|McFadden the latest star RB to enter NFL draft; Laurinaitis stays at Ohio State|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 14 January 2008 19:50|
Runner-up for the Heisman Trophy the past two seasons, McFadden announced Monday he will skip his senior season at Arkansas - along with speedy backfield mate Felix Jones.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham (Michigan), linebacker Curtis Lofton (Oklahoma), quarterback Xavier Lee (Florida State) and offensive tackle Michael Oher (Mississippi) were other notable players who revealed they are turning pro. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Tuesday.
Meanwhile, two-time All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis said he'll stay at Ohio State for his senior year and Virginia Tech cornerback Victor Harris reportedly changed his mind and will return to school next season.
After twice finishing second in Heisman voting, McFadden figures to be one of the first players taken in the April draft. He and Jones join an impressive group of junior running backs available that includes Texas' Jamaal Charles, Clemson's James Davis, Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall, Rutgers' Ray Rice, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, Central Florida's Kevin Smith and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. Matt Forte of Tulane and Mike Hart of Michigan are two of the top seniors in the draft.
``I just want to go play in the NFL,'' McFadden said. ``Whether I went No. 1 or dead last, it'll be the same feeling for me.''
McFadden ran for 1,830 yards in 2007, second on the Southeastern Conference's single-season list. He is also second on the career list with 4,590 yards rushing.
McFadden rushed for more than 1,000 yards all three seasons at Arkansas. Jones did it the last two. They were part of a backfield that also included senior fullback Peyton Hillis, another NFL prospect.
McFadden's decision comes a week after he was involved in a ``pretty rowdy scene'' at a piano bar in Little Rock, when he was handcuffed by police and then released without charges. In the summer of 2006, he severely injured his toe in a fight outside another club, but recovered in time to play in the season opener.
It was during 2006 that the Razorbacks began using McFadden in the shotgun at quarterback - he could run, throw or hand off to Jones.
McFadden spoke first at a joint news conference Monday. Then it was Jones' turn.
``I guess that'll be the last handoff from D-Mac,'' Jones joked.
This season, the Razorbacks lost their first three SEC games but rebounded late. They beat then-No. 1 LSU in the regular-season finale. McFadden ran for 206 yards and three touchdowns and threw for a touchdown in Arkansas' triple-overtime 50-48 win.
``When I was growing up, I dreamed of playing for the Razorbacks,'' McFadden said. ``Now, the time has come for me to pursue another dream of mine - playing in the NFL.''
Manningham also confirmed he will skip his senior season, saying he will work out in Cleveland while preparing for the draft.
``It was a hard decision, but after discussing it with my family it was the right one for me to make right now,'' Manningham told The Associated Press while driving home to Ohio. ``I've heard I will be drafted in the first round because of the lack of depth at wide receiver.''
Manningham is a potential first-round pick after catching 72 passes for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He also rushed 19 times for 119 yards and a score, earning second-team All-America honors.
The 6-foot, 178-pound Manningham had 65 receptions for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns during his first two seasons with the Wolverines. Fellow Michigan wideout Adrian Arrington also passed up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
Lofton, the Sooners' leading tackler last season, is the team's second junior to declare for the draft this year, joining receiver Malcolm Kelly.
``Curtis made a lot of big plays during his time here,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``We wish him all the best in the NFL.''
Lofton, a second-team All-American, said he reached the decision Sunday.
``I'll definitely miss my coaches and teammates,'' he said. ``I came in with my class three years ago and those guys are like brothers to me. And I'll miss playing in front of those 85,000 fans.''
Lofton had 157 tackles in 2007, sixth-best total in school history. He also established a school record with nine double-digit tackle games, and had a career-high 18 tackles in the first meeting with Missouri this season.
Harris announced over the weekend he was leaving school early, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Monday night he sent a text message to Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray, letting the coach know he decided instead to return to school.
Lee became the latest early departure for a Florida State program rocked by an academic scandal. He was 2-4 in six starts during his Seminoles career.
Lee was suspended during the season for academic reasons and did not accompany the Seminoles to Nashville, Tenn., last month for their Music City Bowl loss to Kentucky.
Two of his junior classmates also are entering the draft: Linebacker Geno Hayes, the team's second-leading tackler, and Letroy Guion, one of the Seminoles' most talented interior defensive linemen. Guion made 31 tackles in 12 games, including 6 1/2 for loss.
Oher was an all-Southeastern Conference selection this season and started 34 straight games for the Rebels in three years. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Memphis, Tenn., native was the subject of Michael Lewis' book, ``The Blind Side.'' The best-seller chronicled Oher's rise from homeless teenager to one of the most coveted recruits in the nation.
The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Laurinaitis won the 2007 Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and the 2006 Nagurski Award as the top defensive player in college football.
The Big Ten defensive player of the year this past season, he set a BCS championship game record with 18 tackles against LSU in the Buckeyes' 38-24 loss, their second consecutive national title game loss.
Laurinaitis, the son of WWE professional wrestler Animal from the Legion of Doom, led the Buckeyes with 121 tackles for the season.
Most NFL draft projections have pegged Laurinaitis as a high first-round pick.
``After a long thought process and strategic evaluation of the pros and cons of this decision with my close family and friends, I've decided to stay at Ohio State,'' he said in a statement issued by the school.