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Record number of players on NFL’s official early-entry list for 2018 draft

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If it seemed to you like there were an inordinate number of early cannonballers jumping into the draft pool, you were correct.

Four days after the Jan. 15 deadline, the NFL Friday announced that 106 players have been granted special eligibility for the April draft.  That sets a new record for early entrants, breaking the mark of 98 set in 2014.  The past two seasons, there were 95 and 96 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.  In 2015, there were just 74.

The SEC was hit hardest by attrition with 26 players leaving early, although the ACC wasn’t far behind at 24.  The Pac-12 was next among the Power Five conferences with 17, followed by the Big 12’s 13 and the Big Ten’s 11.

Among Group of Five leagues, Conference USA lost the most with four.  The Mountain West saw three go early, with the AAC (two), MAC (one) and Sun Belt (one) coming next in line.  There were also two non-FBS players who left early, as well as two from Notre Dame.

As far as individual schools go, there were three that lost six apiece — Florida State, LSU and Texas.  Alabama lost five, while Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, and USC all lost four apiece.  Clemson, Florida, Louisville, Stanford and Tennessee were on the losing end of three players each.

In addition to the 106 granted special eligibility — they’ll be listed at the end — the NFL also granted eligibility to 13 players who the league writes “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements.” Those players are listed below:

» Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
» Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
» Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
» Will Clapp, C, LSU
» Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech
» Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
» Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
» Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
» Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
» Brian O’Neill, T, Pittsburgh
» Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
» Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
» Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Courtesy of the NFL, below is the complete list of 106 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft:

» Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
» Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, DE, Toledo
» Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
» Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
» Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
» Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
» Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
» Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest
» Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
» Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
» Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
» Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
» Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
» Geron Christian, T, Louisville
» Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
» Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
» Vosean Crumbie, DB, Nevada
» J.J. Dallas, DB, Louisiana-Monroe
» James Daniels, C, Iowa
» Sam Darnold, QB, USC
» Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
» Michael Dickson, P, Texas
» Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
» DeShon Elliott, DB, Texas
» Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
» Matt Fleming, WR, Benedictine
» Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
» Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
» Frank Ginda, LB, San Jose State
» Rasheem Green, DT, USC
» Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
» Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
» Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
» Holton Hill, DB, Texas
» Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
» Jeff Holland, LB, Auburn
» Mike Hughes, DB UCF
» Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
» Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
» Ryan Izzo, TE, FSU
» Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
» J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland
» Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
» Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
» Derwin James, DB, FSU
» Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee
» Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
» Courtel Jenkins, DT, Miami
» Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
» Ronald Jones, RB, USC
» John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
» Arden Key, LB, LSU
» Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
» Du’Vonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
» Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
» Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
» Tavares Martin, WR, Washington State
» Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State
» Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson
» Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
» R.J. McIntosh, DT, Miami
» Reginald McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
» Quenton Meeks, DB, Stanford
» Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
» D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
» Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State
» Nick Nelson, DB, Wisconsin
» Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
» Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
» Dwayne Orso-Bacchus, T, Oklahoma
» Da’Ron Payne, NT, Alabama
» Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
» Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida
» Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
» D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State
» Justin Reid, DB, Stanford
» Will Richardson, T, NC State
» Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
» Austin Roberts, TE, UCLA
» Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Miss
» Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
» Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
» Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
» Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
» Andre Smith, LB, UNC
» Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
» Van Smith, DB, Clemson
» Breeland Speaks, DE, Ole Miss
» Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
» Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
» Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
» Maea Teuhema, T, Southeastern Louisiana
» Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
» Kevin Toliver, DB, LSU
» Travonte Valentine, NT, LSU
» Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
» Vita Vea, NT, Washington
» Mark Walton, RB, Miami
» Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
» Chris Warren, RB, Texas
» Toby Weathersby, T, LSU
» Jordan Whitehead, DB, Pittsburgh
» JoJo Wicker, DT, Arizona State
» Jalen Wilkerson, DE, Florida State
» Connor Williams, T, Texas
» Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue

Kam Pettway, Jeff Holland become 3rd & 4th Auburn players to leave early for NFL this year

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Of all of the Power Five programs, Auburn has been hit hard by early draft attrition this year.

On social media Wednesday, both running back Kam Pettway and defensive lineman Jeff Holland announced that they will be leaving The Plains early and entering the NFL draft.  Pettway’s decision in particular is not surprising as he is married with a two-year-old daughter, while Holland enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign that catapulted him into the draftable discussion.

Entering 2017, Holland had totaled 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. This season, Holland was credited with 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, with both totals leading the team.

Pettway ran for 1,224 yards in 2016, leading the SEC in rushing yards per game, and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Because of a combination of a suspension and injuries, Pettway missed a total of nine games this season, limiting him to just 305 yards on the ground. Pettway’s struggles led to a career season for Kerryon Johnson, who ran for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Johnson is one of four Tigers who have declared early, the other being first-team All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis.

Carlton Davis following Auburn teammate Kerryon Johnson into NFL

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For the second time in as many days, Gus Malzahn has lost a productive underclassman to the NFL.

Tuesday, running back Kerryon Johnson used his personal Twitter account to announce his decision to leave Auburn early for the NFL.  A day later, cornerback Carlton Davis did the same.

Davis missed most of the last two games of what was his final season on The Plains.  The defensive back suffered a concussion in the SEC championship game loss to Georgia, then didn’t play in the Peach Bowl because of what was described only as an unspecified illness.

When he was on the field, he played well enough to earn first-team All-SEC honors.  He was also listed as a second-team All-American by various media outlets.

Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson to enter NFL Draft

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Kerryon, my wayward son.

As sorry as I am for that truly reprehensible pun, it was pretty much required in this situation. Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson announced Tuesday night he will enter the 2018 NFL Draft. Johnson made his announcement through a coordinated Twitter post with the Auburn football program.

Johnson led the SEC in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, toting the rock 285 times for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns, despite missing two games in September. He racked up 32 carries for 167 yards in a win over CFP finalist Georgia, and rushed 30 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in a win over the other CFP finalist Alabama.

He was named a First Team All-SEC running back this fall.

“I would like to thank KJ for all he has done for our program over the last three years,” Tigers head coach Gus Malzhan said in a statement. “Kerryon has made this team better both on and off the field with his great character, competitiveness and leadership. He will be very successful at the next level and more importantly in life. We wish KJ nothing but the best.”

With Johnson off the roster, Auburn’s leading returning rusher will be rising junior and Baylor transfer Kam Martin. He carried 74 times for 453 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. Senior Kamryn Pettway also figures to be a factor again in 2018; after leading the club with 1,224 yards in 2016, Pettway played in just five games this fall due to injuries.

No. 12 UCF completes perfect season with Peach Bowl triumph over No. 7 Auburn

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If you’re going to go undefeated, at some point the quote-unquote other side of the ball is going to have to carry you. For No. 12 UCF, that point arrived Monday, in the most important game of the best season in school history.

One game after allowing Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson to throw for 471 yards and four touchdowns in a 62-55 double overtime win in the AAC championship, the Knights’ defense harassed and confused Jarrett Stidham throughout the afternoon, sacking him six times and fooling him into two game-changing interceptions to secure a 34-27 win over No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

The win secured the first winless-to-perfect 2-year turnaround in major college football history and, in Scott Frost‘s final game as head coach, secured UCF’s second New Year’s Six bowl win in the past five seasons. The Knights’ win moved mid-majors to 8-3 against Power 5 programs in BCS/CFP games, and joined UCF with Utah and Boise State as the only mid-majors with two major bowl wins over Power 5 opponents in the BCS/CFP era. UCF’s win also pushed the AAC to a 2-0 mark in the CFP era, following Houston’s win over Florida State at the close of the 2015 season.

Auburn (10-4) created the first break of the game by forcing a fumble at midfield, recovered by the Tigers’ Deshaun Davis. He was ruled down upon hopping on the lose pigskin at the Auburn 49, but replays showed Davis possessed the ball while still live with an ocean of green turf the only thing between he and the end zone. However, the play was not reviewable and, instead of a likely touchdown, Auburn was forced to settle for a 25-yard Daniel Carlson field goal after failing to convert a 3rd-and-4 at the UCF 8-yard line. 

Carlson missed a 53-yard try to open the second quarter, and UCF (13-0) answered with a field goal of its own, a 33-yard Matthew Wright boot to tie the game at 3-3 with 11:15 left in the first half.

Another fumble created the next break in the game, this time by Auburn. Stidham was forced into a fumble by UCF’s A.J. Wooten, which the Knights’ Tre Neal recovered and returned 36 yards to the Auburn 21. McKenzie Milton produced the first touchdown of 2018 two plays later on a 18-yard rush, putting UCF on top 10-3 with 8:51 left in the first half. 

UCF had a great opportunity to push its lead to 14 points when Otis Anderson broke free in the Auburn secondary, but Milton’s 3rd-and-8 pass was just out of his reach and the Knights punted. Auburn took over at its own 9 with 4:54 before halftime and methodically moved to the UCF 21 with under a minute left, but Stidham was sacked on 3rd-and-10 and Carlson converted 46-yard field goal.

UCF answered by moving 42 yards in five plays, setting up a 45-yard Wright field goal as time expired to push the lead back to a touchdown.

Auburn roared out of the second half gate, using a 72-yard kickoff return by Noah Igbinoghene to set up a 26-yard scoring toss from Stidham to Will Hastings to tie the game. Auburn then took the lead on a 10-play, 82-yard drive capped by a 4-yard Kerryon Johnson run.

But just when it seemed UCF might unravel, instead the Knights rallied. A 12-yard pass from Milton to Anderson tied the game at 20-20 with 1:20 to play in the third quarter, and an 8-yard toss from Milton to Dredrick Snelson gave UCF a touchdown lead with 11:36 remaining.

UCF then grabbed a stranglehold on the game when Chequan Burkett stepped in front of a Stidham pass and raced it 46 yards for a touchdown, handing the Knights a 34-20 advantage with 5:56 to play.

Auburn needed only 1:44 to pull back within seven on a 7-yard Eli Stove end-around, and the Tigers were given new life when Wright missed a 38-yard field goal with 2:18 remaining, his second miss of the fourth quarter. Stidham drove the Tigers to the UCF 21 with 24 seconds remaining, but an end zone heave was intercepted by Antwan Collier to seal UCF’s undefeated season.

Stidham completed 28 of his 43 throws for 331 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked a half-dozen times and picked twice in the fourth quarter, while Johnson was limited to 22 carries for 71 yards and one score.

Milton had his worst passing game of the season, completing only 16-of-35 throws, but still threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and led all ball-carriers with 13 rushes for 116 yards and a touchdown.