-- The personnel picture for the 2018 college football season is finally coming into focus.
Although recruiting continues and transfers still will be added, the most impactful date for roster revisions has come and gone. Monday marked the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. The overall number of declarations continues to stick out, but some teams were damaged more than others.
In selecting draft deadline winners and losers, I tried to identify teams that retained players who had the opportunity to go pro, or teams that lost multiple players but also key guys who could have returned. Some teams, like Auburn, USC and Miami, don't belong in either category after losing important players but bringing back others. Notre Dame began deadline day in the loser's bracket but moved out after key defenders? Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery?announced they would be back this fall. Stanford would have been a loser until Bryce Love made the decision to return for his senior campaign.
Here's the complete rundown.
Clemson: The Tigers lost on New Year's night but they were undoubtedly the biggest winners on draft deadline declaration day. Christian Wilkins' decision to return capped an incredible weekend after four potential draft departures -- defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, linebacker Kendall Joseph and cornerback Mark Fields?-- confirmed at the team banquet that they will return in 2018. Mel Kiper had Wilkins as his top draft-eligible defensive tackle and Ferrell as his No. 2 draft-eligible defensive end. That both are back is remarkable. Clemson also brings back offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, who will enter his fourth year as a starter. The Tigers have enough receiver depth to replace Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Wisconsin: This isn't usually a program that produces a lot of early draft departures, but the Badgers are pleased to bring back All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards. Wisconsin's defense loses valuable pieces along the line and in the secondary, but Edwards will lead one of the nation's top linebacker groups in 2018. Offensive linemen Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel also return, giving Wisconsin 10 returning offensive starters, including all five along the line. Paul Chryst should have his best Badgers offense since 2011, when he served as coordinator and mentored Russell Wilson at quarterback.
West Virginia: The excitement is real both within and outside the program. Dana Holgorsen could have his best team yet and one that should push for the Big 12 title. The biggest reason? Quarterback Will Grier returns after an excellent debut season (3,490 passing yards, 34 touchdowns) with the Mountaineers. Wide receiver David Sills V, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, also will be back in the fall. Left tackle Yodny Cajuste returns to anchor a strong line, and most of WVU's key defenders also are back.
Washington: Unlike last year, when the Huskies lost two star defensive backs, their top wide receiver and a solid defensive lineman, the declaration deadline didn't hit the roster too hard. Washington knew Vita Vea would turn pro, and he will be missed in the middle of the defensive line. But running back Myles Gaskin will stay and build upon a 4,055-yard, 45-touchdown career. Gaskin and quarterback Jake Browning will form one of the nation's most experienced and accomplished backfields in 2018.
Ohio State: Any year where the Buckeyes' number of draft departures is relatively small puts them in the "winner" category. Cornerback Denzel Ward and defensive lineman Sam Hubbard made the right choices to leave, especially after Hubbard's incredible Cotton Bowl performance. But Dre'Mont Jones returns along the defensive line, and Ohio State's next starting quarterback will have wide receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin?and Johnnie Dixon at his disposal. Running back Mike Weber, a redshirt sophomore, also opted to remain in Columbus, where he will team up with J.K. Dobbins.
Virginia Tech: Last year, the Hokies had the most you've-gotta-be-kidding-me draft departure with quarterback Jerod Evans going pro. There are fewer shockers this year, but more players leaving early, including both Edmunds brothers (Terrell and Tremaine), along with defensive tackle Tim Settle, a disruptive space eater in the middle of the line. The Hokies will need to lean more on their offense to challenge Miami and others in the ACC Coastal division this fall.
LSU: The Tigers haven't won the SEC since 2011, but they continue to lose underclassmen to the NFL at a staggering rate. LSU has had 31 early draft entries in the past six seasons after six more declared before Monday's deadline. The hits come on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, as cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II depart, along with edge rusher Arden Key. Running back Derrius Guice, who rushed for 2,638 yards the past two seasons, also exits. While these decisions aren't surprising, the overall number hurts an LSU program trying to compete for titles again.
Florida State: Like LSU, Florida State is a program where early exits are expected in bunches. But it stings more that after a 7-6 season with few impressive moments, the Seminoles are losing six players. While safety Derwin James and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden had little choice, the new coaching staff could have benefited from players such as defensive end Josh Sweat, tight end Ryan Izzo?and wide receiver Auden Tate staying for the 2018 season.
Texas: Here's another example of a team that loses several key pieces following an underwhelming season. While Texas' defense made major strides under first-year coordinator Todd Orlando, it loses almost all of its standouts because of graduation or to an early draft exit, like linebacker Malik Jefferson and defensive backs DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill. The Longhorns also lose their top offensive lineman, Connor Williams, and transcendent punter (yeah, you read that right) Michael Dickson.
Alabama: Much was made of the freshmen Alabama had on the field when it won the national title against Georgia. Optimism is warranted there, but the Tide still loses most of its best players from a team that had some weaknesses. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, headed to the draft, had 49 more receptions than any other Alabama player. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was the nation's best all-around defender, and Da'Ron Payne will be missed along the defensive line. The running game should be strong with Damien Harris returning. Alabama always prepares for an exodus of underclassmen to the NFL, but it has some big holes to fill.
Tennessee: It's a clean slate in Knoxville for Jeremy Pruitt, but the new Vols coach would have liked to retain running back John Kelly for another season. Kelly instead is off to the NFL after a 189-carry season. He's one of three Vols underclassmen -- defensive back Rashaan Gaulden and defensive tackle Reginald McKenzie Jr. are the others -- heading to the NFL despite a 4-8 on Rocky Top. While Pruitt is all about building for the future, there are several more holes to fill on the depth chart.