The blue, red and white confetti raining down at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday Night officially marked the beginning of the long-dreaded football winter, also known as off-season, both at the pro and collegiate level.
Wake Forest football will now turn its attention to spring practices to assess its roster for next season. In this spirit of offseason change, this is a great time to break down some of the key players departing and who might be replacing them in 2019.
Overall, the Deacs will lose 12 graduating seniors, out of whom 10 had huge starting roles. Among the most important departures are both starting defensive tackles Zeek Rodney and Willie Yarbary, three starting offensive linemen in Ryan Anderson (C), Patrick Osterhage (OG) and Phil Haynes (OG); starting running back Matt Colburn II and starting safety Cameron Glenn. On top of the senior departures, Wake Forest also lost All-ACC receiver Greg Dortch, who decided to forego his last two years of eligibility to enter the 2019 NFL Draft early.
All of them should raise a lot of interest in days two and three of the draft, with Dortch and Haynes with the highest draft stock out of this group.
Dortch’s departure wasn’t that much of a shock given the incredible year he had in 2018. With that being said, the coaching staff will still have a hard time replacing Dortch’s production. If you watched any Wake Forest football in 2018, you know that Dortch was the heartbeat of Wake Forest’s passing game.
With Dortch leaving for the draft and Alex Bachman graduating, the starting slot receiver position will be one of the most interesting storylines during training camp. The two favorites for the spot are redshirt freshman Jaquarii Roberson who was Dortch’s immediate backup in 2018 and 4-star incoming freshman Nolan Groulx. Groulx is the crown jewel of the 2019 recruiting class and second highest-rated recruit under Dave Clawson. I would expect both to share duties at the slot at the beginning of the 2019 season, but over the long term, I think Groulx will run with the gig.
The defensive tackle position will also suffer a huge overhaul, with Yarbary and Rodney being the only constant on a defense that struggled through most of the 2018 season. Redshirt sophomore Sulaiman Kamara played well over stretches last season and is the more experienced player left at the position. The other spot will be wide open through training camp and might become one of the weakest spots for the Deacs on defense in 2019.
The offensive line will have a softer transition given that both starting tackles will be back, including third-team All-ACC left tackle Justin Herron who missed the entire 2018 season after suffering a torn ACL during the season-opening game against Tulane. Expect a bounce-back year from Herron, as he’s projected to be one of the best tackles in the ACC next year.
The Deacs will need all the help they can get from their offensive line to establish their running game as they lose one of their pillars in the running in Colburn. Colburn finished his career at Wake Forest with the sixth-most rushing yards in the school’s history with 2,528 yards. Expect junior running back Cade Carney to take over the majority of the snaps as the Deacs leading back, with redshirt sophomore Christian Beal-Smith complementing the carries. Incoming freshman Kendrell Flowers is also a name to keep in mind as a dark horse candidate for carries behind Carney.
Altogether the Deacs will have some question marks heading into training camp like all programs do, but outside of defensive tackle, Wake Forest shouldn’t have a significant drop off in play in 2019. Wake Forest still brings a lot of experience back in 2019 and should be well positioned for another bowl bid next season.
We at the Old Gold & Black wish nothing but the best to the departing Deacs as they start a new chapter in their lives. Stay tuned for later in the semester when we’ll give a draft primer on where the Deacs might get selected during the 2019 NFL Draft in April.