*Disclaimer: This article purely speculation and opinion, and should be taken as such. No percentage is hard fact, just mere speculation.
Bowl season is coming up, and while Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy seeks a new offensive coordinator, he has other problems he's probably already starting worrying about.
Players leaving early for the NFL draft.
Cowboys have become hot commodities in the league as of late, with the likes of Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden being well-known names at the professional level. With that comes a path that's already partially paved for players behind them. NFL teams know what they're getting when they take an NFL player because of what the previously mentioned players have done, and sometimes they're more willing to take a risk on them because of that instead of a player from a lesser-known school.
The rumblings begin every year around this time once the coaching carousel slows down a bit, so here is a list of players that have a legitimate case to go pro (from most-likely to least-likely), as well as how confident I am that they'll be returning at this point in time.
Running back Joseph Randle: 25% confidence that he'll return
Randle had a second-straight year of clearing the 1,000-yard mark, and even though he was a little silent in the middle of the season statistics-wise, he likely boosted his draft stock even more. That lull was brought on by quarterback injuries and backup Jeremy Smith injuring his foot against Texas, and Randle showed his durability by regularly grabbing almost all the carries in each of those midseason games.
Randle will likely submit his draft evaluation papers and see where he's projected to go, then make a decision on the subject. He's told me numerous times he hasn't made a decision yet, and I don't take him as the type of guy who would lie about that. If he's projected anywhere from the 3rd round up, I'd go if I was him. If I were a gambling man that put more than $5 on a hand of blackjack, I'd put big money on him getting the ideal evaluation and running for the money.
Safety Shamiel Gary: 30%
I've heard rumors of Gary jetting after this season numerous times this year, and it doesn't really surprise me. After being hyped up as the next coming of former safety Markelle Martin, Gary was basically a flop. He was solid in stopping the run, but protecting against the pass was a completely different story. I'm basing that percentage off of the rumors I've heard and that alone, as I haven't talked to Gary about the subject, but don't be surprised if the No. 7 jersey isn't out there when spring rolls around.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert: 50%
Another guy that didn't live up to the hype this season, but I don't know if that will stop him from heading to the NFL. Gilbert's the most athletic player on any field he steps on, and would be able to compete in an NFL practice because of that and his size, at least in my limited opinion. If he gets a decent grade back from the NFL guys, it wouldn't surprise me to hear of his decision to depart from Stillwater. As the percentage says, I think it's a toss-up with Gilbert.
Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett: 70%
Easily one of the most dominant players on the Oklahoma State team this year, and it's guaranteed that the NFL noticed. He's an SEC-caliber tackle, which is ideal in the league, and he has the motor that makes scouts drool. Do I think he goes after the dream this offseason? It can be debated, but I don't think he's polished enough to go just yet, and his advisors are likely telling him the same thing. Percentages are in favor of another great year of watching him and James Castleman dominate opposing offensive lines, and I surely hope we all get lucky enough to watch that again.
Safety Daytawion Lowe: 80%
Lowe was the surprise leading tackler of last year's team after Johnny Thomas was ruled ineligible at the beginning of the season, and he's been the most solid player in the Cowboy secondary since he was named the starter. A bruising run-stopper that's a solid guy in pass-protection, and I think he's having the time of his life. Not only that, but solid safeties are one of the few positions in the league that teams always love to have, and that means he'll definitely get a chance to compete when he decides to take it to the next level. I think he stays another year to polish his coverage skills and finishes out his senior season with a third-straight strong performance.
Linebacker Shaun Lewis: 90%
One of the leaders of the defense, and one of their best players. The downside on him is that he's a little undersized (listed at 5'11), and NFL scouts are stuck to their cookie-cutter-sized players. Lewis is probably one of the best players on OSU, but because of his size and a bit of a down year this season for both him and his unit, he'll all but certainly return for his senior year.
Receiver Blake Jackson: 95%
A monster receiver that has a dropping problem, which is a huge problem to have. Jackson is a beast, but he was plagued with a bad case of skillet-hands this season. Because of that, he'll be back next year barring a crazy decision that will likely leave him unemployed or on a practice squad somewhere until he figures it out.