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Deontay Burnett leaves USC early, declares for NFL draft

Deontay Burnett leaves USC early, declares for NFL draft
Oregon safeties David Morris, left, and Omar Hicks-Onu, right, watch as USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett (80) catches a touchdown pass at the Coliseum on Oct. 7. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

USC lost a third major player from its Pac-12 Conference-champion football team Monday when wide receiver Deontay Burnett announced he would declare for the NFL draft.

Burnett, a 20-year-old junior, caught a Cotton Bowl-record 12 passes for 139 yards in his final college game last month to finish the season with 86 receptions, 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns. He follows quarterback Sam Darnold and tailback Ronald Jones II in leaving USC early for the draft, leaving a massive hole in an offense that averaged nearly 32 points a game in 2017.

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Burnett announced his decision on Twitter on Monday, the first day of the spring semester at USC.

"After sitting down with my mother, father and family evaluating my future, I have decided to forego my senior season at USC and declare for the 2018 NFL draft," he wrote in a two-paragraph statement addressed "Dear Trojan Family."

"The NFL has been a lifelong dream of mine and I feel I am ready to take on the next challenge in my life."

Unlike Darnold, a redshirt sophomore who was widely expected to declare for the draft, Burnett's NFL leanings were unknown for most of the season.

Burnett, a product of Gardena Serra High, is ranked 17th among receivers by Walter Football, making him a likely middle-round pick. However, his Cotton Bowl performance followed by a good showing in the NFL combine could raise his stock considerably.

With Burnett's departure and Steven Mitchell's graduation, redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns (57 catches, 809 yards) is the only returning receiver with more than 23 catches or 410 receiving yards this season.

Burnett, listed at 6 feet and 170 pounds, may not be the last USC player to leave school with eligibility remaining. Linebacker Cameron Smith, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and tackle Toa Lobendahn, all juniors, are reportedly mulling their futures as well.

Players have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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