Syracuse OT Pugh declares for NFL draft

Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh has decided to skip his senior year to enter the NFL draft, he announced Thursday.

The two-time, first-team Big East selection started every game he played at Syracuse. He also has completed his degree requirements in finance.

“Coach (Doug) Marrone and Coach (Greg) Adkins have been great throughout my career, including through this process,” Pugh said in a statement. “I wanted to be honest with everyone as I made this decision and they were the same with me. My Syracuse career was the best four years of my life. My teammates, coaches, the staff and the fans have been great. I would not change anything about my decision to attend Syracuse or my career. I am so happy I came to Syracuse University. I will always be active in the Orange football program and the Syracuse community. I love the Orange. Go ‘Cuse.”

Pugh, one of the top-rated junior tackles available for the draft, showed how valuable he is to the offensive line this season in particular. Syracuse struggled to run the ball in the first four games of the season, when he was out with an injury. His return to the lineup helped paved the way for 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith.

Syracuse averaged 187 yards per game on the ground, its best production since 2004. Pugh and the rest of the Syracuse offensive line allowed just 16 sacks this season. Pugh ended up blocking for a 1,000-yard rusher in all three seasons as a starter.

“Justin is a big part of this program turning the corner,” Marrone said in a statement. “He came in with us four years ago and gave us everything he had. We are proud of him for earning his degree and for what he has accomplished on the field as a leader of this team. He has earned it. I believe he will be very successful at the next level and in everything he does outside of football. Justin will always be part of the Orange football family.”

Pugh joins Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan as the only two Big East players who have announced they would leave school early for the draft.