HOOVER, Ala. — It’s a little unusual for the Southeastern Conference to have many of its pressing issues resolved before the annual spring meetings, which occur next week in Destin, Florida.
The 12-year schedule rotation for football has been announced, the NCAA is going ahead with plans to give its bigger schools more autonomy and the SEC Network is less than three months away from launching.
However, that doesn’t mean University of Alabama coach Nick Saban won’t have anything to discuss with his colleagues. Near the top of his list of concerns is the growing number of underclassmen declaring themselves eligible for the National Football League draft.
“We've got the basketball mentality,” he said Tuesday before participating in the final Crimson Caravan speaking event of the offseason. “I'm not sure that's the right way for any of them.”
Even though football doesn’t have one-and-done as its players are obligated to stay for at least three years, for the fourth straight draft a record number tried to make the jump before their eligibility expired. Specifically, there were 98, 102 if you count the four who already had their degrees.
Of them, 38 went undrafted.
In comparison, CBSSports.com claims that the previous 24 years had an average of 14.2 unselected underclassmen per draft.
Saban’s approach has never wavered; anyone projected to be a first-round selection gets his blessing. If not, he should stay in school, get a degree and improve his draft stock.
The trend is going the other way.
|Year||Eligible underclassmen||Number drafted||Percent undrafted|
Numerous sources including the NFL
From 2005 to 2011, the number of players declaring early for the draft averaged 50, with 56 in 2011. That August, the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement was finalized, creating a rookie pay scale that mandated four-year contracts for drafted players and essentially locking in the amount.
Since then the number of underclassmen going pro early has virtually doubled, while nothing else has changed. There are still roughly 250 players selected in each draft, with only 53 roster spots and eight practice squad slots available on each team.
What the underclassmen are being told is that the sooner they get to the NFL the sooner they get to their second contracts, which is when the most money can be made.
In reality, many are only hurting their chances of making a long-time living in the league.
“It was shocking to see 102 underclassmen come out, shocking,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a post-draft conference call with reporters. “Some of these names when they said they were coming out, you said, ‘Why? What are you doing?”
Consequently, while more than half of the underclassmen drafted went in the first two rounds, just 22 were selected on the third day of the draft, rounds four through seven.
It sent a clear message to those thinking about jumping early in the future.
“Something’s gone awry here,” Kiper continued. “I think they’re getting good advice, just for some reason they’re not listening to it.”
Saban essentially said the same thing, that he’s now getting calls from parents of his former players claiming no one told them this could happen, that their son might not be a high draft pick.
The coach then has to remind them about their previous conversations when he said exactly that, including some in their homes.
Then there’s the other problem, getting to that second contract.
While a 2011 study by the NFL Players Association found that the typical career length for a first-round draft pick is 9.3 years, the union also says the average career only lasts roughly 3.5 years—shorter than the mandated contract length for a drafted player.
According to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, 44 percent of 194 underclassmen who declared early from the previous three drafts were not on NFL rosters at the end of 2013 season.
“They don’t tell them the part that if you’re a fifth-round draft pick that you only have about a 30 percent chance of getting to the second contract,” Saban said. “If you’re a sixth-round draft pick it’s even less than that.”
Alabama had five players leave early for this draft: safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard (who already has his degree), tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan and safety Vinnie Sunseri, who was also coming back from a torn ACL.
Clinton-Dix was selected in the first round, while Kouandjio was visibly upset about dropping to the second round. Sunseri beat the odds and went in the fifth round, with Pagan in the sixth and Hubbard wasn’t drafted.
On the flip side are safety Mark Barron (although there was also an injury concern), guard Chance Warmack and linebacker C.J. Mosley, who over the last three years all returned for their senior season and subsequently became a first-round selection.
Each had late first-, early second-round draft grades as a junior, but was rewarded by waiting. Barron got a $14.47 million contract ($8.961 million signing bonus), Warmack signed for $12.17 million ($7.2) and Mosley is slotted for $8.787 million ($4.71).
Meanwhile, the rookie minimum in 2013 was $405,000.
“I think even the people in the NFL don’t think these guys should come out in the draft,” Saban summarized. “If a guy’s a first- or second-round draft pick they know those guys can probably help their team right away. All these other guys they would rather they stay and school and develop, be higher draft picks next year and have a better chance to make the team, and have degrees so if they don’t make the year or get hurt they have something to fall back on.
“It just makes too much logical sense.”
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.