Missouri junior defensive end Kony Ealy’s announcement Friday night that he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft potentially represents a seismic shift in the first-round pecking order.
That’s fitting in a way, because Ealy’s hometown of New Madrid, Mo., is famous mostly for the massive fault line that runs nearby.
Ealy made the announcement after the Tigers’ 41-31 victory against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
“I love my teammates,” Ealy said. “I love my coaches. I’ve gone from a boy to a man here. I feel like it’s time for me to go on to the next level so, yeah, I decided to go ahead and declare, made myself available to go into the NFL.”
Ealy said he reached the decision two weeks ago after getting a positive draft evaluation from the NFL and then consulting with his father, Willie, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
Ealy, who projects a first-round pick in both in both Rob Rang’s and Dane Brugler’s mock drafts on CBSSports.com, didn’t wrestle with the decision much.
Ealy finished with six tackles in the Cotton Bowl, including two sacks against the Cowboys. For the season, he totaled 43 tackles, including 14 1/2 for a loss, with 9 1/2 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries.
“He’ll do real good in the NFL, because he’s got the size and the strength and the speed,” said Missouri senior left tackle Justin Britt, who also has a possible NFL future. “I see why people rave about him. He’s also very intelligent on the field, so I think he’ll do great.”
Ealy’s departure and senior Michael Sam’s graduation thins the Tigers’ ranks at defensive end, but sophomore Shane Ray, who had the Cotton Bowl-record and game-clinching 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown Friday, will be back along with junior defensive end Markus Golden.
Ray, from Bishop Miege, had a breakout season with 39 tackles, including nine for a loss, with 4 1/2 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
There was some speculation Golden, who finished with 55 tackles, including 13 for a loss, with 6 1/2 sacks and eight quarterback hurries, might consider a jump to the NFL too.
Instead, Golden told the Columbia Daily Tribune that he was staying: “I’d be a fool to leave Missouri without starting. I owe everybody in there a season to see me start and dominate, so I’m staying. I’m not going anywhere.”
Junior running back Henry Josey, who was Missouri’s offensive MVP in the Cotton Bowl after scoring three rushing touchdowns, said he hasn’t made up his mind about next season.
“It’s still a process,” said Josey, who finished with 174 carries for 1,166 yards with 16 touchdowns. “There’s people I have to talk to. First of all, I have to talk to my grandma. She wasn’t able to be here today because of the flu.”