Morning Links:

Steve O Speak

Houston Declares For The Draft: Although it went right down to the wire, I think without a doubt DE/OLB Justin Houston made the right choice declaring for the NFL draft. Right now the Georgia pass rusher is projected as a late 1st- early 2nd round pick, but he should improve on that draft stock with good workouts at the combine/pro day. Houston also is the type of player who can rise higher in the draft than where his talent dictates because of the importance of his position. With more and more teams going to a 3-4 defensive set, rush linebackers are at an all-time high in terms of value. Houston is probably the 2nd best pure rush linebacker in this draft, though guys like Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith could jump him if they prove they can stand up. Even if Kerrigan and Smith do show ability as a rush linebacker, I still see Houston as a potential pick in the 15-20 range come April. I really expect him to have good workout numbers and build on the promise of finding the next elite pass rusher.

Mark Barron Opts to Stay At Alabama: When most other highly rated juniors are turning pro, safety Mark Barron decided to Roll Tide for one more season. Barron probably projects best as a strong safety at the next level, but he has the skills to man Free Safety as well. He was unlikely to be a first round pick, but with good workouts, should have heard his name called in the first half of the 2nd round. Barron will now head back to Alabama, and punish SEC receivers, backs, and quarterbacks for one more season as he looks to improve his draft stock. While I don’t think he made a bad choice in going back, particularly since the Crimson Tide should be one of the top teams next year, but I really don’t see him improving his draft stock by much. Barron will not be a Eric Berry- Sean Taylor top draft pick in 2012, and while he could look to squeeze into the end of the 1st round, I’d say the chances are slim. Barring some drastic change, Barron projects as a good to very good starter, which should keep in the 2nd round range. If anything I’d say returning to school solidifies his draft status, but doesn’t outright change it. In the end though you can’t fault him for returning to school, because unless he suffers a major injury, it should make him a better all-around pro, even if it doesn’t improve his draft stock.

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