The Dilemma: Stay in college or turn pro

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 for advice when it comes to making it.

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 usually a true junior or a red-shirt sophomore eligibility wise. There have been a few cases where a players 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 Advisory Committee to get an idea of what their value is according to NFL scouts. In most cases, the committee gives the player a rough idea of what the player’s value is.

That process can be flawed in that it makes up only about 50% 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. Missing are the verified measurables (height, weight, speed), character information (both personal and football), and of course, medical information. All of that information is very pertinent to an accurate grade. By league rule, scouts on school visits during the fall are not allowed to ask coaches and support staff about underclassmen. The only time that changes is if the school voluntarily tells scouts that they should look at a certain player because he may be entering the draft. When that happens, scouts can do as thorough a job on the underclassmen as they do with seniors

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

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 Jevan 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 of 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.

Last year, over 100 underclassmen gave up the final years of their college eligibility to enter the draft. Most of those 100+ players thought they would be high draft picks. The reality is, over 35 of these players did not get drafted last May. At least two of these players were given high grades from the committee, but after background checks and medical results came in to play, teams passed.

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 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 on how the process really works. 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 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.

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.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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