Heading into the NFL draft, it’s time to take stock of the teams that "won" and “lost” based on their 2017 rosters and the players that decided (or didn’t decide) to declare early.
Oregon: No team fared better with their early entrants than Oregon. Most assumed running back Royce Freeman was a sure thing to leave, but not only did the Ducks get him back in 2017 as the foundation for the run game, but they also return wide receiver Darren Carrington as well as offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby. Carrington led Oregon in receiving yards in 2016 and will be a key holdover as Oregon loses four of its top six receivers. Meanwhile, Crosby, who redshirted last year due to injury, will join four other returning starters to lock down the offensive line. With those three players returning (as well as other important underclassmen), Oregon’s offense is set to get back on track in Willie Taggart’s first year.
Washington State: Most Pac-12 teams don’t make it to this list with just one big name returning or leaving, but when that name is quarterback Luke Falk, and he’s running an Air Raid offense, your team deserves to be labeled as a “winner.” Falk didn’t play his best down the stretch last year, but he still knows how to run the Cougar offense better than anyone else on that roster. With a 2017 defense that will likely take a big step forward with so many veteran players, the offense -- having lost receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft -- will need a veteran to lead it. Falk is that guy.
Stanford: Though Bryce Love did a serviceable job at running back in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, the Cardinal are going to sorely miss their Swiss Army knife in Christian McCaffrey. During his career, McCaffrey accounted for 6,987 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns (that’s not including his three pass attempts and two passing touchdowns in 2015). But it’s not just McCaffrey. Stanford also loses defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who finished third in the Pac-12 with 15 tackles for a loss while leading the Cardinal in tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks, quarterback hurries and fumble recoveries. Those are huge blows on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
USC: The Trojans lose utility man Adoree’ Jackson, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (10 touchdowns, 914 receiving yards) and offensive lineman Damien Mama. In addition to the players who are graduating, that’s a lot of firepower for Clay Helton to see out the door after the 2016 season. During his USC career, Jackson has been one of the most versatile players in college football. Helton isn’t going to be able to replace his production on defense, offense and special teams with just a single player. Losing Smith-Schuster means that quarterback Sam Darnold is going to need to find a new top receiver (though Deontay Burnett made a solid case for himself in the Rose Bowl). In addition, Darnold will start behind an offensive line that will feature three new starters (Mama would have been a welcomed holdover on this unit).
Washington: The Huskies return plenty of offensive and defensive talent, but don’t discount the losses of wide receiver John Ross, defensive lineman Elijah Qualls or defensive backs Budda Baker and Sidney Jones. Ross was named to several first team All-Americans teams in 2016 after leading Power 5 receivers with 17 touchdowns. Qualls was named to the All-Pac-12 first team after being a bulwark on the defensive line and finished the season with 38 tackles, three sacks and three quarterback hurries. Baker and Jones were a part of one of the most talented secondaries in the country. Baker led the Huskies in tackles (71) and tackles for a loss (10.0), while Jones was a lockdown corner, ending the season with three interceptions and six pass breakups. Coach Chris Petersen has built depth behind each of those players in order to prepare for the time when they would leave, but next season, quarterback Jake Browning will need to find a new No. 1 receiver, while the defense is going to be in search of new starters at key positions.