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How the Big 12's early NFL draft departures will be replaced

Collectively, the Big 12 is losing some major talent to early departures to the NFL draft. That has left some major holes at key positions for several Big 12 teams. Below is a look at how those schools could replace those players -- even though many figure to be irreplaceable:

Oklahoma RBs Samaje Perine/Joe Mixon

There’s really no way the Sooners can replace the immense production and playmaking that both Perine and Mixon supplied. Perine graduated as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Mixon finished second nationally in all-purpose yardage this past season. But with Baker Mayfield back at quarterback, the Sooners don’t necessarily require another star at running back to thrive offensively. They do, however, require a productive player. The Sooners have a top-flight running back class on the way headlined by Marcelias Sutton, the No. 2 juco back in the nation, and Trey Sermon, an ESPN 300 pledge. The onus will be one of those — or untested returners Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson — to keep Oklahoma’s ground game rolling.

Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes will go down as one of the best players ever to pass through Texas Tech. So suggesting that replacing him will be challenging would be an understatement. That said, in his lone meaningful appearance, former Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek showed he can be an effective Big 12 quarterback. In one half against an underrated Kansas defense, Shimonek threw for 271 yards and four touchdowns. As good as Mahomes was, quarterback is not even close to Tech’s biggest concern going into 2017 — thanks to Shimonek.

Texas RB D'Onta Foreman

Foreman was a total beast for Texas, averaging 6.3 yards per carry while shouldering 323 carries. The good news for the Longhorns is they have a ready-made replacement for the Doak Walker Award winner in fellow “Smash Brother” Chris Warren III. As Foreman’s sidekick, Warren rushed for 366 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 4. Warren might not be quite as prolific as Foreman was in 2016. But he’s proved already to be a quality back.

Oklahoma State DT Vincent Taylor

Taylor emerged as an All-Big 12 player this past season as one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the conference. Even without Taylor, the Cowboys still should have a deep group up front defensively. But they’ll need a difference-maker to materialize to remain stout. That emergence could come from rising junior Darrion Daniels, who had a series of high-profile offers coming out of high school. With two years in the rotation under his belt, Daniels could be primed to have a breakout season in the mold of Taylor.

Baylor WRs KD Cannon/Ish Zamora

Baylor’s receivers group was gutted by the early entries of Cannon and Zamora, who combined for 150 receptions, more than 2,000 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. No returning Baylor receiver has more than 46 career receptions. Chris Platt and Blake Lynch will likely take over as Baylor’s primary one-two punch at the position. From the slot, Platt is a burner, while Lynch has become a solid possession option. The Bears, however, will need a bigger, downfield outside receiver to fill the roles that Cannon and Zamora supplied to balance the offense. Former ESPN 300 signees and rising sophomores Jared Atkinson and Denzel Mims will need to grow up fast. Incoming ESPN 300 wideouts R.J. Sneed and Trestan Ebner could give the unit a boost as well

Kansas State LB Elijah Lee

Lee unexpectedly bolting for the draft was a blow for K-State, which now has to completely retool at linebacker. Sam Sizelove and Trent Tanking have experience. But the Wildcats need somebody with the athleticism of, say, rising sophomore Elijah Sullivan, to step up and give the group the speed it lost in Lee.

West Virginia WR Shelton Gibson

Gibson would have been one of the Big 12's top returning receivers. Instead, he leaves the Mountaineers thinner at the position than they had planned. But the unit could still be respectable at the least, with the returns of Ka’Raun White (48 receptions, 583 receiving yards) and Jovon Durante (35 receptions, 331 receiving yards).

Oklahoma DL Charles Walker

The Sooners don’t really have to replace Walker, as they spent most of the 2016 season without him anyway. But he's technically still an early entry. Walker’s absence from the team cleared the way for redshirt freshman Neville Gallimore to have a breakout season. Gallimore, from Canada, has the potential to develop into an all-conference-caliber defensive line. With him and rising senior D.J. Ward, the Sooners should be just fine on the edges of their 3-4 defensive line.