With the two most talented teams in the country not playing their final game until Monday night, scouts expected to see a late flurry of underclassmen from Alabama and LSU announce their NFL decisions this week. The deadline for early entry into the 2012 draft, after all, is Sunday.
Sources close to LSU junior cornerback Morris Claiborne confirmed to NFLDraftScout.com this morning that the 2011 Thorpe Award winner has played his final season for the Tigers and will be heading to the NFL.
The news comes on the heels of a significantly more surprising defection from another LSU underclassman. Junior wide receiver Russell Shepard took to Twitter to announce that he's submitting his name into the NFL lottery, as well.
Claiborne's early entry was anticipated. NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated cornerback since October, Claiborne is silky smooth in coverage and possesses rare ball skills for the position. Claiborne started opposite eventual No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson in 2010 and led the Tigers with five interceptions. Opponents challenged him early in 2011 with Peterson now a member of the Arizona Cardinals and Claiborne was even better as a junior, again leading the team in pass thefts (six) and also serving as a big play specialist as the team's kickoff returner.
The decision by Shephard, on the other hand, was a stunner and may have more to do with Shephard's frustration with LSU than his standing with NFL scouts.
Shephard, a highly recruited quarterback and wide receiver prospect out of high school, flashed some big play ability throughout his career with the Tigers but had been passed up on the depth chart and only saw three snaps in the BCS title game. Shephard caught just 14 passes in 2011 for 190 yards and four touchdowns.
He was NFLDraftScout.com's No. 12 ranked receiver in the class of 2013 but will fall significantly lower than that in our 2012 rankings due to a strong senior class of receivers and the number of talented underclassmen at the position who had already announced their intentions to enter this April's draft.
"Thanks for your support Tiger Nation...but I have to do what's best for my family and myself...Geaux Tigers," served as Shephard's Twitter announcement that he's heading off to the NFL.
As surprising as Shephard's decision is, it may not be the last for the Tigers. Several other talented LSU underclassmen are thought to be considering making the jump to the NFL, including another receiver Rueben Randle and two supremely talented defensive linemen -- defensive tackle Michael Brockers and Sam Montgomery, each of whom are redshirt sophomores.