Update: Tide’s Richardson, Kirkpatrick, Hightower headed to the NFL

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Somewhat lost in the afterglow of a second BcS title in three years was the fact that Alabama could very well lose at least a couple of key pieces to early entry into the NFL draft.

Thursday afternoon, that “could very well” turned into a definitive need for Nick Saban to reload at two key positions yet again.

At a previously scheduled press conference, running back Trent Richardson and defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick (both pictured) announced that they will be leaving eligibility on the table and making themselves available for the April draft.  Both are projected to be taken in the first round, which, along with possessing two championship rings apiece, prompted both players to do the expected and leave Tuscaloosa early.

“These young men have done a fabulous job of representing the University of Alabama, their families and themselves with their hard work, their dedication and their commitment to excellence, not only on the football field, but also by the kind of people that they have been,” said head coach Nick Saban in a statement. “I know it is a difficult decision for these guys. They both love the University of Alabama, but they have worked hard all their lives to create the opportunity to play at a place like this, to have the success they have had at a place like this and also to create opportunities for themselves and their future. I want you to know that we are 100 percent supportive of both of these young men in terms of what their choice is.”

Richardson was a first-team All-SEC selections following the 2011 season, while Kirkpatrick was a second-team pick for the second straight season.  Richardson was also second-team selections in 2010.

As for replacing the duo, Richardson’s successor may have the “easiest” go of it based simply on sheer numbers; while Eddie Lacy doesn’t possess Richardson’s explosiveness, the junior-to-be does appear to be a more-than-solid candidate to at least carry a sizable chunk of the Tide running game.  Or there’s Jalston Fowler or Dee Hart — provided he’s fully recovered from a knee injury and has no setbacks — or T.J. Yeldon or… well, you get the point.

The loss of Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, is magnified by the fact that the other starting corner, DeQuan Menzie, is gone as well due to expired eligibility.  Additionally, star safety Mark Barron will be lost to graduation as well.

As they seemingly do every year, though, Saban and his coaching staff will merely reach into the cupboard and pull out highly-touted players to replace the ones lost to early NFL entry or graduation.  That’s just how the Tide rolls, I guess you could say.

UPDATED 3:49 p.m. ET: Just to take care of this little bit of housecleaning, Alabama confirmed in a press release that LB Dont’a Hightower has decided he will also declare for the draft.

“After four great years at the University of Alabama, I have decided it is time to make myself eligible for the NFL Draft,” Hightower said. “The chance to be a key part of our national championship team this year made for the perfect end of my Alabama career. I can’t thank Coach Saban, Coach Smart and the entire coaching staff enough for helping mold me in the player and person I am today. I also want to say thanks to my teammates and everyone at the University of Alabama that helped make this such a special experience.”

The redshirt junior was a consensus All-American in 2011, and started 40 games during his Tide career.

There was some good news on the attrition front for the Tide as the same release confirmed that offensive lineman Chance Warmack and defensive back Robert Lester will be returning.