It's an annual occurrence, especially for a football program the caliber of Oklahoma. Draft eligible underclassmen facing the decision to return for another year of school or make the jump to playing on Sundays. While the Sooners may not have as many as in years past, there are a number of players facing this decision.
Many of you are already aware of Bob Stoops' policy regarding players who have to decide whether or not to leave early. Generally, if you're not a first round pick he typically encourages the player to return to school. A lot of rival fan bases (well not a lot, just one actually, Texas) give him grief for this as they are of the belief this is simply for his own benefit and to the detriment of the player. This is stupid talk. The notion that Stoops does not have his players best interests in mind and would give them advice contrary to that simply to benefit himself is beyond ignorant.
Stoops has a program to run, but he would only benefit from putting more players into the NFL. He's repeatedly put his reasoning out there and it makes perfect sense. If you leave before you're ready, don't get drafted as highly as you might with another year of school (and a degree, mind you), it's income lost that you will never recover.
With all that in mind, we'll look at the most likely OU underclassmen facing the decision to return for another year or make the leap to the NFL.
OG/C Gabe Ikard
Argument For: He's been a three year starter and has proved to be one of, if not the, most versatile offensive lineman on the roster. He could obviously play center and/or either guard spot in the NFL.
Argument Against: Could probably use another year of "seasoning" and a year to continue to get stronger as he's had difficulty at times with bigger defensive tackles.
Prediction: Even though he's draft eligible, he's not a guy many even bring up when talking about OU players who could leave early. Not sure why that is as he certainly has the talent, but it's just hard to see him leaving early.
Odds Of Returning: 95%
FB Trey Millard
Argument For: There is only so many hits in a fullback's body and while he'll likely be more than just a fullback in the NFL, it will still take a physical toll on his body. What does he really have left to accomplish at this level? Especially if he'll only be used sparingly once again?
Argument Against: Hard to make a strong argument here other than for purely selfish reasons. Would love to see what he's capable of were he to receive consistent touches, but there is no guarantee that would even happen. And even if it did, is that really enough reason to return?
Prediction: He'll be very tempted to leave and those around him are probably encouraging him to do so. Just a gut feeling he ignores the advice and comes back for this senior season. That said, cannot ignore the reality of the situation.
Odds Of Returning: 65%
Argument For: Somewhat similar to that of Millard in that a running backs career expectancy is generally pretty brief. He clearly has the skills to play on Sundays as he showed the ability to both run through, around, and past defenders this season.
Argument Against: He was hampered by that ankle injury for a couple games which was probably enough by itself to bring him back another year. He'd be a perfect example of Stoops' philosophy - If he left he would probably be a mid-to-late round pick at best. But if he comes back, stays healthy, and has a big year he could significantly improve his draft stock.
Prediction: He was good this year, but not good enough to justify leaving early.
Odds Of Returning: 95%
WR Jalen Saunders
Argument For: Had a big year in this offense after being ruled eligible just prior to the Texas game. Slot wide receivers are in high demand right now in the NFL.
Argument Against: He's not a particularly big guy, but another year in school certainly isn't going to change that. Another year to refine his route running and add some bulk to his frame, neither of which would hurt his draft stock.
Prediction: Would be surprising if he didn't put in his paperwork to see where NFL scouts project him and to get some input on what they'd like to see him work on. As good as he was, another year in this offense could really move him up in the draft.
Odds Of Returning: 85%
CB Aaron Colvin
Argument For: Aside from elite speed, the guy has every ability of just about any NFL shutdown corner. He's a guy whose film should get him drafted more than anything he'd do at the combine.
Argument Against: Probably not a guy that is going to test off the charts at the combine, which could potentially hurt his draft stock. Purely selfish of course, but him leaving early would be a crushing blow for a secondary already expected to lose 3/4 of its current members.
Prediction: Another guy who, barring an injury, can probably only improve his draft status with another year in college.
Odds Of Returning: 75%
WR Kenny Stills
Argument For: He's a guy who has dealt with injuries at times and suffering another one during a senior season would not be good for his draft stock. He'd likely test well at the combine which could further improve his status.
Argument Against: While he was the legitimate No. 1 threat this team needed him to be and many questioned before the season whether or not he could be, it was still just one season in that role. He's struggled at times with his concentration catches and shown a little bit of an 'alligator arm' issue on catches over the middle.
Prediction: Almost the exact opposite of Ikard, Stills is a guy everyone just assumes is going to leave. For whatever reason, he's taken a bunch of grief from OU fans over his three years despite putting up much more than respectable numbers. He's a kid who is clearly comfortable in his own skin and some people have a problem with that. Deal with it.
Odds Of Returning: 49%
Argument For: What would he really accomplish by coming back for another year? The guy made play after play for this defense all season. He has very little left to prove at this level.
Argument Against: Safety is generally not a position that is drafted highly, so that is working against him. Could probably use another year to improve on his coverage skills.
Prediction: Unless the NFL scouts see him as something other than a safety, his draft stock pretty much is what it is with or without another year in college.
Odds Of Returning: 25%