All-SEC outside linebacker Justin Houston will skip his senior season at Georgia to enter the NFL draft.
Houston announced his unsurprising decision Saturday, deadline day for underclassmen to declare for the draft.
“It was a very hard decision to make, but in the end I had to do what’s best for my family and me,” Houston said in a statement.
He became the second Georgia junior to enter this year’s draft, joining wide receiver A.J. Green. Three other UGA juniors who seriously considered the draft –- cornerback Brandon Boykin and offensive linemen Cordy Glenn and Trinton Sturdivant -– decided to stay in school.
Houston is rated the draft’s No. 26 overall prospect by Scouts Inc. Draft analysts generally peg him as a late first-round or second-round pick.
Houston had 10 sacks and 18 ½ tackles for loss this past season, ranking second in the SEC behind Auburn’s Nick Fairley in both categories. Houston’s 20 career sacks rank seventh on the UGA list.
A graduate of Statesboro High School, Houston was named first-team All-SEC this past season by both the media and the coaches.
In his statement Saturday, Houston thanked Georgia’s coaches and fans.
He said he “would not be where I am today” without coach Mark Richt, who “has helped me grow from a boy to a grown man.” And he added: “Thanks to all of the fans who were behind us the whole time I was in Athens.”
Richt had hoped Houston might stay for his senior season, several times making the point that all of the Georgia juniors considering early exits except Green would have a chance to significantly improve their draft stock by waiting another year to turn pro. Green is projected as a likely top-five pick.
Houston “is a great person and great player, and we’ll miss him,” Richt said in a statement Saturday. “We wish him nothing but the best as he moves into this next phase of his football career, and I’m certain he’ll be successful.”
On what proved to be his final play in Sanford Stadium, Houston intercepted a pass — the only interception of his college career — to clinch the Bulldogs’ 42-34 victory over Georgia Tech on Nov. 27.
With Houston’s decision, Georgia loses four key linebackers from its 2010 team. Seniors Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble completed their eligibility, and junior Marcus Dowtin was released from his scholarship to transfer to another school.
– Tim Tucker, UGA blog