When Is the Right Time to Go Pro?

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterOctober 4, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans heads to a huddle during the game against the California Golden Bears at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

A week ago we looked at how some players, from an NFL standpoint, might have made the wrong decision when it came to maximizing their value for the NFL Draft. So what is the right decision? How do players know when to go and when to stay?

Truth be told, there are a lot of factors that go into the pot. First and foremost, the players draft stock and projected selection spot has to be taken into account. Another factor most certainly has to be pending transition at their current school. And, yes, position comes into play as certain players stand to gain more by coming back than other athletes who have far more to lose by returning to school.

Now, it must be stated that we're merely talking NFL Draft Stock. Players' decisions to return to school are their own choices and often times certain non-quantifiable qualities pull players back. Those include just loving school, wanting to finish with their class and hoping to play for a national title.

Draft stock is the most important element to this equation. Pretty simply stated, odds are if you're a legitimate, NFL Draft Advisory Board qualified first or second round pick, you should lean towards taking off for the paying football lands of the NFL. With the new rookie wage scale, the big money to be made by pushing to be a Top Ten pick is not nearly as big as it once was. The real goal, from a financial standpoint, if you're a third year college player expected to go in the first 64 picks; is to get in the league, ball out and get to your next contract.

If you're a running back, take that second round grade and push it to third. Running backs can only absorb so many hits. Whether those hits come in the NFL or in college football is of no consequence because the pounding is a pounding. The only difference is absorbing those hits in college means your taking hits off of your NFL career and doing it for free. Folks watching Le'Veon Bell carry the ball 26.8 times a game are seeing a player help his team. They're also seeing why a running back should hit the league if he can go in the first three, or so, rounds.

Where running backs are concerned, we can look to the Big Ten for another indicator of when it might be time to leave; transition. Montee Ball has seen his 2012 season fall victim to the perils of transition. The loss of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, offensive line coach Bob Bostad plus several key bodies on the offensive line. The senior running back also lost the leading pass catcher and the quarterback from a season ago.

That's a lot of moving pieces. Ball did the noble thing in many folks eyes. He returned to Wisconsin to finish the drill. More power to him, most certainly. However, there will not be more power to his draft stock. A year after Ball was statistically among the nation's elite, transition has pushed him back to the pack and the running back who was never viewed as an elite athlete is falling down the NFL draft charts. He's taking free hits, getting exposed as a beneficiary of the system and that's truly hurting his future in the NFL; from a draft stock standpoint. 

Striking while the iron's hot is a big deal when it comes to the NFL Draft. More games and more tape in another season is not a player's friend. Rather, more games and more tape means more chance for opponents to counteract what the player does best and more opportunities for scouts to pick them apart.

While fans love to see their favorite players come back to school, truth is it doesn't always help the players better position themselves for the next step. That said, as long as players are happy with the results of their decision, beneficial or not, then they've probably made the right choice.