Is the three-year college football player the new normal?


Coaches are selling it, and recruits are buying it. The three-year player is rapidly approaching as the new normal in college football.

2011 set a record for college football underclassmen jumping to the NFL with 56; 2012 broke it with 65, and 2013 has once again made history with 75 underclassmen leaving early, after Ace Sanders declared late last night.

Of the 75 underclassmen who have declared early, 32 are from the SEC. LSU has 10 underclassmen – 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu – leaving early and that is by far the most in the country and maybe the history of the draft from one team.

There are, however, only two quarterbacks who declared early (Tyler Bray being one of them), and the bumper crop of underclassmen is predominantly made up of defensive linemen (17), running backs (12), defensive backs (13) and wide receivers (11).

The recent spike coincides with the NFL CBA, which took effect prior to the ‘11 season that put a cap on rookie compensation. For example, Sam Bradford received a six-year $76 million contract with the Rams as the first pick in the draft, while Cam Newton – the very next year – received a guaranteed $22 million contract over four years.

As part of the CBA, players are not allowed to renegotiate their rookie deals until after their third season, and players know their biggest payday will come after three years.

So, the trend will ultimately continue, because the CBA creates a financial motivation for underclassmen to move into the NFL a year ahead of schedule in order to get a jumpstart on their second – and biggest – contract.

The rookie minimum is $390,000; so, late round picks will have the same salary with only the signing bonus being the difference. By the time players pay agents and Uncle Sam, there will be little to no difference in the signing bonus.

Now you know why players like South Carolina’s Ace Sanders, Florida’s Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Reed, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray and others – guys who are nowhere near first-round material – are anxious to get their pro careers started. You can thank the CBA, because there’s a financial incentive to get a jumpstart on those three years.

Are we approaching a new normal?

Photo Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Maybe it will be the new norm in the SEC in the next few years. But could this mass exodus lead to a downfall for the SEC in the next few years? Questions worth asking.

    • a Solid Concern but I think it helps recruiting so much that the top sec programs will always have top talent rolling in and contributing right away.

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