The nation's best defensive line will still be the nation's best defensive line.
Love's return isn't the most shocking decision. That honor goes to the entire Clemson defensive line. It would have felt like a victory if just one of Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returned for one more year alongside star tackle Dexter Lawrence, who will be a junior. Instead, all three will be back for their senior seasons, meaning that Clemson will have one more year of a staring line featuring Ferrell and Bryant at end and Lawrence and Wilkins at tackle. Ferrell, Wilkins and Lawrence were all first-team All-ACC picks this season; Bryant was a second-team pick. It would be entirely reasonable for these four to occupy the four preseason All-ACC defensive line spots heading into the 2018 season. They're that good
LB Kendall Joseph will also return for his senior season, while S Van Smith declared for the draft. Clemson has weathered significant attrition in recent years and repeatedly reloaded. Now, it will return eight starters to a defense that finished second in yards per play allowed. Combine that with an offense that will return plenty of experience -- WRs Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are leaving, but OT Mitch Hyatt will return -- and Clemson will be a playoff frontrunner, again.
3. Washington's backfield will look familiar.
As expected, quarterback Jake Browning will be back in Seattle. He's an accomplished college passer who has had an excellent career helping to lead Washington back to prominence, but he doesn't have the physical tools of a top pro prospect. Browning and his 9,000 career passing yards will be joined in the Huskies' backfield by tailback Myles Gaskin and his 4,000 career rushing yards. After three straight 1,300-yard seasons, Gaskin decided to aim for one more, announcing that he'd return for his senior season. Gaskin and Browning, who will be a rare four-year starting backfield combination, have helped guide Washington to back-to-back major bowls, and they will return to lead a loaded Huskies team -- beyond losing DT Vita Vea early -- that is a strong bet to be the preseason Pac-12 favorite.
4. No surprises among the top quarterback prospects.
It would be inaccurate to say there were zero surprises among quarterback decisions, as the list of early departures includes passers like Marshall's Chase Litton, Nebraska's Tanner Lee and Houston's Kyle Allen. But, ultimately, the players regarded as the top quarterback prospects, the potential first-rounders, all made the expected leap. Joining the Mayfield, a senior, are USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. With the Browns and Giants owning the top two picks, it wouldn't be surprising to see quarterbacks -- possibly Darnold and Rosen -- go Nos. 1 and 2 without a trade. But with these decisions made, the next three months will be spent arguing about the plusses and minus of each in a completive race to be first off the board in a draft filled with quarterback-needy teams. Meanwhile, the moves come as no surprise to the college teams losing those top players. The biggest impact? Louisville lost its only hope of beating Alabama in Week 1 in Orlando.
5. Alabama and Georgia take expected hits, with some key players returning.
After Alabama's dramatic win over Georgia in the national championship game, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs will enter 2018 with championship expectations once again. Despite being hit harder by early departures, Alabama is the presumed preseason favorite already. While players like RB Damien Harris and DE Isaiah Buggs decided to return, Alabama loses five players early: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, DT Da'Ron Payne, WR Calvin Ridley, S Ronnie Harrison and RB Bo Scarbrough. Ridley was Alabama's go-to receiver, by far. Payne was dominant in the playoff. Fitzpatrick may have been the nation's best defensive player, and Harrison was an often underrated partner in crime. Alabama's secondary will be especially hard hit, but, as always, there will be plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa, along with plenty of rising talent ready to break through.
Georgia's list of early departures is more modest with just two: DT Trenton Thompson and, most importantly, Butkus Award-winning LB Roquan Smith. They join a significant exodus on defense because of all the experience the Bulldogs had on that side of the ball, in addition to the losses of senior RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on offense. Still, it's not all bad news, as LB D'Andre Walker, CB Deandre Baker, DE Jonathan Ledbetter and WR Terry Godwin are among the juniors who will return to Athens for another SEC East frontrunner.
6. Ohio State's passing game won't be entirely unfamiliar.
J.T. Barrett felt like a 10th-year senior by the end of his career as Ohio State's quarterback, and thus the 2018 Buckeyes will have a different feel, with Dwayne Haskins presumably leading the battle to replace Barrett as the starter. Despite the change under center, Ohio State actually will have experience to lean on in the passing attack, which has been a rarity recently. It loses tight end Marcus Baugh, but it will return all of its receivers and H-backs. Ohio State didn't have one clear go-to star in the receiving corps. However, it had seven receivers, beyond Baugh, with at least 200 receiving yards: Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and C.J. Saunders. They'll all be back. The receiving corps has been a weakness at times in recent years, but the new quarterback will have plenty of experienced playmakers to work with, as Mike Weber decided to return for another year at running back alongside J.K. Dobbins, who shined as a freshman.
Ohio State did lose DE Sam Hubbard, LB Jerome Baker and CB Denzel Ward early, but there's little concern about the state of the defense, especially with DT Dre'Mont Jones deciding to return for another season alongside Nick Bosa on the defensive line.
7. West Virginia's passing game will be loaded.
Will Grier was one of the biggest impact transfers of the 2017 season, as the former Florida quarterback took hold of West Virginia's starting job. Dana Holgorsen's offenses are known for their explosiveness, and Grier fit in well, finishing fifth nationally in passer rating, completing 64.4 percent for 3,490 yards, 34 TDs and 12 INTs with an average of nine yards per attempt. He broke his finger in the Mountaineers' 11th game and subsequently missed the final two, but he'll be back healthy in 2018, as he decided to return for his senior season. While Grier loses one thousand-yard receiver in Ka'Run White, he'll still have plenty of targets back: Gary Jennings led the Big 12 with 97 catches, David Sills V led the nation with 18 touchdown catches and Marcus Simms averaged 18.9 yards per reception. Sills was the other key decision, and Sills and Grier will enter 2018 as two of the most acclaimed players at their positions.
8. Barkley headlines a talented running back class going to the NFL.
Love, Harris and Gaskin may have been swayed to return in part because of the crowded class that will be entering the draft. It's a group that includes seniors such as Chubb and Michel, but also an impressive list of underclassmen. The top back, of course, is Penn State's Saquon Barkley, who is widely regarded as one of the best and most complete running back prospects in years, making him a likely top-10 pick. Barkley is the clear headliner at tailback, but LSU's Derrius Guice, USC's Ronald Jones II, Notre Dame's Josh Adams, Auburn's Kerryon Johnson and N.C. State's Nyheim Hines are among the productive underclassmen who will join him in turning pro. Despite the big-name losses, three players who rushed for over 1,900 yards will be back thanks to Love's return on top of the presence of Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor and FAU's Devin Singletary, who weren't eligible to make the leap yet.
9. Texas, Florida State hit hard after forgettable 7-6 campaigns.
Texas' debut season under Tom Herman wasn't as impressive as hoped, and Florida State had a disastrous season in which it was the nation's most disappointing team, going from preseason No. 3 to barely making it to a bowl game and losing coach Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M. Their follow-ups will be made more difficult by draft decisions.
Herman says goodbye to several key Texas contributors early, including All-Americans in punter Michael Dickson, LB Malik Jefferson, OT Connor Williams and S DeShon Elliott, plus CB Holton Hill. It adds up to make a second-year breakthrough for Herman in which the Longhorns become a Big 12 contender somewhat unlikely.
Meanwhile, Willie Taggart will have plenty of talent at his disposal at Florida State, after the way Fisher recruited, but the Seminoles nevertheless saw a wave of attrition as they undergo an unexpected coaching transition. The group of early departures includes S Derwin James, CB Tarvarus McFadden, WR Auden Tate, DE Josh Sweat, TE Ryan Izzo and DE Jalen Wilkerson.
10. At least Jarrett Stidham is returning to the SEC West.
Had Stidham decided to turn pro after just one year as Auburn's starting quarterback, the SEC West race would look entirely uninteresting entering 2018. Alabama will still be the overwhelming favorite, of course, but at least the Tigers return an impressive QB who already beat Alabama once. Otherwise, the SEC West was predictably hit hard. Auburn says goodbye to DE Jeff Holland, CB Carlton Davis and RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. LSU -- which always seems to be hit hard by early losses -- will move forward without RB Derrius Guice, DE/LB Arden Key, CB Donte Jackson, C Will Clapp, CB Kevin Toliver and OT Toby Weathersby. Auburn is the defending SEC West champion, but Alabama is the defending national champion, and it can't help but still feel like the Crimson Tide and then everybody else in the division.