Last week, rumors started to surface that Baylor CB Xavien Howard, one of the best three or four players on the 2015 defense, would leave the school and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. Those rumors were based largely on a Facebook post from Howard's trainer that was subsequently taken down, but now they've been proven as true. From the Twitters:
January 4, 2016
Since assuming a starting spot last year as a redshirt sophomore, Howard has been a revelation of sorts in Baylor's secondary as clearly our best cover corner. His development culminated this year in an All-Big 12 nod, and excitement was high for his return to the secondary next season. Alas, that is not to be, and Howard will finish his Baylor career with 10 interceptions in 26 career starts (all in the past two years).
I'll never speak ill of anyone trying to get paid professionally for plying their trade, particularly if they have mouths to feed (as I believe Howard does). Still, I question whether leaving now and being a second or third-day pick is better for him than returning and possibly bettering his draft stock in a year. Though he has great size at 6-2 that the NFL will absolutely love, and his play this year was quite good, he still has tremendous room for growth in his technique. Honestly, I hope he's not making a Lache Seastrunk-esque mistake.
With Howard gone, Baylor will turn to a pair of rising sophomores in Jourdan Blake and Verkedric Vaughns, as well as rising senior Tion Wright. You may also see the Bears take a flyer on a JUCO corner like Antonio Kanonu. My guess is that if another game was to be played today, you'd see Vaughns get that spot based off the fact that he came in for Howard during the Russell Athletic Bowl when X got a little shook up.
There's no question that losing a player of Howard's ability that Baylor was clearly going to rely on going into next year will cause the defense to take a step back. The only comparable loss I can think of from this year's unit would be Howard's fellow junior, DT Andrew Billings, who hasn't announced his intentions just yet. Instead of having the entire secondary back for a second year in a row, the Bears will now have to replace probably the single best member in it. That's going to hurt.
But, that being said, I thank Xavien for the time we had him in Waco and wish him nothing but the best in the NFL!