There’s still just over a week for College Football players to declare they’re heading to the NFL and forgoing their remaining years of eligibility in order to get selected in the draft, with big names like Teddy Bridgwater, Jadeveon Clowney, Marqise Lee and Sammy Watkins not being a big surprise for showing up on this list.
Other names, like Blake Bortles of his UCF fame or Mike Evans of Texas A&M leaving after only two years in college are slightly more of a “shock”, but their stock rocketed this past season, making it seem like a good decision at the moment.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: Three years playing for Louisville have been enough for Bridgewater, who is most likely going to be the first quarterback taken off the board. He leaves after his Junior season after a 12-1 year, leading the Cards to winning the Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami. He won the Sugar Bowl MVP a year ago, leading the Cards to a win over Florida.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Clowney could have left for college last year, and he probably regretted not doing so after a rough start to the season. However, things started working out for him later on, helping the Gamecocks to a win over Wisconsin in he Capital One Bowl. He was a unanimous All-American in 2012 and a first team SEC selection in his last two seasons.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Like Clowney, Lee leaving his school last year wouldn’t have hurt his draft stock. USC struggled with finding a quarterback early this season, and Lee being the only target made it easy for opposition defenses. Despite not putting up big numbers, Lee just might be the best receiver entering the draft, and possibly the best athlete overall.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins is another Junior who could have made it big after his Sophomore season, but decided that the injury that held him back last year didn’t really help his cause. He finished his college career with a win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, winning the game’s MVP award.
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: Nix was huge for the Fighting Irish in 2012 as they had the best defense in the nation before meeting Alabama. He started off very well this season but after 7 games his knee problems and meniscus surgery cut short his senior season (was redhsirted in 2010).
Blake Bortles, QB, UCF: Not a lot of people noticed Bortles before the Knights went on an improbable 12-1 season, including going 8-0 in the AAC. Bortles led UCF to a win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, winning his second consecutive bowl game MVP award.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: An All-American on his Junior year (redshirted in 2011), Evans decided that two years with Johnny Manziel are enough for him and it’s time to move on.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Possibly the best tight end in the nation (getting an ESPN All-American team selection), Ebron leaves UNC after helping the Tar Heels win their first Bowl game in three years, beating Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: After such a disastrous season in Gainsville, it’s time for Easley to move on.
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State: Crichton had 7½ sacks in 2013 and forced a key fumble in Oregon State’s win in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame: Tuitt was an All-American in 2012 and finished 2013 with a win in the Pinstripe bowl, recording 7.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
Other noteworthy players leaving early: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech; Dion Bailey, OLB, USC; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU; Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State; Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri; Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina; Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU; Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida; Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida; Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee; Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado; Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida; Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State; Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington; Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State; De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon.