6 College Football Stars Who Shouldn't Have Entered 2014 NFL Draft
This weekend shapes up as the biggest moment in a number of college football players’ young lives.
The NFL draft begins Thursday night, and over three days and seven rounds, 256 players will hear their names called as the NFL’s newest draftees.
The possibility of disappointment, however, looms over the entire process.
Ninety-five underclassmen declared for the draft, for a variety of reasons, and it is almost a certainty that not all of them will be selected in the three-day draft.
A year ago, 73 underclassmen declared, and 17 went undrafted. With this draft being hailed as one of the deepest in recent memory, it goes to figure that more underclassmen will be disappointed this weekend.
For every Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins or Johnny Manziel who validates his choice with a high selection, there will be a player scrambling for a late-round slot or signing a free-agent deal late Saturday night.
Here’s a look at some underclassmen who made a mistake by declaring early for the NFL draft.
RB George Atkinson III, Notre Dame
Notre Dame tailback George Atkinson III didn’t have a junior season to remember. He began the season as the Fighting Irish’s starting tailback but lost the job, rushing for only 555 yards on 93 carries. He was suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl for a violation of team rules.
He has great size and speed and also ran track at Notre Dame for one season. However, he doesn’t always use his speed in the smartest ways and isn’t physical enough.
Another season of college football with the correct dedication could have really helped his stock. Instead, he’ll be fortunate to be drafted, period, and he will likely have to fight his way onto an NFL roster as a priority free agent.
RB Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
Three years ago, Isaiah Crowell was one of the hottest prospects in college football. He signed with Georgia and had a standout freshman season, rushing for 850 yards and five touchdowns and earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
It was his last season at UGA: Crowell was arrested on felony weapons charges (which were later dropped), forcing his transfer to Alabama State. He excelled there, rushing for 1,126 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
Crowell declared for the draft following the season, which seems like a puzzling decision given the questions about his character. He is projected as a sixth-round pick and could have enhanced his stock with another season in college.
However, it sounds as if leaving early was his plan all along.
“Honestly, when he came here that was one of the things that we talked about when he arrived that he would be here two years and that would be his goal," ASU coach Reggie Barlow told CBS Sports.
Crowell has some durability issues but is an excellent athlete. Another season in college could have answered some lingering questions scouts had and possibly improved his stock.
QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
This draft has been hailed as one of the best quarterback drafts in recent years, deep with players like Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and more.
So why did Wyoming’s Brett Smith decide to throw his hat in the ring?
Smith has been called a more controlled version of Manziel. He has solid mobility and quick feet but sometimes forces passes into tight windows and looks for the big play.
He also needs to improve his pass velocity.
In 2013, Smith passed for 3,375 yards with 29 touchdowns, completing 62.7 percent of his passes. He enjoyed a career day against Hawaii, setting a Mountain West single-game record with 640 yards of total offense (498 passing and 142 rushing).
Following the season, Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, who recruited Smith to Laramie, was fired. He was replaced by Craig Bohl, who led North Dakota State to the last two FCS national titles.
Smith told the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal that he liked Bohl’s staff, but that Christensen’s departure did play a role in his decision to leave, too.
There’s such a high demand this year for quarterbacks in the NFL, and I wanted to put myself in the category of being a top quarterback chosen. I felt like I could be put in potential position to be one of the quarterbacks taken in the first five rounds, so that’s what I wanted to do. I still think it was the right decision because there’s such a high demand for quarterbacks this year that the smartest decision was to leave this year as opposed to next year.
It’s unclear whether that will happen. He was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and is projected as a sixth-round pick by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
He isn’t generating nearly as much buzz as some of the other junior quarterbacks. While adjusting to a new staff would be difficult, Smith could surely have enhanced his stock with a monster senior season at Wyoming.
WR Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
This year’s wide receiver class is very deep, led by the likes of Watkins, Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks. Into this fray stepped Stewart, a productive but smallish receiver who stands 5'10", 178 pounds.
He excelled in Oklahoma State’s wide-open offense, leaving OSU sixth in program history with 2,204 career receiving yards.
He is a quick receiver and a quality kick returner: Stewart averaged 17.5 yards per return and had two career punt returns for touchdowns.
However, there are questions about his overall durability, as he missed time with an ankle injury in 2013. He has a slight frame and doesn’t have breakaway speed.
He is projected as a late-round draft selection and could certainly have improved his stock with a productive, injury-free senior year in Stillwater.
S Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
Vinnie Sunseri was an integral part of Nick Saban’s nasty Crimson Tide defense. He's considered a coach on the field who is a physical tackler with a nose for the ball and the ability to make game-changing plays.
When he went down with a torn ACL last October, the Tide’s defense missed his presence.
His decision to declare for the NFL draft was surprising, given the questions surrounding his health. Sunseri did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine but had an excellent pro day last month, running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He was very happy with the results, according to AL.com.
A lot of guys were saying ‘He’s coming knee surgery, I don’t know if he’ll be able to do a lot of stuff, I don’t know if he’ll be able to do a pro day.' Well, obviously, I did my pro day. I ran fairly good for a safety. I did all my footwork stuff, I did all my drills, showed I was able to open up, showed that the knee was good, had a little plant and drive. My decision ... I knew I could trust in myself.
Sunseri is not the most fluid safety and can be too aggressive at times. If he is selected in the NFL draft, he’ll be a late-round selection at best. A full year of production on a healthy knee could have improved his stock and Alabama’s defense.
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
De’Anthony Thomas was one of the most electric players in college football. He has game-breaking speed, excellent acceleration, vision and cutback ability and is quick to get through a hole once it develops. As a kick returner, he has take-it-to-the-house ability.
However, his decision to leave Oregon early for the NFL draft raised questions. At 5’9”, 174 pounds, he has a very slight frame. Last fall, his stats slipped: Thomas had 594 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns with 22 receptions, 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
He missed almost five complete games with an ankle injury suffered on the opening kickoff at Cal and had only one play of 20-plus yards (a 24-yard catch at Arizona) following his return.
He also had a disappointing NFL combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He is projected as a sixth-round pick. With another year at Oregon, he would have likely enhanced his stock if he were able to put together a solid, injury-free year.
He’ll be a value for an NFL team looking for a tailback who can catch passes and return kicks, but he could have been so much more.