For the last two years, the number of underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft has drastically increased. Depending on how you view it, it may be a disturbing trend. A record 98 players declared for this year’s draft, up from 73 in 2013, 65 in 2012, 56 in 2011 and 53 in 2010.
Nick Saban says that to counter the underclassmen heading to the draft early, something has to change. So, Saban offered a solution to a perceived problem. He offered that only players with a third-round grade and higher should be invited to the NFL Combine, and that underclassmen should be able to compete in a mini-combine to get a more accurate draft grade projection before they declare, as opposed to after, according to NFL.com via Sirius XM.
“The way it’s going right now, I don’t think the NFL really wants all these guys coming out for the draft. They know they can develop better in college if they stay and play more, unless they’re going to be high draft picks,” Saban said. “It’s difficult for them to develop players the way they practice now, so if a player’s not a high pick, it’s much more difficult for them to develop as an NFL player. I even made the point that if we’re not going to do something like (an underclassman combine), maybe if a guy doesn’t have at least a top-three-round grade, you don’t even invite him to the combine.
“More guys go down at the combine than go up, because they’re not as fast,” Saban added. “And they don’t have a very good feel in comparison to all the other competition in the draft at their position. And when they come to that realization, it’s too late, the way we do it now.”
Saban has been criticized for bringing ideas to the table that would benefit his team, but this may benefit college football in general.
This year’s NFL Combine featured 355 hopeful players; only 254 of those will be drafted. Some will sign free agent contracts. Others, well, will have to find another solution.
Having a mini-combine series after bowl games and prior to the deadline to declare for the NFL Draft could be a possible solution to the perceived problem. Scouts, coaches and GMs could put their eyes on the underclassmen and get a better sense of a draft projection before the declaration deadline.
It probably still wouldn’t stop players like Vinnie Sunseri or Jeoffrey Pagan, two of Alabama’s underclassmen who are mid- to late-round picks, who declared early because of past knee injuries. Those players will always declare; however, it could cut down on the number of players who are truly torn between leaving and staying.
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