Just one day after TCU head coach Gary Patterson announced that talented quarterback Casey Pachall would be returning to the Horned Frogs from suspension, the team learned that arguably its best defensive player -- redshirt junior defensive end Stansly Maponga -- is heading to the NFL early.
"I've decided to enter the 2013 NFL Draft," Maponga tweeted. "Thanks for three great years at TCU. I'll always have y'all in my heart."
The 6-foot-2, 265 pound Maponga wasn't the consistent dominating presence in 2012 that he'd proven to be during a breakout sophomore campaign a year earlier and ranks just 11th on NFLDraftScout.com's list of the top pass rushers from the 2014 draft class. The focus of every opponent's blocking scheme, Maponga was frequently double-teamed and struggled with a nagging foot injury, which forced him to miss two full games and half of another. As a result, Maponga's numbers dropped significantly across the board.
After posting 55 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2011, his numbers dropped to "just" 26 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks this past season. While Maponga's numbers slipped, he was overshadowed by the development of true freshman Devonte Fields, who capitalized on single blocking to earn the Big 12's AP Defensive Player of the Year honors with 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
While shorter than scouts would prefer, Maponga -- like Fields and a host of prior Patterson-coached pass-rushers in recent years -- is a natural edge rusher. He is quick off the snap, shows good flexibility to react to cut blocks and is more stout at the point of attack than his size might indicate due to his natural leverage advantage and good upper strength. Maponga also shows strong, active hands, which he uses well to defeat blocks and knock the ball free. He has forced seven fumbles over the past two seasons.
While the Zimbabwe-native Maponga has shown many of the traits talent evaluators look for in a pass rusher, the relative lack of success former TCU edge rushers (Jerry Hughes, Bo Schobel) have enjoyed in the NFL could give decision-makers pause on draft day.
Furthermore, Maponga will have to prove his health. He underwent surgery following the season to correct the issue with his foot, which raises questions about his availability to work out prior to the draft.
Finally, Maponga is electing to enter a draft class already loaded with plenty of intriguing hybrid pass rushers.