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'I feel the time is now right': Texas standout Joseph Ossai declares for the NFL draft

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai tackles West Virginia running back Alec Sinkfield at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 7. Many are projecting him as a first-round draft pick.

Earlier this month against Kansas State, Joseph Ossai recorded a sack, stopped a running back behind the line of scrimmage and stuffed a Wildcat on a first-and-goal rushing attempt.

Those three tackles will be Ossai's last as a Longhorn. On Monday, he declared that he will enter the NFL draft. The junior will skip UT's bowl game and forgo his remaining eligibility.

"Now that our regular season has ended, I have made the tough decision to go ahead and begin to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft," Ossai said in a statement. "As a kid, I dreamt of playing at Texas and going on to play in the NFL. I feel the time is now right, and even though it is bittersweet I am excited to face this new challenge."

A four-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting cycle, Ossai was originally used as a traditional linebacker at Texas. He led UT in tackles last season. Among the Longhorns, his 55 stops this year have been exceeded by only Juwan Mitchell's 59. 

UT tinkered with playing Ossai off the defensive line in last year's Alamo Bowl, and he responded with three sacks. The jack in new coordinator Chris Ash's defense this year, Ossai recorded five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss. Three of those sacks and six of those backfield stops were tallied during a standout performance at Oklahoma State.

Texas last had a player taken in the draft's first round in 2015. But Houston Texans defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, who played with Ossai at Texas in 2018, tweeted Monday that his former teammate is a "First round pick I’m calling it."

In a mock draft published last month, Dane Brugler of the Athletic had the 6-foot-4, 253-pound Ossai being selected with the 21st overall pick. CBS Sports' Josh Edwards paired Ossai with the 23rd pick last week. Bleacher Report recently had Ossai lasting until the 17th pick.

Even though a bowl invitation probably awaits Texas (6-3), five key players have begun their preparation for the draft. Offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi and safety Caden Sterns opted out before the Kansas State game. Ossai, defensive back Chris Brown and defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham left the Longhorns after the team's regular-season finale against Kansas was canceled. All five of those players were team captains this season.