Later this month I'm heading to Indy for the NFL combine. I've always been intrigued by the NFL draft -- the speculation, the evaluation process, the jockeying, the whole deal. The flip side of the draft business is how these colleges replace their departed playmakers. Whoever does the best job of reloading usually has the best and most stable programs. Some drop off, some don't. Let's focus on some of those key guys today by taking a look at the top five guys on Mel Kiper's draft board and the most likely candidates as next man up.
1. Nick Fairley, Auburn Tigers, DT
An absolute menace in the SEC last season, Fairley won't be the toughest guy for Gene Chizik to replace in 2011 (QB Cam Newton is), but the 300-pound defender does leave a gaping hole in the center of the Tigers' D. Making matters worse, Auburn also loses his backup, Mike Blanc, and fellow starting DT Zach Clayton. Expect rising sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter to get first crack at the starting spot.
To read who Bruce Feldman believes will replace Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green and Marcell Dareus, plus notes on what signing Jadeveon Clowney really means for Steve Spurrier and Co., you must be an ESPN Insider.