GETTY IMAGES/ RONALD MARTINEZ CEDRIC BENSON GOT 'EM HOOKED Longhorns never seem to get burnt by the NFL Draft [size=-1]By Charean Williams[/size] [size=-1]STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER[/size] The NFL granted 49 players early entry into this weekend's NFL Draft. The draft-eligible underclassmen come from Vanderbilt, Maryland, Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Utah, Nebraska -- almost everywhere, it seems, except the University of Texas. For the seventh consecutive year since Mack Brown became coach, UT didn't have a player leave early for the NFL Draft. The two Longhorns projected as top-10 picks Saturday -- running back Cedric Benson and linebacker Derrick Johnson -- exhausted their college eligibility. "Number one, they are happy," said Brown, UT's coach since 1998. "They like the environment in Austin, Texas. They are treated like kings, being a football player at the University of Texas." The NFL has granted 269 underclassmen special eligibility since 1999, none from the University of Texas. Brown said he believes the only player he has had depart early is running back Natrone Means, who left North Carolina after three seasons and was a second-round choice of the San Diego Chargers in 1993. Johnson and Benson both considered turning pro after their junior seasons, but their return gave Texas a chance to win a national championship and Benson a shot at the Heisman Trophy. "I guess it's because of the family atmosphere that we have down in Texas," Johnson said. "It's like home, and nobody wants to leave. I didn't want to leave. Roy [Williams didn't want to leave] . I can go down the line. It's just something about Texas. And I think we're better off [staying another year]. " In 1988, University of Pittsburgh fullback Craig Heyward petitioned the NFL for early entry as a fourth-year junior, and he became a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. A year later, Barry Sanders was granted "special permission" after his third season at Oklahoma State, and the Detroit Lions selected him No. 3 overall. But it wasn't until 1990 that the NFL rewrote its long-standing rule that college players had to exhaust their eligibility before declaring for the draft. The NFL, having successfully defended its draft eligibility rule in court last year, accepts players three years removed from high school. The Longhorns have had a handful of early entries, including defensive end Tony Brackens, a second-round choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996. But all came before Brown arrived in Austin. "We've had enough guys go to the draft and be successful and they come back and advise [current UT players]," Brown said. "We're lucky so far, that every man who has stayed has helped his draft status." Brown has had eight Longhorns selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. Running back Ricky Williams, offensive lineman Leonard Davis, receiver Roy Williams, offensive tackle Mike Williams and cornerback Quentin Jammer are among the UT players who likely would have been first-round picks as juniors. Quarterback Chris Simms, a third-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, said he never seriously considered coming out early, even though he thinks he would have been a higher choice in 2002. "I think it's a number of things [that convinces players to stay at UT]," Simms said last week. "You go to school there and you play football there, and you realize it's a pretty special place right off the bat. It becomes hard to leave. You get used to that atmosphere. The other thing is a lot of our guys have been lucky in that they haven't had that financial need to leave after their junior year. ... I also think you have to give some credit to coach Brown. He takes care of his players. He took care of Roy and Cedric and Derrick Johnson and made them feel like they were going to be a big part of the program their senior years if they came back." Benson and Johnson did not improve their draft stock much, if at all, by returning for another season. Both likely would have been first-round picks a year ago, as well. "I was pretty close [to leaving after the 2003 season]," Benson said, "but I just realized that I wanted to make a direct impact on coming to the NFL and be ready to play and start off strong. At the time, I felt like there were things I could improve on to be as successful as I wanted to be. So I thought staying in was the best choice for me." Next year, quarterback Vince Young, a redshirt junior in 2005, could be Brown's first Longhorn to turn pro early. Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. lists Young as the best junior quarterback in the country, ahead of Florida's Chris Leak and Iowa's Drew Tate. "One will leave one day," Brown said. 2005 NFL Draft Saturday-Sunday Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York TV: Saturday (Rounds 1-3), 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m., ESPN, and 4:30 p.m. until conclusion on ESPN2; Sunday (Rounds 4-7), 10 a.m.-5 p.m., ESPN Senior citizens Longhorns seniors selected in the first round of the NFL Draft the past four years: OL Leonard Davis (2001, 2nd to Arizona) An underachiever with impressive skills. Good run blocker who struggles in pass protection. DL Casey Hampton (2001, 19th to Pittsburgh) Excellent run defender with great overall strength. Has a non-stop motor and can shed blocks. CB Quentin Jammer (2002, 5th to San Diego) A physical, aggressive player who is emerging as one of the league's better corners. OL Mike Williams (2002, 4th to Buffalo) Solid starter who has failed to live up to expectations. Questions about work ethic persist. WR Roy Williams (2004, 7th to Detroit) Displayed great hands and a knack for making big plays in a successful first season. DL Marcus Tubbs (2004, 23rd to Seattle) A classic run-stuffer with all the physical tools, but he's been known to take plays off.