Cornerback Haden going pro

Florida junior cornerback Joe Haden announced Sunday that he's declared for the NFL draft in what could be the start of a mass exodus of Florida underclassmen leaving early for the pros.

Haden is rated as one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft, and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he was coming out. Other Florida juniors who may also come out are defensive end Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez, center Maurkice Pouncey, guard Mike Pouncey and safety Major Wright.

"This was a tough decision, and I spent a lot of time with my family talking about it," said Haden, who started all 40 games in which he played. "I'm so proud that I had the chance to be a Gator. It's been one of the best experiences of my life. Coach [Urban] Meyer and coach [Vance] Bedford have helped me in so many ways. I'll always be thankful to them for everything, and I know I'll never forget the fans in Gator Nation."

The All-American led the Gators with four interceptions this season and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back. He also had 68 tackles, 10 pass breakups, three sacks and two forced fumbles.

The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida, Haden started every game in three seasons. He finished with 218 tackles and eight interceptions.

"We're sad to see Joe go because he's a great leader and a dynamic player," interim coach Steve Addazio said. "But we know that with his tremendous talent, he will be a special player at the next level. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Joe, and we wish him nothing but the best."

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Jan. 15.

Chris Low covers the SEC for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.