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RICHARDS: Some schools were draft dodgers; others weren't so lucky

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Darryl Richards

 
   
 
An underclassman's decision to leave school early for the NFL draft can be costly. The players who make the right decision stand to make a lot of money at the next level, especially if they are drafted in the first round. But a player who misses badly risks making a financial mistake he'll regret for the rest of his career. "If you don't wind up where you hope, you can play in the NFL for years and never recoup that money," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Sometimes, it pays off for a player to wait another year and move up in the draft. Every spot he moves up is more money in his pocket." The decision to stay or leave can be costly to teams too. Just look at Miami and imagine the Hurricanes this season without offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez or safety Ed Reed. A good team, sure. But whether Miami would have been a great team is up for debate. Those three players stayed and Miami finished the season as the undefeated and undisputed national champion. The Hurricanes weren't so fortunate this year. Several other teams will also have to adjust to key losses. Here's a look at the winners and losers:

Winners

Texas Wide receiver Roy Williams has the size and leaping ability NFL scouts love, but he decided to stay an extra season. That gives Texas its trio of Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas to terrorize secondaries for another season. Although Texas loses several players from what was statistically the nation's top-rated defense, the Longhorns retained Cory Redding. Remember when Chris Simms said he was thinking about getting an evaluation from NFL scouts about his future? Most questions were answered in the Big 12 championship game so he was never really a threat to go anywhere. Maryland Maryland won't surprise anybody in the ACC next season and a major reason is its two biggest stars will return. The Terps will return seven starters on defense, including ACC tackles leader linebacker E.J. Henderson. Here's how important Henderson was to the Maryland defense: he led the Terps in tackles in every game except one and finished with 150 tackles and 28 tackles for a loss. The offense also returns tailback Bruce Perry, who rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Terps will have to find somebody to replace quarterback Shaun Hill, but at least the running game will remain intact. Wisconsin The Big Ten has been an average league the last two years, giving hope to teams with outstanding athletes with experience. Although Wisconsin was a disappointment this past season, it was a young team in several areas. The Badgers received a lift when wide receiver Lee Evans announced he would return for his senior season. Evans was the go-to receiver for Wisconsin with 75 receptions for 1,545 yards and nine touchdowns. Combine that with the return of freshman tailback Anthony Davis and there is a lot of talent coming back for the Wisconsin offense. Florida Sure, Florida lost more players to the draft than anybody else. Sure, Florida lost the man wearing the headphones. But there is a silver lining to all of this. The Gators did not lose quarterback Rex Grossman to the NFL. That's important, especially when you consider Brock Berlin was transferring to Miami. It was crucial that Florida hold on to Grossman. He gives the Gators a focal point and a known quantity at quarterback and will be able to guide the offense whether he is part of the Fun 'N Gun or the Zook 'N Hook. That's not to discount the departures of tackle Mike Pearson, wide receivers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney and cornerback Lito Sheppard. But receivers are easy to find in Florida. Remember that the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award two years ago were from Florida. Plus, Taylor Jacobs decided to stay with the Gators. Washington St. Quarterbacks are the biggest players in the Pac-10 and Washington State has the top returning quarterback in the conference with Jason Gesser. The Cougars sneaked up on the rest of the conference, making a legitimate run for the league title this past season. Gesser had the 24th best pass efficiency ratio in the country last season, throwing for 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has an excellent receiver to throw to in Mike Bush. Marshall Marshall lost its offensive coordinator to Florida but the good news for the Thundering Herd is quarterback Byron Leftwich is returning. Leftwich has the size and overall skills that intrigue NFL scouts but he decided to shake up opposing defenses for another season and make a run at the Heisman. Leftwich has more touchdown passes (38) than any returning quarterback next season. Washington The Huskies lost tight end Jerramy Stevens to the NFL early, but that was a big loss in name only. Stevens only played five regular season games because of injuries and the Huskies finished 8-4 and gave other tight ends such as Kevin Ware an opportunity to play. Washington has a promising player in Joe Toledo waiting in the wings.

Losers

Brigham Young The Cougars lost running back Luke Staley, one of the nation's best, to the NFL. BYU will be fine, especially at quarterback where young arms will line up to play in Gary Crowton's offense. But it would have been nice to take some pressure off the next great BYU quarterback with an experienced running back. Michigan State You don't lose a running back like T.J. Duckett and not miss something. Duckett gave the Spartans excellent offensive balance and provided promising quarterback Jeff Smoker with the running threat necessary to run play-action passes. Michigan State would have been able to make a run for the Big Ten title with Duckett on the team. Besides Smoker, wide receiver Charles Rogers and the entire starting offensive line return. The Spartans also have eight home games next season. The Spartans would have been pressed to have a replacement for Duckett in place anyway. The timetable is moved up with senior Dawan Moss, sophomore Mike McConnell and freshman David Richard battling for Duckett's spot. LSU LSU was prepared to lose some impact players with quarterback Rohan Davey and tight end Robert Royal exhausting their eligibility. But the departure of wide receiver Josh Reed and linebacker Trev Faulk will hurt. Reed was the Biletnikoff Award winner and had a remarkable ability to get off the line of scrimmage and get open. Faulk led the Tigers in tackles with 119 and had 14 quarterback hurries. The good news for LSU is linebacker Bradie James is coming back. Miami It's hard to figure just how much the loss of running back Clinton Portis, cornerback Phillip Buchanon and tight end Jeremy Shockey will hurt the Hurricanes next season. For an idea of just how good Miami was this past season, consider the Hurricanes will lose their leading rusher, their top receiving tight end and their entire starting secondary and the Hurricanes still will be able to compete for a national title in 2002. You would've had to like Miami's chances against a tough schedule that includes Florida, Tennessee and Florida State if the Hurricanes had stayed together. But the departures of Portis, Buchanon and Shockey leave a few question marks against a very tough schedule. Still, the cupboard is far from bare. Quarterback Ken Dorsey is returning for his senior season and William Joseph's decision to stay gives Miami a chance to have the best defensive line in the nation. Miami recruited very well last season and will be able to insert two stars from its recruiting class into the starting lineup. Look for Frank Gore to fill in for Clinton Portis at tailback and Kellen Winslow II to fill in for Shockey. Gore averaged 9.1 yards a carry as a backup last season. The loss of Phillip Buchanon will be felt because he would have been the most experienced player in the secondary and was a valuable punt returner. Somehow, Miami will find a speedy player to fill both roles. Tennessee It won't be too bad if the Vols only lose defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth early to the NFL draft. It will be a shame if Tennessee lost wide receiver Donte Stallworth. Not only would Stallworth lose, the NCAA would be a big loser too. Last week, Stallworth announced that he was skipping his senior season and applying for the draft. He had a change of heart and decided to pull out before the end of Friday's draft deadline. College basketball players are allowed to apply for the NBA and pull out before the draft if they did not like their projected draft position, as long as they do not sign with an agent. The NCAA would look pretty bad if a football player isn't allowed to pull out before the underclassman deadline. Tennessee will be fine at receiver with 22-year-old freshman walk-on Kelley Washington deciding to stay. Georgia Georgia coach Mark Richt figured that tight end Randy McMichael and defensive end Charles Grant would enter the draft. But he was shocked when safety Terreal Bierria announced he would skip his senior season. Bierria was a two-year starter and was the team's third-leading tackler last season with 75 but wasn't considered a possible high draft choice. Bierria's departure means Georgia will be without three of its four starting defensive backs. Pittsburgh Was Antonio Bryant a pain? Yes. Could he be a distraction off the field? Yes. Was he a talent? Definitely. Make no mistake about it, Pitt will miss their top wide receiver. Although Bryant was hampered by ankle problems for most of the season, he was productive in the second half of the season and helped spearhead the Panthers' impressive second half of the season. The loss of Bryant combined with safety Ramon Walker's departure will hurt. Kentucky When you have a team as down as the Wildcats, the loss of any player with NFL potential hurts. Kentucky didn't lose one player, the Wildcats lost two when tight end Derek Smith and defensive end Dennis Johnson left early. Boston College William Green was the nation's second leading rusher with 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns and his presence was definitely missed when he was suspended for the Miami game. Green rushed for 149 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown against Georgia in the Music City Bowl. Darryl Richards can be reached at his e-mail address, drichards@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Florida State, Maryland, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), Wisconsin, Michigan State, Marshall, Toledo, Washington, Washington State, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Tulsa, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas, Brigham Young, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard, Mike Pearson, Terreal Bierria, Randy McMichael, Charles Grant, Jeremy Shockey, Josh Reed, Roy Williams, Phillip Buchanon, Bryant McKinnie, T.J. Duckett, Clinton Portis, Antonio Bryant, Albert Haynesworth, William Green, Jerramy Stevens, Ramon Walker, Joaquin Gonzalez, Robert Royal, Rohan Davey

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