Stay or Go?

Last year, there were roughly 250 college underclassman that applied to be graded by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee. The process incorporates a cross section of NFL scouts and/or scouting directors who form an opinion on a players potential draft status. The information that comes back to the player is usually vague.

By the deadline of Jan 15, 2014, 98 underclassmen declared for the draft. 62 were later drafted, while 36 went undrafted. 16 were drafted in the first round.

So did those drafted below the first round make a mistake by declaring early? What about those who were taken very late or not drafted at all? There’s no doubt some players entered the draft prematurely and several others, regardless of where they were drafted made the right decision.

So how does a young player and his family make an informed decision when so many people with the information he needs has bias, liability and conflicts?

The first thing a young player and his family have to realize is that exploring his option of declaring is NOT being selfish. Football is a team sport with a stigma that if one focuses on his own future he is being selfish and putting his team second, primarily because the research and inquiries that need to be made have to start during the season. College coaches and administrators don’t like their players looking over the horizon and are usually very reluctant to help them and give them the time, respect and resources to make an informed decision. Hence, many universities are guilty of being selfish by not giving a young man the help he needs.

When a player doesn’t get the unbiased help they need from their university, they rely on sources that are readily available to seek an opinion. Those sources are usually conflicted agents who most likely want the player to come out.

So what’s the best way for an underclassman to proceed? Here are 10 things every player should consider before making a decision.

1) A player and his family should let their intentions be known before the start of their third college season (usually his junior year). This way, it doesn’t come as a surprise to his coaching staff, and if he does leave the coaches can start preparing to replace the player. The player should appoint one family member or qualified family confidant as their point person to acquire and sort information as it comes in. There are no reasons to keep one’s intentions private. If a player tells his head coach/pro college liaison that he wants to explore entering the draft early, it’s their moral duty to inform scouts of the player’s intentions. If a player feels his university is not supportive and wont relay the intention to the NFL community, then he should announce it publicly.

2) Apply to the NFL advisory committee right at the end of the regular season. Don’t wait. Be one of the first in line to get your evaluation letter. Also note that the advisory board has to be conservative in their projections.

3) Players must ask themselves some important questions before they consider coming out. Questions such as: Will my coaching staff continue to help my growth and development as a football player? Will my school's strength and conditioning program continue to help get me bigger, stronger and quicker? Are my coaches helping continually raise my football IQ? Am I endangering my health by staying another year? Does my university have my best interests in mind, or only their own?

4) A player must consider his health. If he has some degenerative knee, back/spine and/or concussion history he may be on track for a short NFL career. So why not get started a year early. Also, do your trainers and doctors always look out for your best interests?

The other question is, am I taking a beating and am I seriously risking injury by staying in the same system?For example, you may be a QB with no offensive line who gets sacked and hit 10 times a game. Or a running back, who normally has a short shelf life anyway, getting 30 plus carries a game. If there is great risk of injury at your university you strongly consider leaving early.

5) Can I duplicate or improve on my previous season? Many players who have a great junior year have a hard time duplicating or topping it the following year. Usually because opponents work harder to stop the player the following year.

6) Seek opinions from retired experts. There are numerous retired NFL evaluators who would love to give an opinion on a player’s drafts status. Just make sure you get the right ones. Greg Gabriel, Daniel Jermiah, Jerry Angelo, Louis Riddick, Charley Casserly and Ted Sundquist are just a few good ones.

7) Don’t trust the Internet! So many young players declare because they saw their name rated high on a draft blog. Dig into the source and don’t rely on just any one website.

8) Ask the agent community! Don’t ask the agent community. 75% of all agents will be biased in recommending a player come out early if that agent thinks he can sign that player. However, experienced agents are direct conduits to the scouting community and their opinions. They can get the information a player needs to make an informed decision. But it’s best to have someone from the school filter the information to keep the agent honest.

9) Look at the history of the draft and the position you play. If you are a guard, center, fullback, H-back, tight end, safety, kicker, punter and even a Sam linebacker, there is a good chance you won’t be a first round pick anyway. There are very few at these positions that get drafted in the first round. Therefore, if you are most likely a fourth round graded center after your junior year there is a good chance you will only be a 3rd round graded center at best your senior year.

10) Is money important to you? The higher one is drafted the more money they will make in their first year. So doing everything possible to get into that first round makes sense. That usually means staying for your senior year. However, scouts can be forgiving for juniors and harder on seniors. There are several cases where players were rated as first round picks after a strong junior campaign. Then they get game planned and hyped so much they’re never able to duplicate and live up to their previous season. And sometimes the scouting community just starts looking for flaws on the highest rated players.

Players who were three-year starters at their university and have accomplished all they can accomplish should look favorably into coming out early. All others should really be more conservative and lean on staying in. The bottom line is to recruit your university into the process, get opinions from multiple sources, don’t let the process become a distraction and don’t make an emotional decision. Make an informed business decision.

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