8 Underclassmen Who Made a Big Mistake Declaring for 2014 NFL Draft

Dan Tylicki@DanTylickiAnalyst IJanuary 24, 2014

8 Underclassmen Who Made a Big Mistake Declaring for 2014 NFL Draft

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    This year, 98 underclassmen declared for the 2014 NFL draft. That number set a record, crushing the previous high of 73 last year.

    While some of them will be obvious top picks, such as Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, there are only 256 draft picks. As a result, some of those underclassmen that declared will be selected late in the draft, if they are at all.

    Likewise, there are players who could be top-100 picks, but could have further developed their talents in college next year, turning them into a surefire first-round talent.

    In both cases, declaring this early hurt their chances in the NFL, whether it's due to a much later draft selection costing them money or simply not being ready for the game at the professional level.

8. Nic Jacobs, TE, McNeese State

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    Starting off the list is a handful of FCS players who decided to declare early. Unless they end up having a superstar-type season, there usually is not a reason for them to head into the draft early.

    Nic Jacobs starts off the list as his situation is a bit different from the others. He was originally a tight end for LSU, where he did a good job of showcasing his blocking ability. However, his receiving numbers are next to nonexistent.

    In 2013, he transferred to McNeese State and had 453 receiving yards and four touchdowns there this year. He's also gotten good draft grades according to Jim Gazzolo of the American Press, which is why he seems to be leaving his second school early.

    Even if he ends up a mid-round selection, an extra year fine-tuning his game in order to make sure he can do both parts of the tight end job at the next level would have done him a lot of good. Right now, the jury's out on whether he can make receptions in the NFL, and another year may have helped him develop that aspect of the game more.

7. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

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    After Florida State won the national championship, the profile of the major players escalated big time. Heisman winner Jameis Winston was already a star, but one player whose stock rose dramatically from the game was his primary target: Kelvin Benjamin.

    Benjamin eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this past season and had 15 touchdowns, and having Winston throwing to him in 2014 could have turned him into the potential No. 1 receiver next year.

    Instead, he declared for the draft this year. He has the size to be a great red-zone target and has a lot of upside, but Mike Evans is much more polished as a tall first-round option, and Benjamin has a lot of fine-tuning in his game to do.

    That alone is not a big deal, but the fact he was in such a good position for next year's draft makes his entrance a surprise and a bad move on his part, both in terms of money and his readiness.

6. A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State

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    Like Jacobs, A.C. Leonard was a tight end who went from an SEC school to an FCS school and is now declaring for the draft.

    While at Florida, Leonard only had a handful of receptions and never made an impact behind Jordan Reed, and as a result he transferred to Tennessee State where he could make more of an impact.

    The outcome of that? He had 733 yards as a sophomore and performed well in two years with Tennessee State, but he was not exactly someone that was on anyone's radar for this year's draft class.

    A strong senior season could have made him an easy Day 2 pick, but instead he's someone who would be lucky to be drafted. He has potential and could have a nice NFL career, but he's going to be waiting a long time to hear his name on draft weekend.

5. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida

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    Florida has had its share of great cornerbacks in recent years, and the cornerback position was a position of depth for the Gators this season.

    Marcus Roberson is declaring for the draft early, and the ball hawk looks to be a nice Day 2 pickup. Loucheiz Purifoy is declaring early as well, but his draft ranking is a lot more questionable.

    Purifoy makes a splash with a big play every so often, but he tends to miss matchups and his cover skills are sorely lacking. As a result, he needed his senior season to fix the flaws in his game.

    The flaws in his covering ability are a major issue moving to the NFL, and that could end up making him a Round 3 selection at best. Even if he is taken earlier than he should be, returning to school could have made him a much more polished player. Instead, he's taking a big risk a team will look past his flaws and just look at what he can do.

4. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California

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    Running backs are not as in demand as they once were in the NFL, so for one to declare early, they would have to be certain they have had a great college career and know their skill set can translate well.

    Brendan Bigelow does not come close to accomplishing either of these. This was the first year he had 100 carries; he had 105 carries, 421 yards and two touchdowns on the year, both of which came in his only 100-yard game against Colorado.

    Of course, numbers are far from everything, but at 5'10" and 180 pounds, he is undersized, and has not shown elite speed in order to become a third-down back at the next level. I don't see every-down back status as an option.

    The only reason I can see him declaring is because he thought he would lose playing time to freshman Khalfani Muhammad, who has shown promise. Right now I'm reluctant to put a draft grade on him at all, so maybe this was a panic move on his part.

3. Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida

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    If it seemed like just a short time ago Aaron Lynch was touted as a future first-round selection, that's because he was. However, scouts' stances have changed. He was given a fourth-round grade by Tony Pauline of NFL Draft Insider (via SB Nation).

    Lynch had 5.5 sacks for Notre Dame as a freshman, but transferred to USF after the season. He sat out a year, then had six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, bouncing back after a slow start.

    Aside from the questionable reasons for transferring, he weighed in at 244 pounds at the start of the season and would need to bulk up to make an impact in the NFL.

    He has the athleticism and skill set to make an impact in the NFL eventually, but Lynch needs to be able to utilize his talent more consistently. Right now he's likely a Day 2 selection when an extra year of improvements could have easily made him a first-round pick again, seeing as how scouts have said that about him in the past.

2. Terrance Hackney, OT, Bethune-Cookman

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    Terrance Hackney had an uphill battle already playing at FCS school Bethune-Cookman at a position that would not exactly get his name out there in offensive tackle.

    He has good size for the tackle position, however, and he looked like a rising star in 2012. The reason he lands on this list is his lack of playing time in 2013.

    He sat out the 2013 season, and it was noted for him there were "goals bigger than playing football" according to the Daytona Beach News Journal's Brent Woronoff. Whatever the reason for his absence, moving from missing a season to declaring early for the draft just doesn't make sense.

    At best, he was already NFL-ready yet is not raw after a year away, and at worst he does not have the drive to create a successful NFL career. In either case, it would be a surprise if he was drafted at all.

1. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon

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    Colt Lyerla's situation is a complex one. He was slated as one of the top tight ends in terms of talent in this year's draft class, but left Oregon during the season and got into some legal trouble on top of it.

    Every year there's a risk-reward player out there that has some baggage, but Lyerla has enough that he's going to be considered undraftable by some teams, and could be a Day 3 selection despite his talent.

    In his case, a move to an FCS school for 2014 and re-establishing himself as the type of tight end scouts would want to see would have gone a long way towards fixing his image and making him a much more viable candidate.

    It worked for Janoris Jenkins in 2012, becoming a second-round pick after spending a year in an FCS school, and Lyerla has the talent that he would've been able to pull it off. Instead, his draft standing is utterly up in the air.