No. 3 - Andrew Mukuba
Pound for pound, Mukuba is likely the best player on this list, but this is a good example of how the loss of a good player can be offset by the presence of younger players.
In Mukuba’s case, those younger players were pushing him on the depth chart.
Khalil Barnes has been recognized as one of the better freshmen on the field in college football in 2023. He was recognized as a Freshman All-American by The Athletic. He started for Clemson when Mukuba was injured this season and after he entered the transfer portal.
Barnes had two takeaways against South Carolina on consecutive plays (the second and third Gamecock offensive plays of the game). He took the first (a fumble recovery) back for a touchdown.
If you had asked me who I would rather have in the starting lineup this season, I would defer to Mukuba as a junior over Barnes as a freshman.
Now that Barnes has a year under his belt, I think I would choose Barnes as a sophomore over Mukuba as a senior.
The reality is that Mukuba’s best season was as a freshman. He didn’t make many improvements after that. He is one of those players that anyone would rather have on the roster than not, but there was no guarantee he was going to hold his spot in the starting lineup over Barnes.
Next: No. 2 – Beaux Collins