Greg Gabriel: The problem with declaring early for the NFL Draft

To stay in school or turn pro? There are too many unknowns in the current system

Published:
Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) is pursued by TCU safety Nick Orr (18) on a 44-yard carry during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) is pursued by TCU safety Nick Orr (18) on a 44-yard carry during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) — Eric Gay

Right now, there are many college football players who are trying to decide whether or not they should enter the NFL Draft. It’s a tough decision, but my experience tells me that many of these players turn to the wrong people when trying to make that decision.

According to NFL rules, a player must be three years removed from his high school graduation before he is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. In most cases, that means that the player is usually a true junior or a red-shirt sophomore eligibility-wise. There have been a few cases where a player has entered the draft after his freshman year, but that has only happened if he didn’t go directly to college after completing high school.

For years, players have had the opportunity to submit their name to the NFL College Underclassmen Advisory Committee to get an idea of what their value is according to NFL scouts. In the past few years, the advisory committee has changed how they "grade" an underclassman.

The committee used to give a prospect a grade with a round value from the first through the third rounds, rounds four through seven or "you will not be drafted." Now they tell a player he has a chance of getting drafted in the first round, second round or "stay in school." They never tell a player what his strengths or weaknesses are or anything else about his talent.

That process the committee uses can be flawed in that it makes up only about 50 percent of the real evaluation process. A player can submit his name to the committee in November or early December. At least six clubs will be involved in the evaluation, but the evaluation is only made on tape study. What is missing is verified measurables (height, weight, speed), character information (both personal and football) and, of course, medical information.

All of that information is pertinent to an accurate grade. It used to be that scouts could not ask about a school's underclassmen when they made a school visit. Some schools would volunteer the information to scouts if they felt the player might be leaving early. This year, the league changed the rules a bit and allowed scouts to inquire about underclassmen, but the school still doesn't have to give out the information if they don't want to.

Unfortunate as it may be, players who think they might enter the draft turn to the wrong sources to get their value. They often look at where the different network draft analysts have them rated coming out of the sophomore year.

The problem with that is these analysts really don’t have any idea of what a player’s value is that early in the process. They are guessing based on one or two games of production. When they do this guessing, it is never done based on real game tape and play-after-play study. Their “guess” is based purely on a few big plays in big games.

Proof of that is many of these “experts” within a few days of a current draft put out a top 25 or 30 players for the following draft. If you ever compared that list with their top 25 players, say, seven months later, the lists are totally different. Why? Because these “experts” aren’t really experts. Though many fans think these people know, they don’t.

I was on the college advisory committee for a number of years. One year, an ESPN analyst said in August leading up to the college season that Ole Miss junior quarterback Jevon Snead was a top-5 pick in the following draft. That season, Snead had a horrible year and even lost his starting job. Regardless of how poorly he played, he still submitted his name to the committee for evaluation. He got back a grade that said he may not even get drafted.

His family protested to the head of the committee at the time, saying “well, ESPN said he was a top-5 pick”. They were told that ESPN is not the NFL and they are not experts in that type evaluation.

Regardless, Snead still left school early thinking he would be a high pick, He never got drafted and was not signed as a free agent until weeks after the draft. Once he got to camp, he didn’t last long. This type of situation happens every year and every year kids are disappointed because they find out they aren’t as good as people told them they were.

In the last three drafts, there have been an average of just under 100 underclassmen who have given up thier college eligibility to enter the draft. Most of those players thought they would be high draft picks. Reality is close to 40 percent of thise players didn't get drafted each year. Some of these players were given high-round grades by the advisory committee but still went undrafted because of either character or medical concerns, two areas that the committee does not factor into their "grade".

College players also look to agents for advice on making the decision to enter the draft. The agents are no better qualified to offer advice than the network analysts. Why? Because they just don’t know. Some agents will call teams and try to get a “read” on players they are recruiting, but what they get is a best-case estimate on the player’s value.

The problem is the player and his family are being told the kid is a first- or second-round player when reality is his value may be much lower. It’s not until draft day that they find out the truth and then they are disappointed they made the decision to leave school.

The only real way to cure this problem is for the league to do a better job educating college players on how the process works. They need to have people go out to the colleges and inform the players. Educating the players and the college coaches on the scouting process would go a long way into lowering the number of underclassmen who come out.

I have no problem with a player leaving school early, if he is in fact "ready" to play in the NFL. When I say that, I don’t just mean physically ready but also emotionally ready. There are a number of kids who think they are ready because they have the size, strength and athleticism needed to play in the NFL. While that may be true, they also need to be mentally and emotionally ready to play and compete.

In the last few years, there have been far too many redshirt sophomores entering the draft. I feel it is ludicrous for kids that young to leave school. They aren’t prepared to handle real life.

In college, players are competing against fellow 18-to-22-year-olds. In the NFL, they are competing against men. These “men” don’t want to lose their jobs and will make it difficult for the youngster to take it. If a young player isn’t emotionally ready to compete on that level, he will get eaten alive by veteran NFL players.

In college, life is simple. Players don’t have a lot to worry about. Go to class, stay eligible and go to practice. Once they get to the NFL, it becomes a job and they are on their own. Practice, meeting and physical training can mean 8-10 hour days, five days a week. There is a lot of free time and they need to be mature enough to handle that free time.

They also now have bills to pay like every other adult. Mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, bank loans, car payments, etc. Life isn’t as easy and no one is looking over their shoulder telling them what to do. They have to be prepared to handle these things and many aren’t.

What will happen is their natural talent may get them a job for a couple of years, but because they aren’t emotionally prepared, they will lose their job rather quickly and have nothing to fall back on. My advice: Unless you are a lock first- or second-round player and emotionally ready to compete with adults, stay in school! You will be better off for it.