98 difference-making underclassmen will be leaving the college football ranks this offseason. Couple that with the fact that a strong senior class graduates and you have a mass exodus of the top-tier college football talent that we had the pleasure of watching these last few years. This year’s draft class is a good one, some experts say the best in a long time. However, should all of these players have left? I mean 73 underclass draft entrants set the record this time last year. Is 2014 so great that the record should be shattered by a 34% increase? Statistics say that we probably have a talented, and overly-ambitious, underclassmen crop.
So while some of these early entrants are sure to go late or even undrafted, they were still good college players that would usually be returning. According to CBSSports.com’s draft expert Rob Rang, 37 of the 98 players are currently projected to go in the sixth round or later (and six of the 37 are from Cal as Sonny Dykes continues to mold the program his way). And who am I to judge? Different circumstances call for different decisions. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bank stub from every player to report on their financial situations. But many of these players could improve their draft stock by returning for one more year of free tuition and board. And while becoming a first round pick doesn’t necessarily supply the explicit financial benefits it did prior to the new CBA, a higher pick means a greater investment from a franchise and a longer ‘grace period’ allowed for the player to develop before being labeled a “bust.” And it isn’t just the extra year for further development that could lead to being a higher pick; it’s also looking at the competition.
This is a very good draft class and players will go lower than they would have in other years. Former Florida State QB EJ Manuel was a senior when he left school and was drafted in the first round by Buffalo, but let’s assume he was a junior. Last year’s QB crop was weak. Nevermind, it was worse than weak, it was downright awful. I would applaud Manuel’s decision to come out (had he been a junior) based on the fact that he may actually get more time to develop in the pros given his first round status than he would have if he returned to FSU and tried to compete against a better QB class, subsequently landing on a roster as a 3rd or 4th round pick. Now, this year many of these underclassmen would have probably benefitted from staying and competing with a weaker group next year. For instance, Rutgers Wide Receiver Brandon Coleman is a projected mid-round pick. But he is a freak at 6’6” with good hands and it appears that offensive guru Ralph Friedgen is about to take over as Rutgers coordinator. My guess: Coleman could have been a first round pick next year.
Then there is another category: college dropouts. Former Oregon Tight End Colt Lyerla is entering because of his baggage. He quit the team last fall and was later charged for cocaine possession. Although Lyerla is an NFL talent, he too could have benefitted from another season on campus if the circumstances were right. You can’t really fault these players for entering the draft. Still, this is a small category that doesn’t have much to do with this year’s boom in underclassmen entering.
And finally we have the players who simply can’t improve their stock by playing another year. Short players, slow players…any players with physical limitations that will prevent them from ever joining the stage in Radio City Music Hall. De’Anthony Thomas is a prime example at 5’9” and 170 pounds. He dominated college defenses since his freshman season, but lacks the size to make him a first round pick. Considering he plays the most injury-prone position in football, you can’t help but agree with his decision.
So what does all this mean? It means we will have some breakout players next year, that’s for sure. Aside from the Wisconsin RB duo, Alabama’s annual stable, and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, we don’t have many superstar running backs…yet. Will LSU RB commit Leonard Fournette have an Adrian Peterson-like freshman season? That’s tough to predict, but I think 2014 is as good of a year as any for something like that to happen. Of course, Fournette could have benefitted from having 2013 2nd team All-SEC guard Trai Turner blocking for him, but won’t have that luxury as Turner decided to leave early in hopes to be drafted.
There will be a lot of new faces at a lot of play-making positions. But you can sleep easy: the kicking game will be great as no underclassmen kickers, long snappers (really?), or punters declared early.
2014 will be exciting.