Which Sooners might bolt early for NFL? 

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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NORMAN, Okla. -- After the 2007 season, neither Malcolm Kelly, Curtis Lofton nor Reggie Smith were projected as first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft.

But all three were top-three round picks. And that was enough to convince them to leave Oklahoma a year early and enter the draft.

This year, the Sooners again don’t appear to have any underclassmen that project as first-round picks. But up to four different underclassmen Sooners could be taken in the first three rounds if they to decide to come out in January. SoonerNation breaks down the four players who might be mulling their futures over the next month:

[+] EnlargeTony Jefferson
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesJunior safety leads the Sooners in tackles this season with 113.
Free safety Tony Jefferson

The case for leaving: Jefferson has indicated before that he might jump to the NFL if he projected to be a relatively high pick. Mel Kiper Jr. wrote earlier this month that both Jefferson and Florida safety Matt Elam “have a shot” to go in the first round. “Both can contribute all over the field. Cover, tackle, get into the backfield -- you name it,” Kiper wrote. Given that Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro ranks as Kiper’s top senior safety on the board, it’s not unthinkable that Jefferson could be the top safety taken. At the least, Jefferson figures to be one of the top five safeties in the draft coming off an All-Big 12 junior season, which would make him no worse than a third-rounder.

The case for staying: As good as Jefferson was this season, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said two weeks ago that Jefferson still has much to work on before reaching his potential. “He does some things that really aggravate you, but he comes back and does so many good things,” Stoops said. “He has a chance to be special, and getting him to understand the little things — the finer things that make players great — has always been my struggle with Tony.” That doesn’t exactly sound like an endorsement that Jefferson is ready for the NFL. Scouts Inc. believes that Jefferson specifically needs to improve his instincts and recognition. With a strong senior season that improves on the little things like that, Jefferson could possibly lock up a place in the first round.

Who would replace him: If Jefferson left, the Sooners would be in a pickle at safety, considering senior Javon Harris is gone, too. Quentin Hayes was going to be OU’s third back safety this season, but that was before he was suspended indefinitely in the summer. Top backup Jesse Paulsen is gone after this season, too. The Sooners could bump Gabe Lynn to Jefferson’s spot, and move Julian Wilson to nickelback. Of course, they might need Wilson at safety, as well. With cornerback Demontre Hurst also graduating the secondary could face a major transition if Jefferson bolted, too.

Wide receiver Kenny Stills

The case for leaving: Like Jefferson, Stills has indicated that he might leave early if he projected relatively high pick. Stills doesn’t have a shot at the first round like Jefferson, but ESPN Insider currently projects Stills out to be a mid-to-late third-round pick. Stills has had a banner junior season, and has displayed tremendous hands around the end zone. Stills plays bigger than his 6-foot, 190-pound frame and would test well enough in the agility and speed drills at the combine. If he came back, he’s also have to deal with a QB transition that could affect his stats.

The case for staying: There’s no doubt that Stills could improve his stock with another year. Stills’ Scouts Inc. evaluation doesn’t give him an “exceptional” grade in any area, and gives him a “below average” intangibles grade. If Stills showed leadership next season with a new quarterback and improved his skills across the board, he could become one of the top receivers on the board.

Who would replace him: The Sooners have several young options at receiver. Trey Metoyer and Durron Neal could be ready to step into the starting lineup next season on the outside. OU also has Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard coming back in the slot next season.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin

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