For the second time in two years, the Texas Longhorns will lose the team's best defensive tackle to the NFL Draft a year early, as Inside Texas broke the news that junior Hassan Ridgeway will declare for the NFL Draft.
Multiple other outlets quickly confirmed the news, including the Longhorn Network.
The 6'3, 314-pounder broke out as a redshirt sophomore in 2014 playing next to Malcom Brown, but experienced an up-and-down junior season that was heavily influenced by a preseason injury that kept him out of fall camp and limited him early, then the various bumps and bruises that so many defensive linemen suffer throughout the season.
As a result, Ridgeway missed the season finale against Baylor after suffering an injury against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving.
Still, when Ridgeway was healthy, he was a disruptive force, returning a key fumble recovery for a touchdown against Oklahoma State and trying for fifth on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss. The Mansfield product also notched 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries, as well as another fumble recovery.
Because Ridgeway didn't have the season that many expected, it wasn't a certainty that he would leave. However, his significant upside and athleticism have him rated as the No. 5 nose tackle by WalterFootball.com. Ridgeway could move up on that board if one or more of the three underclassmen ranked ahead of him elect to stay in school.
In 2015, the fifth nose tackle came off the board in the sixth round.
If there is good news for the Longhorns with this decisions, it's that Ridgeway is a virtual lock to hear his name called come late April. Texas did not have a player drafted in 2014 for the first time since 1937 and likely would have been in position to repeat that ignominious distinction had Ridgeway opted to remain in school.
The bad news is that Texas won't have a proven, consistently disruptive force at the critical position next year and doesn't currently have any instant-impact recruits committed in the 2016 class. After missing completely at defensive tackle in two of the last three classes, depth is getting thin and there aren't any obvious difference-makers in the pipeline, a major problem that head coach Charlie Strong will have to solve sooner rather than later.