Should These 10 NFL Draft-Eligible Studs Stay or Go Pro?

Randy ChambersAnalyst IDecember 14, 2012

Should These 10 NFL Draft-Eligible Studs Stay or Go Pro?

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    There are many stud college football players in the country right now that are asking themselves if they should return for another year or leave for the NFL. While seniors don't really have a choice, there are a bunch of juniors that are eligible to leave now, but that also have the option of enjoying college life for one more year.

    It is a question that should weigh heavily on each players mind, as the answer will impact the rest of their lives.

    If you return for another year of college, there is a chance you could hurt your draft stock with a disappointing senior year or even an injury. If you decide to leave now, not only does your college life go out the window, but you may not be drafted as high as you thought you were going to be.

    Oh, decisions, decisions. Life is so tough for the student-athlete.

    With players being forced to make up their in the coming weeks, I have decided to help out some of the top players with their choice.

     

    Note: Players such as Jarvis Jones, Luke Joeckel, Sam Montgomery and others were not included in this article. There are many players eligible to return to school, but if you are considered a first-round selection, I think that the decision to leave early has already been made for you.

Go Pro: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

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    According to Tony Pauline of SI.com, Eddie Lacy has already made himself eligible for the NFL draft. However, there are no reports of Alabama or Lacy confirming this quite yet, but it is really only a matter of time before there is confirmation.

    The Alabama junior really has nothing else to accomplish with the Crimson Tide and would soon become a forgotten member in a loaded backfield that includes a future star in T.J. Yeldon. 

    What you see is what you get with Lacy. He is a physical, down-hill runner that is capable of running between the tackles and simply bullying the opposing defense. He rarely goes down on initial contact and actually has underrated speed once he gets into the open field.

    In a draft class that is lacking a true elite running back prospect, Lacy could become the first player at his position that is selected.

Stay in School: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

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    Aaron Murray has a lot of tools to like as a future NFL quarterback. He has a cannon for an arm, does a good job of feeling the pressure in the pocket and he has shown the ability to make some of the tougher throws against elite SEC defenses.

    The problem is that his struggles in big games have been well documented. He completely folds under pressure and has not shown that he is ready for the bright lights, despite being an upperclassmen. However, he did appear to be turning the corner later in the year and nearly helped pull off an upset against Alabama in the SEC Championship.

    Maybe this is the start of something?

    If Murray was to leave early, he wouldn't be considered a top quarterback, especially with Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson all expected to be in the draft. If he returns to Georgia and shows that he has matured and is ready for the big stage, we may have ourselves the top quarterback prospect for 2014.

Go Pro: Robert Woods, WR, USC

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    If you just had the season that USC had and your highly-touted quaterback was graduating, wouldn't you want to leave for the NFL?

    Seriously though, Robert Woods isn't really going to improve his draft stock any more than he already has at this point. He isn't going to be considered an elite prospect, like Keenen Allen or Justin Hunter, but he is a solid player that is worth a hard look in the second round.

    Woods is an athletic guy who has a solid frame at 6'1" and 190 pounds. He often makes some of the tougher catches look easy and he is very elusive once he gets into the open field. NFL scouts have really seen enough of him to know that what you see is what you get with the star wide receiver.

    If he were to return for his senior season, he would still be picked above his teammate, Marqise Lee, in 2014. It is better to go ahead and move on to the next level considering his draft stock can’t improve that much.

Stay in School: Matt Elam, S, Florida

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    There are reports floating around that Matt Elam is planning on returning for his senior season. If these are in fact his intentions, it is great news for Florida Gator fans and Elam's draft stock.

    Elam has the body to play the safety position right away for an NFL team. He is athletic, physical and has great instincts on the football that really jump off the screen when watching him play. Simply put, he is a high-energy guy that covers a ton of ground and can make plays from sideline-to-sideline.

    But returning to Florida could really take his draft stock to another level.

    The Gators could seriously enter the national championship conversation next season with all of their top talent returning, which is only going to add to the attention of Elam. Consider him possibly having a Manti Te'o-type increase in popularity. 

    Most have him going in the late first-round or the early second-round. If he returns to Florida, we expect him to be a high first-round selection in 2014 with another terrific season in a Gators uniform.

Go Pro: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

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    With Sammy Watkins taking somewhat of a backseat this year, DeAndre Hopkins showed the world that he can be a serious playmaker at the receiver position.

    He is easily one of the better route runners in this draft and has excellent body control. Hopkins certainly isn't as fast as Watkins, but he has enough speed to be considered a deep threat, and he is quick when coming in and out of his breaks.

    Hopkins is also somebody you don't hear much about, which means that he keeps his mouth closed and goes about his business. That alone is something you have to love from somebody who plays a position like wide receiver.

    Overall, I see Hopkins as one of the more underrated players in this entire draft, and he should be taken within the first two rounds.

    I don't expect to see him wearing orange next season—unless the Cincinnati Bengals draft him, of course.

Stay in School: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee

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    Nobody would blame Tyler Bray if he left early because there are certainly enough reasons to leave. If he stays, he will be spending his senior season playing for a new head coach and will likely be doing so without his two best receivers, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

    But the Tennessee quarterback could use another year in college to improve his draft stock. Despite having many things to like in a signal-caller, Bray is still raw at the position and forces way too many passes. He can become very careless with the football and that is something that will scare NFL teams away and hurt his draft stock.

    Bray probably has more upside than Aaron Murray, but he has to polish his game a bit with another year at school.

    If he returns to Knoxville, Bray could become a first-round pick in the 2014 draft.

Go Pro: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

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    Much like Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell should leave early and take advantage of a weak draft class at the running back position. Bell has a great combination of size and power, and he is capable of moving the pile with his strong legs.

    Yet while you would think he is strictly a power-runner, Bell also has underrated speed and is capable of kicking it to the outside and making plays in the open field.

    The reason that the Michigan State running back should hand in his paperwork is because everybody has seen enough from him. He has made his mark with the Spartans and led the nation this season with a whopping 350 carries on the ground. That is also the second most touches of any running back since the 2008 season.

    With running backs already having a short shelf life, the last thing you want is to tire out at the collegiate level.

    Don't burn yourself out with another exhausting workload in college. Get yourself to the NFL as quick as possible.

Stay in School: William Gholston, DE, Michigan State

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    If there was any player on this Michigan State team that was going to leave for the NFL, you would have probably thought it would be William Gholston. He was supposed to be the next great defensive end that took over college football.

    The problem is that things haven't quite panned out and he could use another year in school. Gholston is a physical specimen that has a freakish combination of size and athleticism. He is terrific in using his hands and interrupting passing lanes, but he isn't quite there yet when it comes to rushing the passer. He hasn't shown the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback from somebody this gifted at his position.

    Gholston could use another year at Michigan State to show that he is more than hype and can backup those big expectations that many had for him in 2012.

    If he has a breakout season next year, Gholston could enter the conversation with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney as one of the top picks at the defensive end position, if not the entire draft class.

Go Pro: Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn

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    In a draft that is overwhelmed with great linemen, Corey Lemonier may have issues separating himself from the pack. However, that doesn't mean that he won't be on NFL teams' radars, as the Auburn superstar has the ability to play defensive end and could also become a linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

    Lemonier isn't somebody that is going to explode off the football or "wow" you with his overall athleticism. But he will impress you with his motor that never quits, and his ability to help stop the run is worthy of acknowledging. He is somebody who has great football intelligence and his instincts on the football field could help any team.

    Don’t expect him to be a sack machine if he decides to leave early, but teams at the next level are always looking for guys that never quit, and it really gets no better than Lemonier.

    There is really no point in returning to Auburn, especially with a new coaching staff taking over. The pass-rushing ability isn't going to develop overnight, but Lemonier should bolt while he has the chance.

Stay in School: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

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    There aren't many college football players that are better at rushing the passer than Jackson Jeffcoat. His hand placement and explosion off the football is terrific, and he would have the ability to remain at defensive end or switch to the linebacker position at the next level.

    Talent isn't an issue when it comes to Jeffcoat. Rather, it is the question of whether he can remain healthy that should be focused on. The Texas defensive end suffered a right pectoral muscle rupture back in October and it forced him to miss the remainder of the season.

    This injury would likely knock Jeffcoat out of first-round consideration, which isn't good enough for somebody this talented.

    He should return to school, recover from this minor setback and then he will be able to show everyone why he is worthy of a pick within the first 32 guys selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.