While 32 other SEC underclassmen left school early – along with a record number of 75 underclassmen – and headed for April’s NFL Draft, four big-time returners chose the unpopular route of heading back to school for their senior season, and all for different reasons.
Dominique Easley, DE, Florida
Reason: Improve his draft status
The Buzz: Easley was long thought to enter this year’s draft. After all, he came in with Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and others. But Easley made a wise decision to return to Florida in an effort improve his draft status. Easley tallied 26 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2012. He suffered an ACL injury in 2011 that could have set him back in ‘12, but he recovered just fine, with a few minor hiccups along the way. Easley is the only returning starter for the Gators on the defensive line. He’s notorious for picking fights during pre-game warm-ups, and he was dancing down 20 points in the Sugar Bowl. Overall, Easley returning to Florida was a great move to improve his draft stock, and it was equally as huge for Florida to retain an impact playmaker from 2012.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Reason: Play with his brother
The Buzz: The reason Jake Matthews returned to Texas A&M had nothing to do with improving his draft stock. He was actually projected to be a top pick as an offensive tackle, but he spurned the NFL to play with his brother Mike Matthews. Jake will move from right tackle to left, and Texas A&M could produce back-to-back Outland Trophy winners and the first tackle taken in the NFL Draft. Matthews is that good, and he will be an elite player in 2013, cementing the Aggies’ offensive line for the most electrifying player in college football Johnny Manziel.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The Buzz: Jordan Matthews is still the best wide receiver that nobody has heard of. I know it’s because he plays at Vanderbilt, but what does Matthews have to do in order to get some love? He totaled an SEC-high 94 catches for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a boss, and he returns to give the Commodores two big weapons at receiver for their new quarterback. After thinking it through, Matthews agreed with his parents that it was best to return to Vandy and finish his education. He is no doubt James Franklin’s biggest recruit of the year.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Reason: Unfinished Business
The Buzz: Aaron Murray felt sick ever since he walked off the field in Atlanta, and he knew right then and there that he would return for his senior season. Let’s face it – Murray is what he is. He’s a shorter quarterback who has put up monster numbers throughout his career. Murray is the only quarterback in the history of the SEC to throw for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons. Peyton Manning, Tim Couch or Danny Wuerffel never did that. Murray is second all-time in the SEC with 95 career touchdowns, and he’s chasing Wuerffel’s record of 114. He’s only 19 away. And he’s back to make another run at an SEC Championship and a national championship.
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