THE “PROBLEM” WITH EARLY ENTRANTS TO THE DRAFT?Jose Gridiron, Guest Columnist ____
One of the worst times of the year for the thoughtful football fan is after the NFL Draft. The season can’t come soon enough as the media coverage during this time focuses on stories about OTA’s and minicamps with the occasional arrest or social media slip-up making headlines.
There is no real news generated after the draft outside this artificially generated interest in football practice, or the scandalous and salacious uncovered by TMZ or one’s own social media account. Thus, it becomes time for scribes and pundits to opine on what they believe needs to be fixed about football in both the college and professional ranks. They start creating content and scandal.
This past weekend, in the post-Draft frenzy of quickly offering up delicious click bait such as draft grades, pundits opined on recent developments in the NFL Draft such as social media responsibility. This is boring and self-explanatory. The general rules of course are don’t put up anything that will hurt your image, such as drug use. This is an easy article to write. “Kids be careful.” REALLY BORING STUFF.
However, one of the more substantive discussions in this year’s installment of “Let’s throw stories to the wall, feign alarm and hope something sticks” was the discussion of early entrants to the NFL draft. Players have been leaving school for years prior to their eligibility expiring, but apparently we have now reached a significant fork in the road or so you would think by reading the apocalyptic nature of the language of some involved in the draft process.
Former NFL team executive and now Senior Bowl CEO/official, Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) discussed early entrants over two tweets immediately following the draft:
“Of the 96 true underclassmen who entered #NFLDraft, 30 (or 31%) were not selected. The leadership of #CFB and #NFL must solve this issue.”
“To go step further on the 96 underclassmen, only 47 (49%) were picked in first four rounds. #CFB and #NFL must provide better info, sooner.”
This set off discussion about early entrants to the draft and what could be done to keep them in school and give them different options than what they currently have. I saw many friends and colleagues tweet out and post things on Facebook about this perceived crisis in sport.
This sounds like utter calamity right? THIRTY PERCENT of players were not taken!
Let’s take a look at these fact with this what I believe is additional and proper context:
* SEVENTY PERCENT OF underclassmen were taken in the draft.
* 20 of the 1st round picks (31 overall) were players with eligibility still remaining, including 4 of the 1st 5 and 8 of the 1st 10
* Of the 32 picks in the 2nd round, 19 still had eligibility remaining
That’s quite a large number.
I’m sure that none of this underclass backlash has anything to do with the fact that only three first round selections (Carson Wentz, Joshua Garnett and Vernon Butler) participated in the SENIOR (emphasis on “Senior” is intentional ) Bowl .
Of course, the large number of underclassmen takes away from the star power of the college all-star games, especially the Senior Bowl where there are very few invites for players that still have eligibility remaining. The NFL commits a large amount of resources (two coaching staffs, full coverage by the NFL network, etc). for an all-star game that really focuses on second round talent at this point.
Like the NBA did years ago, the NFL can argue that players leaving school early hurts them and that the players aren’t ready to play, but the evidence suggests differently.
A player leaves school for a number of reasons related to family, coaching changes or changes in coaching philosophy. In some cases, players lose faith in the bargain that they were promised when they signed their National Letter of Intent. There are coaches that don’t promote or don’t know how to promote their player. The players at times don’t see the benefit of the education that they are receiving. For all the bells and whistles that a school claims to offer as part of the student-athlete experience, even at the biggest and well-capitalized schools, they have a hard time getting players to stay in school when that player is faced with a real choice, that is, the possibility of monetizing their services or playing another year for no compensation.
So if well-intentioned people want players to receive information, let’s examine how players currently get information about being early entrants in two ways.
I bet the reader shudders when he or she sees “agent”. The NCAA propaganda machine already has people conditioned to believe that all agents are bad and that their member schools and employees always have the best interest of the players in mind.
Agents can be the source of valuable information. However, athletic departments and academic institutions take intensely strange pride in protecting football players from agents. All agents are presumed to be unscrupulous. And why would they want their moneymakers student-athletes to know that they have different options, like you know, being compensated for their services?
How noble of these places to protect their student-athletes. I mean what can be more harmful to them and their valuable learning experience than accessing information and knowing what the value for their services is?
Agents are attacked for having a financial interest in the player’s career. This is especially silly as it makes it appear that earning money and helping others to make theirs is an ignoble endeavor. It is hypocritical when you recognize that coaches and schools have a financial interest in seeing players play for their school.
Athletic departments make agents jump through a series of hoops to give the appearance of vetting agents. There are agent workshops that schools put on if you want to talk to the players. The people doing the vetting are generally Compliance people and other administrators that have never had experience with pro sports in general or football specifically. And usually the only players that are allowed to participate in this forum are players that are entering their senior year.
So in sum, before the agent gets to the player they are “protected” by people with zero significant business or professional football experience.
NFL Advisory Committee
The NFL Advisory Committee is a committee created by the NFL’s Football Operations division with the intention of creating a protocol by which underclassmen receive information from “high-level personnel evaluators from NFL clubs and directors from the league’s two sanctioned scouting organizations (National Football Scouting and BLESTO)” and advises them “on their draft prospects before they make a formal request to the league to join the Draft.”
There are only three grades provided by the Committee to a prospect: (1) potential first round, (2)potential second round, or (3) neither.
In order for a player to receive this type of feedback, the player has to approach their coach and ask to have his name submitted to this Committee for their evaluation.
One college can only request five evaluations for players on the team with some exceptions granted on a case by case basis for additional evaluations. There is a short window by which you can submit your name for this review.
Let me point out the problems with this approach:
KNOWLEDGE OF THE PROGRAM– Most players don’t know about the program. Information about this committee and evaluation is not provided to the student-athlete. They don’t know about this process.
CONVERSATION WITH THE COACH– The conversation alone by a player with a coach can be intimidating and the conversation can go a number of ways. If it is a program where they talk about loyalty and being “all in”, even thinking of your own future might be perceived as being disloyal. Players are reluctant to talk to their coach about these sorts of issues because they don’t trust the coach, don’t have a good relationship or don’t want this conversation to be used against them.
COACH ACTION– Let’s assume that a player asks for an evaluation and that the coach sends the players name into the committee. (Obviously there is a big presumption that the coach actually does submit the name. If you think I’m paranoid, then you don’t know football coaches the way I do).
Assume that the name is submitted, does the coach tell the committee to come back with a certain result?
I have the following first-hand knowledge of a situation that occurred:
After the 2014 season, a talented defensive player at an FBS, non-Power 5 conference school asked his head coach to submit his name to the committee. The player was coming off a tremendous junior season where he was the best player at his position in the conference. However, the player was “overaged” to use scouting parlance to describe an older player.
He’s also undersized but is a complete BALLER. In addition, the player just had a child. As for his education, the player also was set to graduate in May of 2015 even though he isn’t the brightest kid and reads at a grade school level. He is graduating because college can be navigated rather easily when you make plays.
The player’s head coach is well-connected and has significant NFL ties. The coach is at an unstable school and needs this player on the roster to have a shot at winning. After the committee came back with the opinion that he wasn’t going in the first or second year, a result that the coach happily disseminated to the player, the player stayed in school.
Was the player likely to go in the first two rounds of the 2015 draft? Likely no. But he was likely to have gone in Rounds 3-7 on his physical talent and previous production. How many 5’7″ corners get taken in the 1st 2 rounds? It just isn’t going to happen in today’s game. In the player’s situation, he likely should have left as he likely isn’t ever to get through graduate school as he only goes to school to play football, he wasn’t getting younger or taller and has a child that he needs to take care of financially.
This was likely as good as it was going to get for him.
What happened to him during the 2015 season and 2016 NFL Draft?
Well, he had a down year an didn’t play as well as he did the year before , partly because teams didn’t throw to his side early and later when they did, he wasn’t up for the challenge. Also, the team didn’t come close to sniffing a bowl. And of course he didn’t get drafted although he ended up signing as a free agent with a team.
The coach and the player as seen above have different interests generally. The coach especially if he is at a smaller program that doesn’t always have NFL quality talent needs a player to stay in school if he is a difference maker. If a coach is in a must-win situation, it is going against his interest to have the name submitted.
RESULTS– The results come back from the committee. There is no guarantee that the coach will articulate what he knows and has heard from the committee to the player. Nor will the coach give his honest opinion if the player is talented and can play at the next level.
Also, the player doesn’t receive the review back directly from the committee. It goes to the coach who tells the player the information.
Assuming that a player does not receive a first or second grade, then the player is left with no substantive information about what they need to work on. There is a big gap between third round and undrafted and most young men if they are willing to go this far to inquire about their professional status, will show faith in their abilities go forward and bet on themselves and sometimes to their detriment.
This selection committee simply isn’t well publicized and doesn’t have enough impartiality or provide information to be of any use to the players that it seeks to serve.
The issue is that the barriers and mechanisms created to help players fails them miserably because they are the products of our own biases on who has the players’ best interests in mind.
Why should the head coach be involved in the process? He doesn’t own the player. Why shouldn’t a third party be involved earlier to get the player information? It is a third party’s interest to give the player accurate information as the players future earnings are the only ways they get paid.
The mutual NCAA and NFL paternalistic approaches to players is what prevents early entrants from getting the meaningful information they need to make informed decisions. An anonymous evaluation and open dialogue, absent coaching interference as well as allowing players to discuss matters about their own professional ambitions with third parties is the best approach to getting players the best information about how the NFL sees them.
Jose Gridiron is a football insider with outsider tendencies and sensibilities. He balances being a football lifer and meathead with reason and attempts like this at being somewhat literate. Often at inopportune moments. He hates team meals and is out after player curfew exploring cities, particularly the inner part of those cities. Find him on twitter @cfboutsider