After being lured away from the head coaching position at Vanderbilt University to lead the esteemed program in Happy Valley, James Franklin only had one year to acquaint himself with many Junior and Senior players who opted to test the waters in the 2015 NFL Draft back in May. Here’s a quick look at the players who will be the most difficult to replace both on the field and in the locker room.
6′ 6″ 340-pound offensive tackle Donovan Smith was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 34th overall pick. The mountain of a man did an excellent job over the last two seasons of blocking for Christian Hackenberg as he matured from a wide-eyed freshman into a confident leader.
He will now be expected to block for #1 overall pick Jameis Winston. The Heissman Trophy winner and National Champion will not have far to travel from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, where he will be expected to be the future of a Buccaneers franchise that has been less than stellar over the last decade and a half. Expect Smith to make an impact and likely become a starter in his rookie season.
6′ 7″ tight end Jesse James is now a Pittsburgh Steeler after the esteemed franchise selected him with the 24th pick of the fifth round. He seems to be an absolute perfect fit for a squad and city known for its blue-collar work ethic and toughness. He will immediately become a gigantic target for Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers are always going into every season expecting to compete for the Super Bowl. The man with the same name as a famous Wild West outlaw is going to be a tough matchup for linebackers throughout the AFC North.
Free safety Adrian Amos is headed to Chicago to play for the Bears after being selected with the 142nd overall pick. The loss of Amos will certainly hurt a secondary that was exposed at various times throughout the 2014 season.
Other notable departures include reliable kicker Sam Ficken, who made a number of huge field goals throughout his career. He was still a free-agent as of press time, but will likely get some phone calls as soon as kickers start shanking high-pressure kicks a few weeks into the NFL season.
Linebacker Mike Hull was a fan favorite who could fill up the stat sheet with tackles on any given Saturday. In terms of locker room leadership and tutelage of younger players, the loss of Hull is the biggest on the defensive side of the ball. One might even say it’ll be a big “Hull” to fill.