When I heard junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who finished the 2015 season with 36 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, had informed Texas coaches he plans to forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft, my first thought was "mistake."
But then I connected with someone I trust in the NFL who said Ridgeway could end up a first-round pick "maybe second round if he performs poorly."
One NFL front office person texted me back and said they see Ridgeway going in the "third or fourth round - not in the same class as (DT) Malcom Brown. Might go higher, but he isn't special, in my opinion."
It seemed like Ridgeway really could have used one more good, solid season to show the NFL he could be a player worthy of a starting spot in the league. But at 6-4 and 315 pounds with his ability to take over, at times, seemingly when he set his mind to it, the NFL appears to think Ridgeway is ready, too.
Even if Ridgeway is selected in the third or fourth round, the money is legit.
Former Texas LB Jordan Hicks was taken by the Eagles in the third round last year and ended up with a four-year, $3 million deal with $652,732 fully guaranteed. That averages out to $748,000 per year.
If Ridgeway gets into the first round, cha ching.
Former Longhorns' DT Malcom Brown (6-2, 320) went 30th in the first round to the Patriots in the 2015 draft and signed a four-year, $7.6 million deal with $6.1 million fully guaranteed - an average of $1.9 million per year.
Ridgeway only started 18 games in college, and half of the eight games he started in 2015 appeared to involve Ridgeway playing with injury (ankle, shoulder and a lower back injury to start the season - we were told from a car accident over the summer that severely limited his ability to get in shape).
But when he was healthy, like in his first start against Oklahoma State in Game 4, when he returned a fumble 34 yards for a TD, he showed he could be dominant.
In texting with a few NFL scouts, they'd like to have seen more of his ability to use his hands to get off blocks and split double teams to be a high-level three-technique in the league. Otherwise, he'll likely get slotted as a nose tackle "only" by some teams, which carries less value in the NFL.
But it only takes one team to like you in the first round, and all the scouts said Ridgeway's size plays in his favor as a potential first-round draft pick. Malcom Brown had to "overcome" his size as a 6-foot-2 defensive tackle.
Ridgeway, who redshirted as a freshman in 2012 under Mack Brown, was dubbed "Green Mile" in 2014 by Charlie Strong because Ridgeway initially came off as more of a gentle giant.
But Ridgeway began coming to life in 2014 under Strong and D-line coach Chris Rumph, posting 43 tackles, including six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. In 2015, Ridgeway was a preseason All-Big 12 candidate. But a lower back injury caused him to get off to a slow start.
Ridgeway didn't start the first three games of the 2015 season. But in his first start of 2015 against Oklahoma State, Ridgeway posted a sack and returned that fumble 34 yards for a touchdown.
In a 24-17 win over Oklahoma, Ridgeway posted his second sack of the season. Ridgeway posted a sack against Iowa State and a half sack against Texas Tech, a game in which he suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final game of the season against Baylor.
The projected starters at defensive tackle for Texas in 2016 figure to be Poona Ford and Paul Boyette with Chris Nelson also vying for playing time and Alex Norman possibly coming back from a medical redshirt season.