George Atkinson

Tide’s Sunseri one of record 98 players declaring for draft

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A draft-eligible Alabama rumored to be headed to the NFL — or not — will indeed be a part of a record-breaking pool this May.

Tide defensive back Vinnie Sunseri was one of 98 players included on the NFL’s official list, released Sunday, of players “who have been granted special eligibility” for the upcoming draft.  It was reported a week ago that the safety was leaning toward making the early leap into the NFL, although there was some vacillation as the redshirt junior waited until right up until the Jan. 15 deadline — plus the three additional days allotted to reconsider, provided there’s no signing with an agent — before making his final decision.

Sunseri is still rehabbing a torn ACL, which he suffered in a mid-October win over Arkansas.

The 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL is a record, shattering and/or obliterating the old mark of 73 set just last year.  That standard broke the record of 65 set the year before that.  In 2004, just 43 players with eligibility remaining left school early.

For the second consecutive year, LSU led all schools with seven early entrants.  In 2013, the Tigers saw 10 players leave early.  Sunseri gave the Tide five players leaving early, the same number as USC and one-win Cal (?).  Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and South Carolina each saw four players take the early jump into the NFL.

2014 marks the sixth consecutive year that the number of early entrants has increased.

The number could have actually topped the century mark as four players who have left school early but have already graduated were not included in the NFL’s official count: Southern California defensive back Dion Bailey, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard.

You can view the complete, official list of early entrants into the NFL draft:

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An unofficial list of underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft

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The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is upon us. It looks like we’ll have a record 92 (at minimum) declarations this year, easily topping last year’s record of 73. This draft should be among the most talent-laden in recent history.

Why the sudden exodus? Blame the new rookie wage scale, which rewards less money to first round draft picks and delays the big payout until a player’s second contract. That means the more time spent in the league, the better. A lot of these players want to get moving on proving themselves, even if they are a late round pick at the start.

Here’s the unofficial list of early entries as of the Jan. 15 deadline. The NFL will have an official list on Jan. 19:

Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt
Carl Bradford, DE/OLB, Arizona State
Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Mike Flacco, TE, New Haven
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama
Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
George Uko, DL, USC
Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Terrance West, RB, Towson
James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
David Yankey, OL, Stanford

TE Troy Niklas leaving Irish for NFL

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For the fourth time the past month, Notre Dame has lost a player to the pros who would’ve been a significant contributor in 2014.

The latest Irish player to take the early leap is Troy Niklas, who confirmed late Thursday night that he has decided to leave South Bend in order to make himself available for the May NFL draft.  In a statement announcing his surprising decision, the tight end thanked pretty much everyone as he bid adieu to the football program.

“I have made the very difficult decision to pursue my childhood dream and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft. I have thoroughly enjoyed my Notre Dame experience and want to thank the university, coach Kelly, my teammates, the football staff, administration, and my teachers, as well as all of my friends and the entire Notre Dame community for providing this Southern California native with the experience of a lifetime. While I will miss being part of the team next year, I will always be part of the Notre Dame family and look forward to returning to earn my degree from the greatest university in the country. Go Irish.”

Niklas, a four-star member of the Irish’s 2011 recruiting class, had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns, totals that were all third on the team in 2013.  Prior to this past season, the 6-7, 270-pound junior had just five receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown.

In addition to Niklas, running back George Atkinson IIIdefensive lineman Stephon Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix all left eligibility on the table in order to turn pro.

RB Ameer Abdullah returning to Nebraska for senior season

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It’s generally rare for running backs to pass up a chance to enter the NFL Draft, given the high injury risk associated with the position. A knee blowout can cost a player millions, so even if someone has work to do on his game it’s often worth it to make the jump to the NFL.

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, though, isn’t making that jump. The first-team All-Big Ten back announced Thursday he’ll remain in Lincoln for another year, pointing to a desire to earn a degree and set himself up for life after football.

“The average NFL career, because of the violent nature of the sport, is less than five years. In analyzing these truths, I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education,” Adbullah said in a statement. “Although I have always wanted to play in the NFL, at this time I would like to formally announce my intentions of returning to Nebraska for my senior season.

“If playing in the NFL is truly in God’s plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education.”

It’s a somewhat refreshing counter-argument to the “jump at your first chance” mentality, and one the higher-ups at Nebraska no doubt are pleased with. Basically, Abdullah is gambling his stock won’t fall this coming season, though if it does he’ll have a backup plan in place.

Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards and was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award in 2013.

Among the junior running backs to declare for the NFL Draft: Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Mizzou’s Henry Josey, Notre Dame’s George Atkinson and Auburn’s Tre Mason.

Notre Dame RB Atkinson III taking risky chance entering NFL

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After seeing his role in the offense diminished over the course of the season and being suspended from the Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III has made the decision to leave the Irish in hopes of getting a job in the NFL.

Atkinson is the third Notre Dame underclassmen to announce his decision to leave the program with a year of eligibility remaining. He joins defensive standouts Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, although the two defensive players have much better odds of being picked early  in the upcoming NFL Draft. Atkinson likely would have benefitted by returning to the Irish in 2014 after rushing for 555 yards and three touchdowns. He only had one game this season with over 75 rushing yards. Atkinson was suspended from Notre Dame’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance against Rutgers for a violation of team rules. It had been reported he was texting family during a team meal.

“He look at as an opportunity,” Atkinson’s father, former Oakland Raiders great George Atkinson Jr., said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Associated Press. ”We did our due diligence and decided to roll the dice with it.”

Notre Dame’s running game should be in decent shape in 2014 without Atkinson returning. Junior Cam McDaniel led the team in rushing this season with 704 yards. Tarean Folston should also be a significant contributor to the offense in 2014.