By our count, there are currently 44 underclassmen who have declared for the 2012 NFL Draft. Other than players from LSU or Alabama, just about all of the big names have made their draft decision public knowledge. After the BCS National Championship game tonight, the number of underclassmen in the draft could top 50 with the inclusion of Tigers and Tide players. Just how many of them go pro will shape the 2012 NFL Draft.
So how about some speculating on who could enter the draft and what round they could get drafted?
Alabama's top underclassmen is junior running back Trent Richardson. He's expected to enter the draft. If he does, he could be a top 10 pick. Middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower is another likely first-round pick. The combination of Manti Te'o returning to Notre Dame and Vontaze Burfict struggling should make Hightower the second-rated inside linebacker in the draft. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has struggled at times this season, but is closing the season strong. He's another player expected to enter the draft and may be a top 15 pick.An Alabama player who should be on the fence is safety Robert Lester. He's on the record saying his play tonight will determine if he'll enter the draft. To me, that says he's leaning toward staying in school for another year. That's something Lester should do. He hasn't been as dynamic as expected this season and may not get drafted until the late second or early third round if he declares this year.
Most are expecting LSU junior cornerback Morris Claiborne to announce shortly after tonight's game that he'll be in the draft. He's a player who will be in play as early as the third overall pick. If he returns to LSU, it would be a shock. LSU's other underclassmen aren't as highly regarded as Claiborne. Wide receiver Rueben Randle is expected to enter the draft. He's a big wide receiver who has shown good ability this season. He doesn't have a lot of room for improvement, so he should enter the draft. He's a possible second-round pick.
Offensive tackle Alex Hurst has started the last two seasons at right tackle. He's a mammoth lineman at 6-foot-6, 340 pounds. He's also not as fleet of foot and gets beat by speed rushers at times. He should return for his senior season. If he doesn't, he could be a third- or fourth-round pick. LSU wide receiver Russell Shephard was expected to have a sensational season, but was hurt by a three-game suspension at the start of the season. He's never gotten on track, but has a penchant for making big plays. Don't look for him to enter the draft either.
One player who already said he won't enter the draft is Alabama's Lombardi Award-winning left tackle Barrett Jones. We also already know that two sophomore in tonight's game have said they won't enter the draft this year. That would be Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery.
What about LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu? He's only a true sophomore and not eligible.