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Record early entry list has a distinct SEC flavor

[airesizeimg src=”” alt=”Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is expected to go to Houston with the No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-3155″ ]Depending on whose list is accurate, as many as 95 underclassmen have declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. If that number holds (the NFL will release the official list on Jan. 19), that number will shatter the record set just last year when 73 entered the draft.

The SEC, as could be expected, leads the way with 28 (could be 29, depending on Alabama safety Vinny Sunseri’s status). While most of the big names were unexpected (Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Tre Mason, et al), the sum total of the departures will leave significant holes on their former teams.

LSU appears to be the hardest hit, with six players leaving. Alabama is in line to lose four (or possibly five). Florida and South Carolina will lose four each. In all, 10 of the 14 SEC schools are expected to lose underclassmen. Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State appear as if they will escape the early entry period unscathed.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper released his Mock Draft 1.0 this week and 23 of the 32 first-round picks were projected to be underclassmen. Of that group, eight were from the SEC.

For those who enter the draft expecting a handsome payday, here’s some bracing truth from Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager, as told to

“When they get to the end of this pot of gold that they think is going to be there in May, it’s going to be a lot of heartbreak,” he said. “There’s no way 100 juniors and then the 400 players that were on our watch list … that’s 500 players competing for 250 (draft) spots.”

One theory behind the ever-increasing number of early entries has to do with the new NFL rookie salary structure. The thought is, players need to get to the NFL as soon as possible so they can enter their second, more lucrative contract at an earlier age. In reality, only a small percentage of players last long enough to reach that second contract.

Here is a quick breakdown of what to expect from the early entries in the draft:

Early entries: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, LB Adrian Hubbard, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Vinny Sunseri (unconfirmed)

Kouandjio is one of the best linemen in the SEC and that status serves him well in Kiper’s mock, which projects him to go to Miami with the No. 19 selection. Clinton-Dix is widely considered to be the top safety in the draft and should be expected to go in the first round’s late teens.

The mystery at Alabama is the status of Sunseri. The Anniston (Ala.) Star reported this week that Sunseri had indeed decided to forego his senior season. The NFL has yet to confirm his entry.

Also, there is some debate as to whether receiver DeAndrew White had declared. Some reports had him declaring while White himself took to Twitter on Wednesday night to say he would return to Alabama.

Sunseri is without a degree while White graduated in December. White, though, is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Neither is expected to be a high draft pick and the Tide would be better served by having both back in 2014 as team leaders.

Early entries:
RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson

Robinson easily is the nation’s top underclassman talent along the offensive line and should comfortably slot somewhere in the top 10 picks, depending on team needs. Mason is the classic argument for that theory of entering early in order to trigger that second contract sooner. As an elite running back and return specialists, his window of opportunity in the NFL is slim and short-lived. He could sneak into the back end of the first round, but generally speaking, elite running backs have been going in the second and third rounds of late.

Early entries:
DT Dominique Easley, LB Ronald Powell, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson

Since none of these underclassmen are expected to be first-round selections, one could view their jumps as akin to rats abandoning a sinking ship. It is notable that all four come from the defensive side of the ball, perhaps the lone bright spot in Florida’s 4-8 atrocity.

The Gators will field a decidedly weaker defensive unit in 2014, which does not bode well for Wil Muschamp’s hot seat status.

Early entries:
WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Ego Ferguson, RB Jeremy Hill, DT Anthony Johnson, WR Jarvis Landry, OG Trai Turner

LSU lost 11 players in 2012 and are coughing up an addition six this season, which is a massive amount of players to lose to anything other than graduation. Recruiting definitely is under the gun from here until signing day to help the Tigers recoup two years of staggering losses.

Of this year’s group, only Beckham has consistently rated as a first-round possibility. He will leave a big hole at receiver, but the added loss of Landry is the killer. The duo combined for more than half of LSU’s receptions in 2013 (136 of 205). Toss in the loss of both defensive tackles and Les Miles will have to work some serious magic to keep LSU at or near the top of the SEC West.

Early entry:
WR Donte Moncrief

Ole Miss and in-state rival Mississippi State each stand the best chance to usurp LSU as the early entry champion in future seasons, but for now, they’ll celebrate holding on to their top players.

The only way Moncrief has his name called in the second round is if the expected run on wide receivers takes place during the first round. His numbers declined in 2013, but his decision to enter might have been a good one, since it is unknown whether or not his production was on the decline in Ole Miss’ offense.

Early entries:
DE Kony Ealy, RB Henry Josey

And the award for least-surprising early entries goes to this Missouri duo. Neither had anything to gain by returning to Mizzou. Josey in particular needed to get out while he could, since he proved he was completely recovered from a devastating 2012 injury. He was outstanding at finding the end zone this season, finishing with 16 touchdowns.

While Michael Sam garnered most of the headlines for Mizzou’s defensive line exploits, Ealy might be every bit the pro prospect. His stock wavers anywhere from the back third of the first round to the second round. It would be a shock if he lasted past the top half of Round 2.

Early entries:
DE Jadeveon Clowney, WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, DT Kelcy Quarles

These early entries will be the best gauge yet for whether or not Steve Spurrier has built a program that reloads instead of rebuilds. The losses of Clowney, Quarles and Hampton guts the defense of its top talent and leadership. As Athlon Sports pointed out this week, very little separates the Gamecocks from Georgia in the battle for the SEC East in 2014. Toss in the fact Georgia is one of the four SEC schools who will not lose an underclassman and the onus will be on defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and his staff to get the necessary replacements coached up.

Early entry:
OT Antonio Richardson

“Tiny” saw his draft stock tumble in 2013 after being projected as a potential top-10 pick after a strong 2012 season. For now, Kiper has Richardson slotted as the No. 27 overall pick. If not there, he should still find a home somewhere in the back half of the first round. He would be a steal for any team in the second round.

Early entries:
WR Mike Evans, QB Johnny Manziel

Not much that can be said about these two going pro. Manziel’s ascension was locked in by the 2012 Heisman Trophy and a 2013 campaign that avoided controversy and regression. That he did not regress had much to do with the other TAMU entry. Evans came on strong from the middle of the season to the end and has created for himself a draft spot solidly in the middle of the first round as this year’s best big-man target.

Their departure was obvious, but what does A&M do in 2014? The SEC West scoffs at rebuilding projects, so Kevin Sumlin better have a superb heir to Manziel in place. Matt Joeckel is the frontrunner for now, while incoming freshmen Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will try to stave off “The Next Johnny Football” comparisons.

Early entry:
WR Chris Boyd

The rare Commodore malcontent. Boyd was dismissed from the team early in 2013 due to what law enforcement termed “after the fact” involvement in a rape case with four other players. When he played, he was productive.

As for his draft prospects, that will depend on whether he can follow through on his hope to run a 4.3 40-yard dash and whether NFL team officials are inspired to roll the dice on him after hearing what he has to say concerning the rape case. Boyd claims when he has the opportunity to speak about it, he will acquit himself well.

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