I havent seen this discussed on TN (though I do not read every comment) but I have been thinking of the possibility that we might even be better next year than we are this year. Couple of reasons why this is a possibility:
QB competition. While I love EJ and he can do things that our backups cannot (especially with his legs). He is the undisputed starter. Next year, the starter will be pushed every day in practice. - Downgrade, but with an improved OL (See below) it will not be as big as one would expect.
O-Line. We will have every starter on our OL returning next year. Continuity on the OL is incredibly important. Not to mention players like Cam and Watson have little to no experience playing OL, so an off-season and a year of experience will be huge for them. - Upgrade
RB. While we lose Thompson, we have Freeman, Wilder and Pender, to go along with Ryan Green. - No change
WR. We lose Smith but everyone else comes back and we will have KB with another year under his belt and we will have more speed with Bracy potentially playing a bigger role. - Slight Upgrade
TE. Nick O'leary gets another year under his belt, as does Christo. - Slight upgrade
The big thing with our offense is that our O-line should be VERY good next year. This will contribute to an overall improved offense, IMO.
Defense after the jump...
DE. We have been worrying about our DE next year for a while now. While I do not pretend to know how things will shake out, there is a chance we are even better next year than this, though. It all depends on who returns (will be a theme throughout this defensive preview). If Brandon Jenkins is still too injured to go to the NFL, he could return and give this position a huge boost. Also, the experience MEJR is gaining this year will be invaluable next year. Best case scenario... Jenkins comes back, Werner comes back, our young DE play up to the level they were recruited at. Worst case... Jenkins and Werner leave, leaving us with a huge lack of depth and experience. - Undetermined due to too many variables
DT. We lose A LOT of experience from this group, but with the way we have recruited this position, we should be able to reload fairly smoothly. Jernigan and McAlister should be our starters, backed up by Goldman, Shanks, Stample, Mitchell and McDaniel. If Jernigan continues to develop, our young DT's develop like many expect (especially Goldman and Shanks) and if McDaniel comes back to pre-injury form, then this will once again be an elite group, though much younger and less experienced than our current group. Due to the youth/inexperience, I have to give this a slight downgrade, but with a huge upside.
LB. I am expecting Christian to return. I might be wrong, but I do not see him leaving right now. We need Telvin to gain some weight. We will need to replace two senior starters with 2 young players (Eligwe and Northrup). I think this unit will be our weak link on defense once again, but some of these players are incredibly highly recruited, so in time should be good, but might struggle next year. Matthew Thomas could see time as a true freshman too. Telvin and Jones continue to progress, Moody is replaced admirably by a young defender. This unit will also not have the luxury of the DL we have this year.. which could impact their play. - Slight upgrade
DB. If Rhodes comes back, this could be one of the best secondaries inthe country with every starter and backup returning. Even if Rhodes leaves for the NFL, we should be quite good and probably still an improvement over this year's unit with the development of our youth. Darby looks like a future first rounder. -Upgrade with or without Rhodes
K- Downgrade. Hopkins is one of the best kickers we have ever had. Aguayo has big shoes to fill (pun intended)
Punter - Upgrade.. Beatty has been pretty good. Another year should make him better
Return units - upgrade. everyone returns
I wrote this after a very quick look at our roster and is not meant to be all-inclusive, nor a true evaluation. I was just thinking of this so decided to post it here. Please correct any errors I made and let me know your thoughts. Personally, I was fairly worried about next year's team, especially the defense, but we might not be in too much trouble after all, especially if the players return (Jenkins, Rhodes, Jones, and Werner).