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As Expected, Richardson, Kirkpatrick and Hightower Enter NFL Draft

Confirming what has long since been expected, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dont'a Hightower all announced today in Tuscaloosa that they would forgo their final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Per the Tuscaloosa News:

University of Alabama juniors Dont'a Hightower, Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick have opted to enter the 2012 NFL Draft a year before their college eligibility has expired. Kirkpatrick and Richardson announced their intentions at a news conference with coach Nick Saban, though Hightower did not attend.

Richardson called the news conference "a sad moment and a happy moment," reflecting not only on his million-dollar future in the NFL but on the people and times he will miss at UA as well.

Said Kirkpatrick: "It was a blessing to have an opportunity for (UA) to open their doors the way they did to me and my family ... This is a family decision, and I am going to be leaving, going to the NFL, to try to better myself and better my talent."

Clearing up some earlier confusion, Hightower did not attend the above-mentioned press conference largely because he felt that people knew it was a given that he was leaving. Nevertheless, he did send out a release shortly thereafter stating definitively that he, too, was entering the NFL Draft. As some of you will recall, Hightower did participate in Senior Day activities in Bryant-Denny Stadium against Georgia Southern.

Back to the news at hand, though, the losses of these three have long since been expected, and frankly it's the right decision. A college degree is a worthy incentive to return, but even so the value of a bachelor's degree is highly depressed these days, and on the whole when balanced against the injury risk, the lost year of income which can never be regained, the ability to return to UA at some point to finish a degree and the general notion that this trio could realistically accomplish little more on the collegiate playing fields, it's hard to make a compelling case to return for another season. Additionally, Richardson and Kirkpatrick, in particular, have small children to consider, and Hightower has already been on campus four years. By all accounts the decisions of all three were fully endorsed by Nick Saban and company, and rightly so.

While it will be difficult to replace three legitimate star players, on the whole the NFL Draft has been kind to Alabama this season. There was never any realistic expectation, barring serious injury, that any of the outgoing three would return, but Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack, Michael Williams, Jesse Williams, Damion Square, and Robert Lester could have all realistically declared as early entrants -- obviously, some with more lucrative prospects than others -- and the fact that all of those players will seemingly return to Tuscaloosa for their senior seasons will make life far easier for the Tide this upcoming fall.

The defense in particular could be key in this regard. Replacing most of its star players won't be easy -- gone are Hightower, Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron, Josh Chapman, and DeQuan Menzie -- but with Robert Lester, Jesse Williams, and Damion Square set to return, Alabama won't have to face such overwhelming attrition as it did in 2010. An overall drop-off in effectiveness is guaranteed, of course, but with a handful of returning faces and another stellar recruiting crop set to arrive, there is hope that Nick Saban and company can engineer a soft landing in 2012.