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These college football players will replace top stars who departed early for the 2024 NFL Draft

The 2024 NFL Draft early-entry deadline has passed, and while players still have 72 hours to withdraw and maintain their eligibility, the college football world is now moving swiftly into preparation for the 2024 season. The departures of these underclassmen leave their former teams looking for answers in terms of replacing their production, and some cases the answers are easier to find than others. 

Below we have identified a group of 2024 NFL Draft early entrants who all check in as first-round selections in the most recent CBS Sports Mock Draft from Ryan Wilson. In each case we are going to try to identify the player(s) with a chance to take a step forward in the absence of the high-level pro talent leaving the roster. In one particular case, we explain why the work may not be done in restocking the roster with one more transfer portal window coming up after spring practice. 

With plenty left to learn before the 2024 season kicks off, these are merely projections for how some of the top players in college football will be replaced at their formal school. But these are undeniably key names to know heading into spring practice as their performance will dictate the level of concern or confidence for some of college football’s top teams heading into the fall. 

USC QB Caleb Williams 

Replacement — Miller Moss: While we acknowledge there is some risk in overreacting to a bowl game performance, Moss’ record-setting six-touchdown showing in the Holiday Bowl win against Louisville set a much different tone for expectations of the post-Caleb era at USC. With former five-star prospect Malachi Nelson hitting the transfer portal and many other portal quarterbacks landing in other spots, the future for the Trojans QB room seemed more uncertain before Moss’ breakout. Maybe Lincoln Riley and that staff had confidence in Moss’ ability to thrive all along, but with depth as a question they have added some quality competition to the room with UNLV quarterback Jayden Maiava from the portal. 

Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr

Replacement — Brandon Innis, Carnell Tate or Jeremiah Smith: One of the few Ohio State stars who choose leaving early over a return, Harrison is slated to be one of the top picks in the draft. he leaves behind him a wealth of targets and receptions to be dispersed among one of the most talented wide receiver rooms in the country. Since Emeka Egbuka — one of the many draft-eligible Buckeyes stars to return to Columbus for 2024 — has been playing alongside Harrison for two seasons, we’re instead pointing out some of coach Ryan Day’s other options when constructing the offense. Innis was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and the highest-rated player in Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class, but it was fellow freshman Tate who saw more quality action with 18 catches for 264 yards and a touchdown while appearing in all 13 games. Then of course there is Jeremiah Smith, the No. 1 overall player in the 2024 recruiting class, who carries a college-ready frame at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds and a pro comp (per 247sports) to Julio Jones. 

Penn State OT Olu Fashanu

Replacement — Drew Shelton: The good news for Penn State is that while both tackles are being replaced there is quality depth already along the offensive line, with Shelton in particular carrying enough experience to avoid a drop-off at Fashanu’s position. Shelton started five games this past year, but when the Nittany Lions carried big leads into the second half it was Shelton who would get some extra work in place of the surefire top-10 pick at left tackle. As it turned out, Penn State found itself in a lot of blowouts (fifth nationally with a +20.0 average scoring margin) during its 10-win campaign, which meant plenty of work for Shelton and the rest of the backups who will have bigger roles in 2024. 

LSU WR Malik Nabers 

Replacement — Kyren Lacy: Both Nabers and Brian Thomas are leaving massive holes in the production from LSU’s pass catchers, but Lacy has already expressed his expectation to be one of the team’s leaders at that position in 2024. A fifth-year player who will be utilizing his COVID eligibility in the fall, Lacy arrived at LSU prior to 2022 after two seasons at Louisiana. He took a major jump this year with improvements in receptions (30), yards receiving (558) and touchdowns (7), and finished as the team’s third-leading receiver on the season behind Nabers and Thomas. 

There is still a lot of talent among the underclassmen wide receivers in Baton Rouge but it’s mostly unproven, making Lacy a key piece for LSU’s offense. Want a good sign for the future of LSU’s offense as it undergoes the turnover of a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, two first-round wide receivers and an offensive coordinator? Seeing Lacy connect with presumed starter Garrett Nussmeier for a season-high six catches for 95 yards in the bowl win against Wisconsin

Notre Dame OT Joe Alt 

Replacement — Charles Jagusah: Notre Dame knew it would likely be replacing Alt; the left tackle spent all season on the top of NFL Draft boards. Now, new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock also has to rework the other side with starting tackle Blake Fisher going pro as well. Alt and Fisher started 26 straight games on the same line, so we’re ringing in a new era in the trenches for the Fighting Irish. 

Luckily, there are targets that have already been identified thanks in part to the bowl prep. With Alt opting out, Notre Dame was able to move Jagusah back outside to play Alt’s left tackle position in the bowl game. A former four-star prospect who rated as a top-50 overall player and the No. 8 offensive tackle in the 2023 recruiting class, Jagusah played some guard late in the season but held his own against a physical Oregon State defensive front in the Sun Bowl win. 

Alabama EDGE Dallas Turner 

Replacement — Keanu Koht, Keon Keeley or Transfer Portal TBD: There are not a lot of obvious options here, which made it arguably even more important to make a note of what Alabama is losing with not only Turner but senior Chris Braswell going pro, too. Koht was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but battled injuries throughout his first two years at Alabama, really only reaching full strength in 2023 as a backup to Braswell at the JACK position. Keeley is another interesting piece. he was one of the top edge rushers and a five-star prospect in the 2023 recruiting class but did not see any action all season. 

That’s why the transfer portal is mentioned here as well. If Alabama was connected to multiple pass rushers early in the first portal cycle but did not land their commitment, then finding a proven replacement was a concern for them as well. Look for Kalen DeBoer’s new staff to reignite some of that interest after spring practice when the portal opens again so the Crimson Tide have a little bit more experience on the edge of its defense.  

Florida State DE Jared Verse

Replacement — Patrick Payton: Initially thought to be someone leaving through the portal, Payton reaffirmed his commitment to the Seminoles for 2024 after the bowl game. Payton started all 14 games for Florida State this season and led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss. It was his first full season as a starter and he delivered with seven sacks, 44 tackles and 10 pass breakups to go with those team-leading 14.5 TFLs. He’s especially skilled at both getting to the passer and getting his arms in passing lines, which will be especially impactful as Florida State will be breaking new starters throughout the defensive depth chart. With Payton serving as a one-man pass-rushing wrecking crew, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has an X-factor to cover up some of the inexperience elsewhere. 

Texas WR AD Mitchell 

Replacement — Isaiah Bond: Mitchell’s exit is the most notable offensive skill position departure in terms of first-round projections, but it’s worth noting he’s part of a massive overhaul for the Longhorns heading into 2024. All five Texas players who accounted for 25 or more receptions in 2023 are gone: Mitchell, Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington, tight end JT Sanders and running back Jonathan Brooks. Combined, they accounted for more than 3,000 — or, specifically, 82%  — of the Longhorns’ team receiving yards. Luckily, Texas has already picked up a commitment from Alabama star receiver Isaiah Bond, who hit the portal after Nick Saban’s retirement and quickly lined up with the Longhorns in what Bond simply called a “business decision.” 

Georgia CB Kamari Lassiter 

Replacement — Daylen Everette or Julian Humphrey: A former five-star prospect from the 2022 recruiting class, Everette finally got his number called this season and started every game for the Bulldogs at corner opposite Lassiter, who appeared in this same story one year ago as the next man up after Keele Ringo’s departure. And just as Ringo’s exit opened the way for Lassiter to emerge as one of the top corners in the country the ascension for Everette could open up more playing time for Humphrey, a former four-star prospect who actually entered the transfer portal but changed course and announced he will stay in Athens. 

North Carolina QB Drake Maye

Replacement — Conner Harrell or Max Johnson: Mack Brown has enjoyed five consecutive seasons of future NFL quarterback play with a clean succession from Sam Howell to Drake Maye. Now for the first time in a long time, there’s a quarterback competition without any real answers as 2023 backup Conner Harrell goes head-to-head with Texas A&M transfer Max Johnson in the battle to be QB1 for the Tar Heels. Harrell got his first start in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against West Virginia, and though he showed flashes of his playmaking ability the redshirt freshman also threw two interceptions and spent much of the second half playing through an ankle injury in the 30-10 loss. 

Now looking ahead to spring practice, Harrell is hoping he can take the experience of bowl prep as QB1 to get a leg up in the battle with Johnson, who arrives at UNC after stops at both LSU and Texas A&M. The son former Florida State and NFL great Brad Johnson, Max started eight games for Texas A&M in 2023 before suffering an injury, finishing the season with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

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