TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker has decided to enter the National Football League draft early, Tidesports.com has learned, and is expected to announce the decision in the coming days. The intentions of two other Alabama juniors with decisions to make regarding an early jump to the NFL -- cornerback Dee Milliner and running back Eddie Lacy -- remain unclear. Milliner, however, as a surefire first-round choice based on most draft service projections, is expected to turn pro as well.
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Alabama is expected to schedule a news conference as early as Thursday for the announcements.
Nfldraftscout.com rates Fluker as the No. 40 overall prospect for the 2013 draft and projects him as a late-first or early-second round pick. The draft service ranks Milliner as an early first-round pick, while Lacy's standing with the NFL draft varies among most draft services. Nfldraftscout.com rates Lacy as a second-round choice.
UA coach Nick Saban has said he generally supports players leaving his program early if they project as first-round draft picks, but believes staying in school is usually best for all others.
Fluker, a fourth-year junior and three-year starter at right tackle, was a first team All-SEC selection and a second-team AP All-American in 2012. He started every game for the Crimson Tide in 2012, as the team amassed 3,484 rushing yards with an average of 5.6 yards per carry and 227.5 yards per game, while only allowing 23 sacks.
Three other key members of Alabama's junior class, linebacker C.J. Mosley, guard Anthony Steen and quarterback AJ McCarron, already have announced their intention to stay at Alabama for a senior season in 2013. Steen's announcement came Wednesday.
"After sitting down with my family and Coach Saban, I have decided it is in my best interest to return for my senior season," Steen said. "Getting my degree was one of my goals when I came to the University of Alabama, and I am on schedule to graduate this spring."
"I also think returning in 2013 will give me a chance to improve my draft status while also providing the opportunity to enjoy another season with my teammates, coaches and our fans.
In addition to Fluker, the Alabama offensive line will also lose two All-Americans in left guard Chance Warmack, who is expected to be a first-round pick, and center Barrett Jones, winner the 2012 Rimington Trophy and 2011 Outland Trophy.
If Fluker, Milliner and Lacy all turn pro, it would mark six Alabama juniors to enter the NFL draft in the last two years. In 2012, Alabama lost linebacker Dont'a Hightower, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and running back Trent Richardson to early NFL draft entry. All three were first-round choices of the Patriots, Bengals and Browns, respectively.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196. Brian Reynolds contributed to this report.
FLUKER PHOTO GALLERY: Click photo above for a photographic look back at D.J. Fluker's Alabama career.