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January 11, 2013

Tide trio leaving early

TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama juniors Eddie Lacy, D.J. Fluker and Dee Milliner will enter the NFL draft early.

Lacy, Alabama's top rusher this season, and Milliner, it's top cornerback, attended Alabama's press conference for the announcement, although Fluker was unable to attend and UA coach Nick Saban announced Fluker would enter the draft as well. The Tuscaloosa News reported Fluker, a three-year starter at right tackle, would turn pro early on Wednesday.

Saban said he is supportive of each decision.

"They have made promises to me that they're going to get their education. That's why they came here, that's a goal of our program, and we certainly want them to do that. But we also realize the fact that these guys have been extremely successful as football players," Saban said. "They've been on successful teams. I think 35 games in the last couple of years, a couple of national championships. Eddie's actually been here four years and been involved in more than that. ... I appreciate what they've done for the University of Alabama but we also acknowledge the fact that from a business standpoint, these guys are making good decisions about their future and what they can do."

Milliner projects as a top 10 draft choice, by far the highest of the three, by nfldraftscout.com. Fluker is projected as late-first or early-second round pick, while Lacy said he has been projected as a second- or third-round draft choice. Lacy helped his draft standing with a 140-yard performance in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame Monday, according to ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Lacy said his decision was a difficult one.

"It was very tough. I've been here four years, and you develop relationships," Lacy said. "Not just with coaches, but with players. To just up and leave was a hard decision. But at the end of the day, it was the best decision as far as my family and I are concerned."

It marked the third consecutive season UA has lost three from its junior class for the same reason. Last year, running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower decided to forgo their final seasons of college eligibility. The year before that, UA lost running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcel Dareus.

It also marked the third consecutive season, and fourth in the last five years, that Alabama has lost its top running back to early NFL draft entry. Glen Coffee declared early eligibility after the 2008 season. Lacy said the short career of the average NFL running back (under three years) and the physical toll the position takes on the body were part of his decision.

Alabama lost juniors Eddie Lacy, D.J. Fluker and Dee Milliner to early NFL draft entry. Below is a look at all other University of Alabama players who have left the Capstone after their junior year to make an early jump to the NFL under coach Nick Saban
Year Position Player Drafted by Round
2012 RB Trent Richardson Browns 1st
2012 CB Dre Kirkpatrick Bengals 1st
2012 LB Dont'a Hightower Patriots 1st
2011 RB Mark Ingram Saints 1st
2011 DL Marcel Dareus Bills 1st
2011 WR Julio Jones Falcons 1st
2010 CB Kareem Jackson Texans 1st
2010 LB Rolando McClain Raiders 1st
2009 RB Glen Coffee 49ers 3rd
2009 OT Andre Smith Bengals 1st

"We get hit a lot. We have to pretty much go when you can. It's all about the position you put yourself in at the end of the season," Lacy said. "If you're able to go, you should leave. If you have to come back and play another year, that's not a bad decision, either."

Milliner said he would have returned to Alabama for his senior year had he not received a first-round projection from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

"The guys gave me a first-round grade. I can't remember what the pick was. I got a first-round grade," he said. "I decided after sitting down with Coach Saban, talked with my people, I felt like I had a great experience here. I had a great chance of being picked in the first round. It played a role in leaving."

Saban said there may be other UA juniors considering an early jump to the NFL, but is hopeful no other players will do so. The coach did not mention specific names, though defensive end Ed Stinson has reportedly given the NFL some consideration. Linebacker Adrian Hubbard, the school announced Friday, will return next season. Others who have announced they will return include guard Anthony Steen, quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.

"I've been doing this long enough to know that now and then you get surprised by someone," Saban said. "You've been around this long enough to know that it's happened on occasion. Most of those kinds of decisions get made based on emotion, and not probably as the business decision that we'd like."

McCarron up for award
Alabama junior quarterback AJ McCarron is a candidate for the AAU James E. Sullivan Award as the nation's most outstanding amateur athlete. The Sullivan Award criteria is based on character, leadership and sportsmanship as well, and has been won by such notable athletes as Peyton Manning, Michael Phelps, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Tim Tebow and J.J. Redick. McCarron won his second consecutive national title as a starting quarterback for Alabama this year, and broke the school record for touchdown passes with 30.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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