NFL’s “Pandora’s Box” Continues To Deplete The College Football Ranks

By Dave-Te Thomas, The NFL Draft Report Editor

As of Friday, the league had ninety-eight underclassmen confident in their ability to play at the next level. That list does not include four other underclassmen that have already graduated ahead of schedule. Like most of the recent drafts, scouts are anticipating that a good portion of these athletes will be in for a huge disappointment when their names are not called on draft day.

The high amount of “not ready for prime time” athletes has raised serious concerns for scouting directors and general managers throughout the league. Yet, the NFL has only itself to blame for the recent influx of talent bolting the collegiate ranks for greener pastures. In 2011, the new collective bargaining agreement greatly limited the amount of money a rookie would receive in his initial pro contract, as wage scale limits prevented teams from doling out big bucks for untested talent.

During the 2011 draft, fifty-six players with college eligibility left their respective teams with hopes for playing in the NFL. Forty-three of those early entrants were drafted (76.79%), with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton making it the third consecutive year that an underclassmen was selected with the first choice.

Since non-seniors were first eligible to be drafted in 1990, fifteen first overall picks (including seven of the last eight drafts) had been players who entered the draft early. Eight of the first ten players chosen in the 2011 draft were non – seniors, which broke the record of six set in 1997 and matched in 2006. Defensive rush end/linebacker Von Miller of Texas A&M (second selection by Denver) and quarterback Jake Locker of Washington (eighth pick by Tennessee) were the only two seniors among the first ten draftees that year.

A total of fifteen underclassmen in the 2011 draft heard their names called in the first round. Eleven more were taken in round two, followed by five that went in the third round, including New England using back-to-back picks for a pair of Southeastern Conference performers in tailback Stevan Ridley (LSU) and quarterback Ryan Mallett (Arkansas).

The only notable performer among underclassmen to be selected after the 2011 second round was Kansas City using the 70th pick for linebacker Justin Houston. Rounds Four-through-Seven produced nine more underclass selections, but to date, none of those athletes have been anything more than depth on the roster chart.

The following year, the league saw a then-record sixty-five underclassmen announce their intention to forgo their remaining NCAA eligibility and become eligible to be selected in the draft. Of those 65 eligible underclassmen, forty-four (67.69%) were drafted. When the Indianapolis Colts chose Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, it marked the fourth-straight year where the first overall selection was an underclassman.

Eight of the first ten players chosen in that draft were non-seniors, which matched the record set in the previous draft. Alabama safety Mark Barron (seventh choice by Tampa Bay) and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill (eighth selection by Miami) were the only two seniors among the first ten draftees in 2012. A total of fifteen underclassmen went in the opening round, followed by eight more in round two.

The third round saw seven more hear their names called, not including Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, who was taken by the Raiders during the supplemental draft, forfeiting their choice in the regular phase of that round for making that selection. Miami might have unearthed a “blue-collar” ball carrier when they took Lamar Miller in Round Four, as the running back was one of five underclassmen taken in that round. Rounds Five-through-Seven brought just five more players selected from the underclass crop.

In the 2013 draft, twenty-one of the seventy-three underclassmen who attempted to go to the NFL went undrafted, with many later signing low-cost free agent contracts. Of the fifty-two to be selected (71.23%), just three heard their names called among the top ten choices – offensive tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M (second to Jacksonville), LSU’s rush end Barkavious Mingo by Cleveland (sixth overall) and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, taken by the Jets with the ninth pick.

A total of seventeen underclassmen went in the first round of the 2013 draft, including nine among the last twelve selections. Eleven more went in Round Two, including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, tailback Eddie Lacy of Alabama, scooped up with the 61st pick by Green Bay. Round Three featured ten more underclass choices, led by San Diego’s standout receiver, Keenan Allen, taken 76th overall.

In the Fourth Round, nine more underclassmen were selected, the most notable being the 109th choice by Green Bay, as offensive tackle David Bakhtiari saw himself thrust into the starting lineup when injuries decimated the Pack’s front wall. In the next round, just five more were chosen, as receiver Kenny Stills (144th overall) saw considerable action in the second half for the Saints. LSU running back Spencer Ware 194th) was the only under-classmen taken in Round Six (by Philadelphia) and the final round added three more to the draft class, with Chicago using the 236th pick to take receiver Marquess Wilson as the final underclassmen in the draft phase.

With ninety – eight (plus four) on board for the 2014 draft, most teams agree that this record – high amount does not bode well for the talent base in college for future drafts. Over the years, the once prestigious college all – star games have been greatly affected by the dearth of talent to choose from. Under an agreement by those bowls and the NCAA, in order for those games to be sanctioned, only seniors or juniors who have graduated are eligible to play in those games.

That edict has been largely responsible for the demise of the Hula Bowl, among other all – star contests, along with an obvious “scrambling” to find quality passers for the Senior Bowl. The once highly-watched East-West Shrine Game has seen their viewership sink to an all-time low, as just those hoping to catch the eyes of scouts as a late round selection seem to litter the East-West rosters.

Even the Senior Bowl, the “grand finale” for outgoing elite college talent, has seen the quality of players available dwindle to just a few. Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage just doesn’t see how the NFL is going to be able to accommodate the record number of underclassmen who declared for the May draft.

In a recent interview, the executive director and former NFL GM and scouting director was open in voicing his concerns, “I think it’s an issue and something for the good of the game both at the college level and the NFL level that’s going to have to be addressed, one way or the other. When you see almost 100 underclassmen come into the draft, and there are 250-some odd slots, there’s going to be a lot of kids that have been sold a bill of goods come the first week of May. Personally I think it’s bad for college football and I think it’s bad for the NFL, because players are coming into the league after three years of college and they’re not ready.”

Still, league hierarchy continue to play the “Three Monkeys” (see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil) in allowing the system to run rampant. Many talent evaluators see up to sixteen of the 2014 underclass crop going in the first round of the draft. Another twenty-two received second round projections and fifteen more are targeted as third-round types. Thirty-five from this class are seen as having little-to-no opportunity for being selected during the three-day draft process.

First round targets could be (listed in alphabetical order) Kelvin Benjamin – WR – Florida State; QB – Blake Bortles – Central Florida, vying to be the top pick; Teddy Bridgewater – Louisville, competing with Bortles and Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M to be the first quarterback chosen; DE – Jadeveon Clowney – South Carolina, said to be coveted by Houston with the first pick; DE – Kony Ealy – Missouri; Manziel’s favorite target, WR – Mike Evans; TE – Eric Ebron – North Carolina; Alabama OT – Cyrus Kouandjio; and WR – Marqise Lee – Southern California, coming off an injury – plagued junior campaign.

They are likely to be joined in the first round by Manziel; nose guard Louis Nix III – Notre Dame, who missed a good portion of the second half of 2013 due to a knee injury; Greg Robinson – OT – Auburn, who quite a few teams prefer over more heralded senior blocker, Jake Matthews – Texas A&M; Ohio State OLB – Ryan Shazier, Nix’s buddy, Fighting Irish DE – Stephon Tuitt; Sammy Watkins – Clemson, expected to be the first wide receiver taken and Stanford OG – David Yankey.

Those that can be selected in the second round of the draft are WR – Davante Adams – Fresno State, TE – Jace Amaro – Texas Tech; WR – Odell Beckham Jr. – LSU; TB – Ka’Deem Carey – Arizona; FS – HaHa Clinton-Dix – Alabama, whose injuries and off-field issues could keep him out of the first round; WR – Brandin Cooks – Oregon State, the Biletnikoff Award winner (nation’s best receiver); DE – Scott Crichton – Oregon State; NG – Ego Ferguson – LSU, who most scouts liken to the Jets’ 2013 first round find, Sheldon Richardson; and another standout DT – Tim Jernigan – Florida State.

They will likely be joined in Round Two by LSU WR Jarvis Landry; Auburn RB Tre Mason, the star of the BSC runner – up Tigers; Notre Dame TE – Troy Niklas; FS – Calvin Pryor – Louisville; Colorado WR Paul Richardson; OT – Antonio Richardson – Tennessee; CB – Marcus Roberson – Florida; CB – Bradley Roby – Ohio State; the sleeper of the draft class T – Bishop Sankey – Washington, along with his teammate, Mackey Award winning TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins; TB – Lache Seastrunk – Baylor, rising star QB – Brett Smith – Wyoming and UCLA OG – Xavier Su’a – Filo.

Projected breakdowns, round – wise, among the 2014 underclassmen sees fifteen as possible third rounders, nine more in the fourth round and fifteen targeted between rounds five – through – seven. The rest are nothing more than free agent/camp player material.

  • 243546

    I get why some people would be concerned about the wave of underclassman entering the draft, but I don’t see a compelling argument as to why the league is at fault.

  • grw1960

    The NFL needs to tighten the restrictions and any college underclassman that gets less than a 3d round grade from the NFL should have to apply for special consideration and be decided on a case by case basis.
    I wonder how many of those 20% to 30% that don’t get drafted end up not only without a college degree or a pay check from an NFL team.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Yeah, I don’t see how the NFL is at fault if a guy gets bad advice and declares early. By your own numbers, most of the people declaring early are getting drafted, though that may change this year.

  • Chad H

    Problem is this generation is lazy and doesn’t want to work for a college degree. They want a quick payday and don’t show loyalty to anything but money. Yes I said it. The generation of “We are owed something.” If are projected after the 4th rd to UDFA get your degree. Learn to work for something. Do something for you. I retired from the AF and the last 4 years of recruits were 70% worthless, snot faced, spoiled, don’t tell me what to do little bitches.

  • DrakePirate

    I understand your frustration and although your post is not PC it is pretty spot on … its just a societal thing we have currently !

  • Chad H

    I’m not PC. I believe in telling it like it is. Sorry if people take offense but it is what it is.

  • Chad H

    People who like PC like to sugar coat the issues. And thanks for the down votes!

  • Chris S

    Just make them finish college (graduate) before being able to go into the draft/NFL. Even though I’m sure a number of these guys go for like “general education” or whatever its call…but still. Make them finish then they can join the NFL…and if they fail there they will have their degree to fall back on and such.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    First, thank you (and the countless others) for your dedicated service to this great (though sometimes unappreciative) country. I see ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong regarding your comments. When the TRUTH seems inconvenient for people the disclaimer of political correctness seems to rear it’s sensitive, easily offended head. Last I remembered the FREEDOM to speak is something we all share and if the ears of those sensitive and easily offended ring then they can shove’m in the ground.

  • Chad H


  • Chad H

    Thanks, I want what is best for all. However I want everyone to know the value to work for what you want and that goes for these college recruits. I don’t have a problem with the red shirt Junior who spent 4 in college coming out but for the rest who aren’t a sure 1st – 3rd rounders get the piece of paper that said you earned a degree.

  • DrakePirate

    im not in the PC camp at all and believe in telling it straight as well … i work overseas and see the recruits u are talking about and yes it is a shame we have to lower the standards with the kids these days … its a big problem across the board for our country and i dont see it getting any better anytime soon !

  • HiVul

    Wow, that a terribly bitter post. Where to start?

    First of all, you misunderstand why college athletes want to leave early. It’s obviously not because they’re lazy. If you think that playing in the NFL is easy then you simply don’t know much about football.

    Football is an extremely popular sport in this country and for reasons that don’t entirely make sense, you have to attend a university to enter the NFL. So go figure you have a ton of young athletes hell bent on making it to the NFL who attend college even though they don’t want to be there and probably aren’t cut out for it. That’s the nature of the system.

    The fact of the matter is that if your goal in life is to be in the NFL, there’s absolutely no reason to risk serious injury when the opportunity is in front of you. You can continue your education while you’re in the NFL. Ask Larry Fitzgerald.

    Relentlessly pursuing a goal is the opposite of laziness.

    Also, your general point about today’s generation is tired and cliche.The truth is that higher education and the job market is more competitive and difficult than it ever has been. Students have to work harder to land a good job today than ever before. Today’s generation is better education, informed and more philanthropic than previous generations.

    You lazily judge an entire generation based on what? A few experiences you had with individuals you didn’t like? Have you read any of the research on this subject? Picked up a book? I know the answer to that based on the simplicity and laziness of your opinion.

    Pot, meet kettle

  • Chad H

    What percentage of youth go to college? What percentage finish college? What percentage play football in college? What percentage play in the NFL? What percentage play in the NFL longer than 3 years? I appreciate your post as it rambles on and on and doesn’t make a single point. This generation feels self entitled to whatever it is they want. Ask any employer who hires them in any various job. Please note I said about 70% so it doesn’t apply to all. Look at Beachum worked hard received a masters degree while being a 4 year starter then gets picked by the Steelers in the 7th rd and becomes the starting LT in year 2. Why because he works hard for everything. The odds are against anyone going in the NFL to make a career out of it. My point is stay in school and get your degree. The post is about how many underclass men are entering the draft. Why, because most probably feel the deserve to play in the NFL.

  • HiVul

    70% go to college and half of that 70% will drop out. Not sure what your point is here. You might assume that that’s pure laziness but again look at the research on the subject. When the cost of higher education has increased six fold since 1985, you’re going to have more and more people who drop out. It’s not just 18 year olds, it’s adult students that are dropping out too.

    For any normal student, yes you should finish college. But you seem to feel entitled to tell everyone what their priorities should be. Obviously it’s a huge risk, the average NFL career length is 2 years. But like I said, when we’re talking about the SEC and other major programs, those kids didn’t sign up to attend school, they signed up to play football. They’re recruited by the football coach. They don’t really go to class, they don’t get real grades and at the end of it they might get a bullshit diploma in sports marketing. To do what with?

    The kids that get scholarships to play football at major universities largely wouldn’t be able to handle a real curriculum to get a real, productive degree at any of those schools. Not even remotely close. If they actually had to earn it, they would drop out too, in their first semester. They’re put into a position to fail, and the only thing that stops from failing is playing football. These are people that should be taking remedial classes at a technical college and you want to pretend that they’re real students that actually go to class at top universities.

    This has nothing to do with laziness, it’s about taking young athletes that were inadequately educated at inner city schools and pretending that they’re students in an NCAA/NFL system that makes 0 sense. Look at the rules violations that the ADULTS at NCAA schools have been guilty of, all to take advantage of college athletes.

    But about real students? Sure, why don’t you ask Google and every other company in technology based industries where they would be without their young employees? Ask inner city schools where they would be without teach for america.

    The original post was about 100 people by the way. 100. And you feel entitled to speak about an entire generation, or 70%, or whatever arbitrary number you pulled out of your ass, based on something you read about 100 college athletes. That is lazy

  • Chad H

    First off 42% of 18 to 24 year olds attend college. Not a bad number, not great but not bad. I will get back with you later got to go to work.

  • HiVul

    The reason why I was condescending is because I work with high school and college students and I know how hard many of them work. Calling me an asshole is a joke after reading your opinion on people you will never meet and subjects you don’t understand.

    Also, speaking of freedom, a scholarship doesn’t obligate you to stay at that school in any way. It’s not a binding legal contract that says you must stay at the school for 4 years. Students with scholarships transfer all the time, you don’t owe a university a thing because they gave you a scholarship. You still have options that you’re free to exercise if it’s in your best interest and any college student absolutely should. Granting a scholarship was the university’s decision, and they know the risks when they do so.