The NFL Draft declaration deadline has passed, and a lot of the attention is on the college football stars that decided to test the professional waters. Equally as important, though, are the stars that could have turned pro, but elected to come back for another year. CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee recently took a look at the top 20 college football players that turned down the NFL Draft for one more ride with their respective programs.
Passing on the NFL Draft is increasingly rare in modern college football. The best players typically spend, at most, three years with their college team before moving on.
But there is always motivation to return. For some, that comes in the opportunity to improve one’s draft stock. For others, perhaps the motivation comes in pursuing championships.
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Whatever the reason may be, here are the top 20 players that spurned the 2023 NFL Draft to return to college football, per CBS Sports:
20. Rome Odunze, WR, Washington
19. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU
18. Trey Benson, RB, Florida State
17. KJ Jefferson, QB, Arkansas
16. Johnny Wilson, WR, Florida State
The 6-foot-3 Odunze went over 1,000 yards receiving last season and, with his mixture of size and athleticism, he should get close to that mark again this year… After transferring in from Arizona State, Daniels got past a shaky start with the Tigers to eventually post his best collegiate year yet, passing for 2,193 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions… Benson took a feature spot in a crowded running back room last season, and his game should take another step forward by returning… After receiving some Heisman hype in the offseason, Jefferson’s 2022 did not quite live up to expectations. Still, he is a big-bodied quarterback that can affect almost every aspect of the offense… The 6-foot-7 Wilson is one of college football’s most unique players. He is also a nightmare for opposing defensive backs.
15. Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina
14. Keith Randolph Jr., DL, Illinois
13. Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oklahoma
12. Cameron Rising, QB, Utah
11. Tyler Davis, DL, Clemson
Few players closed the regular season on a better note than Rattler. In consecutive top-10 upsets against Tennessee and Clemson, he threw for 798 yards and eight touchdowns… Gabriel threw for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns, and should only get better as he continues to work with a familiar offensive coordinator in Jeff Lebby… Rising is returning for his fifth collegiate season and should rake in preseason Pac-12 honors… Davis is a legitimate first-round talent at the defensive line spot, and he should again star on an always loaded Clemson defensive front.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Newton was one of the top reasons why Illinois returned to prominence during the 2022 season. He had 60 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries last season.”
247Sports’ Take: The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Newton is the exact type of defensive lineman that modern scouts love. He has a huge frame that can eat space, but he also has the ability to disrupt and get to the quarterback from the interior. A second-team All-American selection, Newton has the chance to compete for awards next season.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Hartman had options to return to Wake Forest, head to the NFL or transfer within college football in 2023, and he found a great home at Notre Dame. The centerpiece of the slow mesh offense with the Demon Deacons has thrown for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns during his five-year college career, and there’s no doubt that he is considered a Heisman contender heading into the 2023 season.”
247Sports’ Take: Hartman is easily Notre Dame’s best quarterback since Ian Book — and there is a case to be made that he is even better. Hartman was a starter for Wake Forest since almost the moment he stepped on campus. He helped take that program to new heights. He also gives Notre Dame’s offense a higher ceiling than it has seen in quite some time.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Fashanu would have been a first-round pick had he decided to declare for the draft, but he chose to return to a Penn State team that will be loaded with experience on both sides of the ball.”
247Sports’ Take: After blocking for Sean Clifford over the past couple years, Fashanu will be a key figure in the breaking in of new quarterback Drew Allar. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, he played a big role in 2021 at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, which shows the trust this staff has in him.
CBS Sports’ Take: “The Huskies defensive front will be stacked in 2023, and Trice’s presence will be a big reason why. He had 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 13 games, which earned him All-Pac-12 honors.”
247Sports’ Take: Plenty of focus moving forward with Washington will be on the offense, which consistently lit teams up in 2022 and returns plenty of talent. That means players like Trice may go unnoticed, but he is as big a key to this team as anyone. Elite edge rushers are more important to a defense than anything in the modern game, and Trice fits that description.
CBS Sports’ Take: The transfer from Albany transformed himself into a first-round talent after notching 16.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 12 games for the Seminoles. He was projected as the No. 11 overall player in the CBS Sports NFL Draft prospect rankings prior to announcing his decision to return to Tallahassee.
247Sports’ Take: Verse’s decision to come back was easily the most surprising of this entire cycle. Florida State has done a really good job at landing edge rushers from the portal in the past few years, and Verse stands as the best. He had no trouble adjusting to the Power Five level from the FCS, so it is scary to think about what he can accomplish with a year of experience under his belt.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Eichenberg finished the season with 120 tackles and was a big part of the Buckeyes’ defensive turnaround in their run to the CFP. The first-team All-Big Ten performer and Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist was the leader of a linebacking corps that should be one of the Big Ten’s best in 2023.”
247Sports’ Take: Eichenberg flourished in his first year under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. He also filled a huge need for the Buckeyes, as they have lacked an eraser at the linebacker position in recent years.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Travis was the biggest reason the Seminoles came on strong late in the season. He threw for 3,214 yards, rushed for 417 yards and totaled 32 touchdowns.”
247Sports’ Take: Travis should be an early favorite to take home the Heisman Trophy, and he is a huge reason why the Seminoles will receive plenty of hype as a College Football Playoff competitor. His growth as a starting quarterback in 2022 was astronomical, as he entered the year with questions around his job security. It is hard to doubt him at this point.
CBS Sports’ Take: “Nix was in the Heisman Trophy race prior to suffering an ankle injury that hampered him down the stretch. Despite that, he still threw for 3,593 yards, rushed for 510 yards and totaled 44 touchdowns.”
247Sports’ Take: Speaking of quarterbacks that revived their career, all Nix needed was a change of scenery. After stagnating at Auburn from 2019-21, first-year Oregon coach Dan Lanning took a chance on Nix and got rewarded in a major way. A huge area for growth for Nix in 2022 was his decision making. After throwing two interceptions in the opener against Georgia, he had just five over the final 12 games.
CBS Sports’ Take: “The consensus All-American missed the final two games of the season but still ripped off 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. He should be the centerpiece of the two-time Big Ten champion’s offense as long as he recovers from a meniscus injury.”
247Sports’ Take: The only thing holding Corum back from being a likely Heisman favorite is the fact that he will have to split time with Donovan Edwards, who came on strong near the end of 2022 and carried the load well when Corum went out with injury. Michigan’s running back talent is unrivaled.
CBS Sports’ Take: “The nation’s leading passer in yards per game will enter the 2023 season near the top of the Heisman Trophy odds after throwing for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns for a Huskies team that posted an 11-2 record.”
247Sports’ Take: Washington was a revelation in 2022, and Penix was at its center. The Huskies should be the favorites to win the Pac-12, and Penix will contend for almost every major offensive award he can. This after, just a couple years ago, he was playing poorly enough to get benched at Indiana.
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