The Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to decide if they want to return to college or declare for the 2018 NFL draft is fast approaching. With bowl season in the rear-view mirror and only the College Football Playoff title game remaining for the 2017 season, decisions from prominent players will be coming out left and right in the coming days.
This year, we’ll have a post (in addition to some individual posts about certain players) every day — updated throughout the day — with the players who decide to pursue professional football leading up to the deadline. This first post is a little different, though. In addition to the Jan. 2 decisions, we’ve included a handful others from the past week or so.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
The Tigers’ leading rusher is heading to the NFL. Johnson announced Tuesday evening that he was going pro.
Johnson had 285 carries for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2018. His best game came against Ole Miss when he rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. That followed a three-touchdown game against Mississippi State and a five-touchdown game against Missouri.
He was a vital part of Auburn’s upset of Alabama in the final week of the regular season. Johnson had 30 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Tide and also threw a touchdown pass.
Johnson had 895 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk ended his collegiate career with a bang, making 13 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the Belk Bowl. That total gave him 234 catches for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns for his career. Kirk could be a first-round pick.
It's been an amazing 3 years! Thanks & Gig'em forever! pic.twitter.com/ahO4wmMiDv
— Christian Kirk (@ChristianDavon2) January 2, 2018
Vea, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, was dominant at defensive tackle for the Huskies. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Vea started every game for Washington this season, recording 44 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Like Kirk, he is a likely first-round pick.
Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
After redshirting his first year on campus, the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Nelson immediately entered the starting the lineup for the Irish as a redshirt freshman. He has started ever since, first at left guard and then at left tackle. Nelson is another potential first-rounder.
— Quenton Nelson (@BigQ56) January 1, 2018
Hubbard, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end, had 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks as one of the top performers on Ohio State’s stacked defensive line. For his career, Hubbard totaled 116 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Mata’afa is considered undersized for a defensive tackle at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, but he was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the country this year. The All-American registered 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on the season. Both totals led the Pac-12.
Reed, a two-time All-Big 12 selection, ranked second in the Big 12 in both passes defended (13) and interceptions (4). Reed was also all-conference as a kick returner, averaging 35.3 yards per kickoff return and 17.1 yards per punt return. He returned one kickoff for a touchdown and one punt for a touchdown.
Pringle caught 69 passes for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns in his two seasons at Kansas State. He also averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return and returned two for touchdowns.
John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
Kelly was immediately productive when put into the starting lineup for Tennessee. Over his three-year career, Kelly rushed for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns. This year, he showed his ability as a receiver out of the backfield by catching 37 passes for 299 yards.
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Nall rushed for 2,216 yards and 24 touchdowns, while adding 56 receptions for 563 yards and four touchdowns through the air during his time at Oregon State.
Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
Nelson, a Hawaii transfer, led the nation with 21 passes defended to go with his 35 tackles. The first-team All-Big Ten selection told reporters he received a second round grade from the NFL draft Advisory Board.
— Nick Nelson (@Nickcityy) December 31, 2017
Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
After beginning his career at LSU, Quinn put up huge numbers at SMU, registering 114 catches for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Smith was limited to just 21 tackles in two games this year because of injury. In his two previous seasons, Smith combined for 166 stops.
Gates started every game at left tackle for Nebraska over the last two seasons and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection this year.
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