While the annual National Football League Selection Meeting proved to be another rousing success with regard to the setting, television viewership and the attention received across the country, there was one segment of the prospect population that suffered through a long, frustrating three days.
Back in January, 106 underclassmen officially declared for this year’s draft. After seven rounds, 70 of those players were selected, but only 41 in the first three rounds (top 100 picks). Thirty-six of these prospects were not selected at all and went into the undrafted free agent pool. I call this group the “Lost Round” because those 36 prospects essentially represent an entire “round” in the draft and it is my belief that if they had returned to college for one more season, they would have had a chance to improve their draft stock, gotten closer to their respective degrees or even graduated and then advanced into a Master’s program.
For that matter, I am convinced that the 65 players who found themselves outside of those top three rounds, all could have helped themselves by returning to college for one more season.
Some will argue that the goal of reaching a second contract outweighs the reasons for staying in school. Well, the player has to secure that first contract and perform at a level needed to deserve an extension before that kind of thinking actually becomes a reality. And the reality is that if a prospect is selected in the first three rounds, his chances are greatly improved in making an NFL roster and actually getting paid vs. the prospect who is a 4th round or later draft choice who will have a number of obstacles in front of him in solidifying his spot on a team.
In my opinion, earlier education and open communication regarding the financial realities of this situation as well as the different insurance options that are available through the universities is not only a must for players and their families, but should be required by every Power Five program in the country. There are a number of schools doing remarkable work in these areas, however, most are not and, if you wait until the spring of a prospect’s junior year, it really is too late because the player and his family are already under siege from all sorts of outside influences, some who really know what they are talking about and others who simply have no clue.
Prior to 2012, the early entry list never topped 60 total prospects. In the last three drafts alone, 297 players have declared and that’s an average of 99 per year, just a staggering trend for college football and a number that the NFL is concerned about as well. In order to stop this epidemic that has had and will continue to have a negative impact on the college game, professional football and the players themselves, it is time for the leadership of USA Football, the NCAA, the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association to join forces and collaborate on an answer to this very complex and complicated issue. As someone who has seen the game from virtually every angle over the last 30 years, I would love to be part of the conversation that leads to a much-needed, long-term solution for this “Lost Round” of prospects and their families.