Four Tide players to enter NFL draft early
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Jan 09, 2014 | 2627 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, shakes hands with HaHa Clinton-Dix as Jeoffrey Pagan looks on after a news conference at the University of Alabama on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Tuscaloosa News, Michelle Lepianka Carter)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, shakes hands with HaHa Clinton-Dix as Jeoffrey Pagan looks on after a news conference at the University of Alabama on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Tuscaloosa News, Michelle Lepianka Carter)
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TUSCALOOSA -- Alabama will lose four players early to the NFL draft with safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan deciding to forgo their senior seasons.

During Nick Saban’s tenure, 13 other players have left school early for the draft with 11 being drafted in the first round. Glen Coffee (third round) and Eddie Lacy (second round) were the only two not taken in the first round.

“They’ve done a wonderful job representing this institution, themselves, and this football program,” Saban said Thursday at a news conference at the school. “They’ve been a part of winning two national championships, 10-win seasons each year they have been here, and always been ranked in the top 10. … I know it’s difficult for each and everyone of them to make decisions. They all love The University of Alabama.

“They have to make a business decision about their future, what is best for their future.”

Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix are projected as first-round picks by most draft experts.

Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix are ranked 23rd and 25th, respectively, on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s projections, which doesn’t factor in team needs.

Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix are third-year juniors and haven’t received their degrees.

Kouandjio is the fourth-ranked offensive tackle according to ESPN.com. Kouandjio said he received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. For Kouandjio, the most difficult part of this decision was telling his brother, Arie Kouandjio, who started next to him at left guard this season. While Cyrus didn’t provide any details of the conversation, he said it was “very emotional.”

“I had to kind of exclude my emotions and use my logic,” he said.

Clinton-Dix is the top safety prospect, according to ESPN.com. Clinton-Dix, who missed two games because of suspension, was fourth on the team with 52 total tackles. He also had two interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss. He also said he received a first-round grade. Clinton-Dix said his suspension and injury “most definitely” factored into his decision.

“The suspension was my fault, a bad decision on my hands that I made,” Clinton-Dix said. “I was thankful and fortunate enough for the NCAA to appeal it and do my two-game suspension (so I could) be back with my team. Also, the knee injury was a scare. Thank God it wasn’t anything big. … What if I decided to come back and I break my neck or something? Then I can’t play ball anymore. That definitely played a role in it.”

If Clinton-Dix is taken in the first round, it will be the third straight year Alabama has had a defensive back taken in the opening round of the draft (Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, and Dee Milliner in 2013).

Hubbard is among the top 10 outside linebacker prospects, according to ESPN.com. Hubbard, a fourth-year junior, considered leaving early after last season. He received his degree in December.

Hubbard’s parents, Jerome and Cassandra Hubbard, attended Thursday’s news conference. Both are retired military and said they have stressed the importance of education since Adrian was young. Adrian is the first male Hubbard to graduate college.

“Like I used to tell Adrian, ‘You can be dumb, but you can’t be a dumb jock’,” Jerome said. “In other words, if you want to play sports, you must maintain your grades. That was put on the table for him at a very young age and he’s followed that. We’re excited and blessed that he stayed with the program.”

For the year, Hubbard had 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks compared to 41 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2012. Because he graduated, Hubbard is eligible to play in the Senior Bowl, but hasn’t looked into the process. Hubbard said his review had him being drafted anywhere from the second to fourth rounds.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of grade they give you,” Hubbard said. “You still have to go out there and present yourself with a great deal of effort. You have to know how to work hard and always present yourself in the right manner.”

Pagan, a third-year junior, is considered to be the seventh-best defensive end prospect in this class. In his first year as a starter, Pagan had 34 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

Pagan said he received a third-round grade with a few saying he could be taken in second round. Pagan added he would have returned if his evaluation showed anything lower than the third round. Pagan suffered a season-ending knee injury during his senior year of high school and at the time, wondered if he ever would play football again.

“The biggest factor for me was being able to live my dream,” Pagan said. “Being able to actually play professional football when I thought I would never be able to play football again. It was one of those things that really pushed me towards coming out and my family understood that. They only wanted my happiness.”

Last season, the Tide lost three players early to the NFL draft. Cornerback Dee Milliner (ninth overall, New York Jets) and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker (11th, San Diego Chargers) were both taken in the first round, while Lacy was drafted in the second round (61st, Green Bay Packers).

Saban has said he doesn’t advise players to leave early if they don’t receive a first-round grade.
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