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Tech juniors mulling NFL draft options

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (8) pushes away Georgia defender Akeem Dent during the final regular season game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (8) pushes away Georgia defender Akeem Dent during the final regular season game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- At least four juniors who played lead roles in Georgia Tech's ACC championship could enter the NFL draft after the Yellow Jackets' Orange Bowl game against Iowa.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan tops the list of juniors who say they will examine their draft options after No. 9 Georgia Tech's bowl game. Morgan was a first-team All-America pick by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Receiver Demaryius Thomas, a third-team All-America selection, running back Jonathan Dwyer and safety Morgan Burnett also are possibilities to enter the draft.

Georgia Tech will play Iowa in the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl.

''I want to play my heart out in this last game to get this bowl win and then we'll talk about the NFL,'' Dwyer said.

Morgan and Dwyer are widely regarded as possible first-round picks.

Dwyer has 1,346 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Morgan was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive player of the year after leading the conference with 121/2 sacks.

The juniors are expected to submit their names to the NFL Draft Advisory Board this week. The board advises underclassmen on where they might be rated for the draft.

''You've got to focus on one thing at a time,'' said Dwyer, the 2008 ACC player of the year. ''That whole thing will happen after the bowl game.

''I'll send in my paperwork and we'll see what the paperwork says, but what the paperwork says is not everything. I have an opportunity to come back and help my team go for a national championship and I'd love to repeat in the ACC, among other things.''

The junior class, which also includes quarterback Josh Nesbitt, took the lead on a team with only six scholarship seniors.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said ''everybody's torn'' about the decision.

''Anytime that you're in that situation, I'm sure that guys are torn,'' Johnson said. ''There are reasons why a guy would like to go play and reasons why he'd like to say. Every individual is different and they have to make their own decision.

''I'm sure there's anxiety with all of them.''

Dwyer said ''it's pretty weird'' to see so many Georgia Tech juniors included in NFL mock drafts on the Internet.

''It's a great opportunity for the school and a great opportunity for us as individuals,'' Dwyer said. ''It definitely shows what coach Johnson has done with us as individuals and the kind of talent we have.''

Morgan said he is curious to see what the other juniors will do.

''I talk to the guys every once in a while just to try to pry into their brains and see where they're at and that sort of thing,'' Morgan said on Monday after Georgia Tech's first practice for the bowl.

Morgan's draft status has climbed through the season. He had a game-saving stop in the Yellow Jackets' 30-27 overtime win over Wake Forest. He stopped Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker for no gain on a fourth-down run with the Tigers driving for the potential go-ahead score late in Georgia Tech's 39-34 ACC championship game win on Dec. 5.

Thomas has 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns in a run-first option offense. No other receiver has more than eight receptions.

Thomas confirmed he's still considering his options despite telling a reporter recently he had decided to return for his senior season.

''I didn't want to talk about the situation,'' he said. ''I just was like 'Yeah, I'm coming back to school.'''

Burnett leads Georgia Tech with four interceptions and is second on the team with 77 tackles.

Johnson said his role is to help the players ''make an informed decision" and ''don't get talked into something.''

Dwyer said the players must decide what is best for their families.

''You've got to look at what's best for you and what's best for your family,'' Dwyer said. ''That's the only reason most guys leave early anyway, to have an opportunity to take care of yourself and take care of your family and live the dream of playing professional ball.

''You have to look at all the aspects. I'm going to look at it and pray about it.''