By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — Joseph Randle is going pro, and will skip his senior season at Oklahoma State.
Randle tweeted early Thursday declaring his decision: “I’ve decided to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. I’ll always be a Cowboys!”
Minutes before the confirmation, he also sent a tweet that made it sound very much like he was calling it a career at Oklahoma State: “I want to thank all of #CowboyNation for the best 3 years of my life. Also to the best coaches in the nation for this opportunity.”
Randle was an All-Big 12 running back in 2012 after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. As a sophomore in 2011, he tallied over 1,200 yards with 24 touchdowns.
The junior from Wichita, Kan., finishes his career as one of the best running backs in OSU’s history at the position, ranking eighth all-time in rushing yards (3,085) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (40).
The decision by Randle has come with congratulations from his teammates. Junior offensive lineman Parker Graham tweeted, “Congrats to my boy (Randle) on deciding to go to the NFL! It’s been a pleasure blocking for you man and I hope to join you very soon!”
In most draft projections Randle is rated a second- or third-round pick, with ESPN expert Mel Kiper ranking him as the fifth-best junior running back available. CBSSports.com has Randle as the fifth-ranked running back and the 84th-best prospect overall in the draft.
“Randle has a leaner-than-ideal frame and there are some questions about his ability to carry the load, but he works well through traffic and shows the balance to stay on his feet after first contact,” CBSSports.com NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler says. “He has excellent acceleration and wastes little time hitting his second gear through the hole, using his outstanding vision to find room to run both as a rusher and receiver.”
Randle had deflected most draft talk during the later part of the season, consistently stating he would make a decision about his future after the bowl. He said his oldest brother, Larry, had been handling the bulk of the process of evaluating his draft stock.
Randle had stated he wanted to get his college diploma, and that he was on track to graduate in the fall of 2013 — making it easy for him to get his degree in economics either while starting his NFL career or after.
With Randle leaving the backfield, his backup Jeremy Smith, who has totaled more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons, will slide into the starting role.
Smith tweeted a response to former OSU great Thurman Thomas — who stated Smith was the man now: “I’m ready to fill the role and do my Job the best I can!”
Junior Desmond Roland (46 carries, 301 yards, four touchdowns in 2012) will likely become the backup, while sophomore Caleb Muncrief (14 carries, 57 yards) will take over the third spot in the depth chart for spring practice.
Oklahoma State has just one running back commitment for the 2013 recruiting class so far in Corion Webster, a three-star prospect from Atlanta, Texas. OSU is supposedly still in the mix for four-star back Altee Tenpenny, according to Rivals.com. Tenpenny is committed to Alabama but could visit OSU before Signing Day.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater NewsPress.