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February 4, 2014 @ 4:23 pm
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Record Of 98 Underclassmen In Draft Hurts NFL, College Football

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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Alabama head coach Nick Saban doesn't like the fact that a record 98 underclassmen were accepted into the 2014 NFL Draft, stating that it hurts college football, the NFL and the juniors and redshirt sophomores themselves. The consensus among NFL scouts is that the scouting community feels the same way.
The NFL accepted a record 98 entries into the 2014 draft from underclassmen (juniors or redshirt sophomores) in January. That’s up from 73 underclassmen in the draft a year ago, and is the fifth straight year that there has been an increase. In 2009, only 46 underclassmen entered the draft, but that number rose to 53 the next year, to 56 in 2011 and to 65 in 2012.

The rise in underclassmen entries has alarmed both the NFL and the world of college football, which essentially serves as the training ground and minor leagues for professional football. The reason for the growing number of juniors and redshirt sophomores bolting for the NFL is of course money-driven, but it’s having a negative impact on both the NFL and college football.

At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., PewterReport.com listened to Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban addressed the problem of underclassmen leaving college in droves for the NFL.

“I think that the natural order of things is for a guy to graduate from high school to develop as a player in college and to graduate from college,” Saban said. “In most cases that takes three and a half or four years. I stated to you the exception in that if somebody is a first-round draft pick that’s a financial decision they have to make to file for the draft. I think more and more we’re getting the basketball mentality in football – that I can go straight from high school to the NBA. More parents and more players are going into college with the idea that I’m going to be there for three years and I’m going to get out as fast as I can and go to the NFL.”

Part of the problem is timing. If a star player redshirts during his freshman season in college and stays in school through his senior year and is drafted in the first round at age 24, he will be signed to a five-year deal, which means he won’t be eligible for NFL free agency until age 29.

That player might have to play five years on his rookie deal under the rookie salary cap, which could stymie his earning potential. And if that player successfully lands a big contract in free agency it will likely be that player’s only opportunity to do so as many NFL players’ skills decline past the age of 30.

However, if a player leaves college as a redshirt sophomore or junior at the age of 21 or 22 and is selected in the first round, NFL free agency could come at age 26 or 27, and that player could receive the opportunity to get two big money contracts if he stays healthy and plays at a very high level. That’s why so many agents are convincing college players to abandon their senior seasons and get into the NFL so the free agency clock can get started.

The problem is that many of the underclassmen entering the draft aren’t fully prepared to play in the NFL and make a meaningful impact. If a third-round pick can’t crack the starting lineup in a few years he may get lost in the shuffle and get bounced off the roster in favor of a new rookie deemed to have more upside. That’s why the average length of stay in the NFL is only three and half years.

Saban believes that football players can increase their chances of achieving NFL longevity by staying in college football until their eligibility expires after their senior season. That scenario would help not only college football, but the NFL, too.

“Last year there were [73] players that signed up for the draft,” Saban said. “Only 37 of those guys were drafted in the first three rounds. I think there was something like 19 that never got drafted at all. The rest got drafted in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh round. That’s not a very secure future for you in terms of what your career might bring for you, the number of years you might play and how much money you might make.

“How can the NFL develop these players as well as we could develop them in college where they could have their most productive years in a college program? I don’t think the NFL really wants this. I don’t think the colleges really want this. I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the players. I don’t know what the solution of the problem really is.”

The more juniors that declare for the NFL, the weaker that leaves the senior class the following season, a point recently made by MMQB's Greg Bedard on SI.com. That impacts the players in several ways. First, it reduces the talent in senior all-star games, such as the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, which helps NFL scouts evaluate talent. The consensus of the scouting community in Mobile, Ala. was that this was one of the least-talented Senior Bowls in recent memory in terms of first-round talent.

Second, it forces NFL scouts to do a crash course of film evaluation on underclassmen. Scouts love it when underclassmen don’t come out, because it increases their workload trying to cram their evaluations in a short period of time. Doing the necessary in-game study, film study and on-campus research is tough enough during the fall and winter when the senior, draft-eligible players are known. But to have to start studying another 98 players in January and cram in that work before the NFL Scouting Combine in February and pro days in March and April makes their jobs more difficult because the investigation into senior draft prospects is far from being complete.

And third, it may prompt head coaches to shy away from underclassmen from a maturity and developmental standpoint unless they are a star-caliber player in the first round because the leash is now shorter than ever on NFL head coaches. Tampa Bay only gave Greg Schiano two seasons before firing him. Cleveland fired Rob Chudzinski after one season a year after Jacksonville fired Mike Mularkey after one season.

Over the past three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have drafted just three underclassmen out of the team’s 21 selections. Last year, the Bucs drafted a pair of junior defensive linemen in nose tackle Akeem Spence and defensive end William Gholston in the fourth round. In 2012, Tampa Bay selected junior strong safety Mark Barron in the first round with the seventh overall pick.

But there is no telling how new head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht truly feel about drafting underclassmen and if the Bucs will be more prone to do it or will shy away from it. With the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, there is a chance that the Bucs will spend their first-round pick on an underclassmen, especially if they want to select a quarterback as the top three signal callers – Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles – are all juniors. But several Bucs sources have indicated that the new regime believe that Mike Glennon has the tools that offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo can work with.

Over the next two days, PewterReport.com will profile 10 underclassmen that could help the Buccaneers in the 2014 NFL Draft, which takes place from May 8-10. On Wednesday, PewterReport.com will profile five first-round underclassmen draft prospects, followed by five more underclassmen that should be available in rounds 2-7 on Thursday. Stay tuned.
Last modified on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 20:09

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  • avatar

    I really feel sorry for poor Nick Saban losing all those good players early to the NFL. Bama has had the top recruiting class or near the top every year since Saban arrived. When you sign that type 4 star and 5 star high school talent every year, you know most of those players won't be around 4 years when you sign them. If the NCAA complains, then shame on them. Many of these great athletes come from poor families and even with a scholarship they struggle to survive financially. The NCAA refuses to give these kids any kind of a financial break at all. College football is nothing more than minor league football. These kids make a ton of money for their respective schools and they get no financial consideration what so ever. It's shameful and hypocritical beyond belief. The gall of the NCAA is appalling. They preach all this high minded bull crap about student athletes when a large percentage of their players don't manage to graduate. The NCAA motto should be simply. "The NCAA where we get something for nothing" The coaches should stop the whiney hiney and campaign hard for a meaningful financial consideration for these kids.
  • avatar

    someone mentioned giving them some incentive to stay in school...how bout the chance to earn a college degree, which for the majority of them, will earn them more in their lifetime.
  • avatar

    or shorten the length of the rookie contracts for those who graduate.
  • avatar

    Why not have some sort of incentive for college players to stay longer? Something like the more years you stay in college the more money you can make during your rookie contract. Give these kids a reason to stay in college.
  • avatar

    Sounds like Saban is crying because he is losing his players. Poor Baby.
  • avatar

    I agree with Surferdudes. This one is really easy. You don't even have to go back to court. This is a simple case of supply and demand. If the NFL teams don't think players have developed enough when they come out as redshirt sophmores and juniors, don't draft them. If you're so afraid that player won't pan out mentally and will have to be cut in 3 years, only draft seniors. Let the other teams decimate their rosters with these guys meanwhile you roll right over those teams on the way to the Super Bowl. The guys in college will see the early entries into the NFL not getting drafted or drafted in rounds 6 & 7 and stay in school longer. So if NFL teams remove the demand, the supply of players wanting to come out will greatly reduce. A comparision is the number of football players that get arrested for serious crimes in college, like sexual assault or drug traffiking. Their draft stock goes way down and most are not drafted at all. That steers most players from getting in trouble with the law at all, even DUI's and possesion charges. Demand for these types of players reduce, so the supply reduces as well. Now all that said I think the reason teams haven't started to implement this idea for underclassmen is because they think Saban is full on crap on this one. The rewards of drafting an underclassmen still clearly outweigh the risks.
  • avatar

    If I remember correctly, the five year rookie contracts are a consequence of the NFLPA and league veterans wanting more money being spent on veterans and not newly drafted and unproven rookies. Another example of unintended consequences coming back to bite someone in the rump. I do believe the college players would be better off staying in school longer for both their football skills development (so they have a better chance of sticking in the league) and, more importantly, their life in general - they just may actually complete their college education and get a degree which will help them for the vast majority of their life (the argument that they can always go back and finish school is a fallacy - it happens on extremely rare occasions). However, I cannot blame them from making the jump - money drives everything and your age factors into the equation in a inversely proportional manner to your years in the league (for most non-star players). I hope each college player contemplating leaving school early gets a brutally honest assessment of their ability and chances in the league so they can plan accordingly. As a side note, I will admit that Saban complaining is a joke as if he really cared about the real issue and not how it affects him.
  • avatar

    I wonder how many more mistakes are made when drafting a non-senior. I remember back in the old days drafting a QB who was a junior entry (Trent Dilfer) was a greater risk than a senior who had another year to develop and mature. Now it has become the norm. I never understood why the NFL had to concede and allow college players in their third year to enter the Draft. If a doctor has to intern a given number of years before given credentials, why not a football player? I can't blame the young men. Heck, even a late round signing bonus is a nice chunk of change for some. When I went to University of Tampa we had a few players, including RB Leon McQuay, OG Noah Jackson and OT Ron Mikilocheck (sp) who left their junior years and went to the Canadian League because they weren't eligible for the NFL. No going back now. As Ronde would say, "It is what it is."
  • avatar

    The NFL Signs TV Deals Worth $27 Billion! That was the headline in Forbes December 14, 2011. The NFL’s gravy train rolls on. On that day 2 years ago, the NFL announced nine-year extensions to its broadcast television packages with Fox, NBC and CBS under which the networks are expected to pay roughly 60% more. The new agreements will run through the 2022 season as the current deals expire after the 2013 season. The NFL is the land of milk and honey. Most of these kids see football as the way to get their families out of poverty and who could blame them when the colleges are making millions also from TV revenues. Whoever heard of a college professor making 8 million a year as does Nick Saban at Alabama? Can’t blame the kids. Didn’t Rod Tidwell say “Show me the money!”? http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-09-26/the-amazing-growth-in-college-football-revenues
  • avatar

    Saban, Really? Right on point surferdudes. Want to keep college players around longer, real easy, PAY THEM. Colleges are making droves of money on these players. If they were getting paid a representable amount in terms of what is brought into the college they would perhaps be close to the rookie salary pay in the NFL. It is a business even at the collegiate level. There is absolutely no reasonable reason players should play for free in college. I don't blame these players at all and surprised there isn't more.
  • avatar

    The nfl has NO place complaining about the influx of underclassmen. If they want things to go back to the way it was then they need to get rid of the 5 yr bargain basement first contract. It's awful that the league is getting billions on the backs of these kids. Pay them fair and they will stay in school longer. I can't blame a kid for wanting to start their pro careers ($), when their first chance to hit free agency is one yr away from the dreaded 30 when the league deems them on the decline. The nflpa really screwed up negotiating this agreement. Goody is the worst commish ever.
  • avatar

    Saban is a classic, O.K. Nick easy for you to say, make about 8 mill a year? You sure didn't stick it out with the Dolphins, or LSU? I bet you'd like to keep all your star players for another year, win more championships, you and Bama make more money, what do the players get? Shorter pro career, more concussions, less money. Football is not basketball, a high school kid couldn't go right to the pros physically so that's not going to happen. However I believe a 20 year old can, and should be able to make the jump after only his second college season. Don't buy Nick's argument they'd be better pros if they stay their senior year. More likely to get injured staying in school.
  • avatar

    Tedford and the QB coach can't teach a QB to have the nerve to stand in the pocket and take a hit. That is one of the things Glennon lacks and that is what makes good QB's great. To stand in the pocket and at all costs get the ball out , on time and on target. I would think if the NFL wanted to stop drafting underclassmen that they would go back to court and look for a change in that law.
  • avatar

    I am glad to read from PewterReportSR that Coach is not leaning towards obtaining a QB at least in the 1st round.
  • avatar

    As for players bolting to the nfl . . . one could imagine creative ways to making this work; such as a junior league. The Nfl has more or less tried something like this before; maybe it wasn't practical then . . .
  • avatar

    While this may not be what Saban wants to see nor the NFL, my understanding is that this was a result of a lawsuit that was decided in favor of a College Football Player who had not graduated from college but wanted to go out for the NFL anyway, so I am not sure what is happening can be changed without the Courts taking a different stance. In a perfect world I don't think the NFL should take anything but college football players after they have completed their Senior Year of elgibility--the way it used to be before the lawsuit.
  • avatar

    As usual, the only reason I'd draft a Qb that high, is 1) I don't have a qb; I mean literally don't have a qb, or 2) this Qb is Dan Marino, or Joe Montana-ish(Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers).
  • avatar

    Jimmy Garoppolo has the quick release, but not that strong of an arm(not Marino like). Blake Bortles seems the most talented all around, but he might have holes in his game that can take years to correct; he's a classic coach killer; you can draft him, but you'd better have a plan for winning while this guy develops.
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