Over the past several years, a growing trend in the NFL has led underclassmen—college students who still have available years of NCAA eligibility—to declare for the draft before finishing their degrees. Last year, 56 young men who could have stayed in school instead decided to try their luck on the NFL auction block.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although there have certainly been players who have later taken the opportunity to finish those degrees they abandoned in favor of professional football.
Indeed, when underclassmen declare for the NFL draft it forces talented new blood into the draft a year or two before it would be available otherwise and opens doors for new athletes at the collegiate level who would otherwise sit as backups waiting their turn.
Of course, there is never a guarantee that a particular student will decide to go to the NFL instead of staying in school for an extra year (or two). Although we can speculate all we’d like about who will be drafted at the top of the class for the NFL in 2012, right now all of that guesswork can still go out the window.
Over the next five slides, we’ll take a look at five junior draft prospects that might just benefit by staying in school for one more year.
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State dithered back and forth about whether or not to declare for the draft in 2011 after completing his sophomore year in college.
He was a rising star in the football world after catching 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010.
During his junior year in college he’s actually managed to show improvement, enough that he’s being considered as a Heisman Trophy candidate. If anything, his decision to stay in school pushed him from a mid-first-round draft pick to a possible top-10 candidate.
It’s hard to believe Blackmon has much to gain from spending another year in school at this point.
Then again, with character questions still lingering after his 2010 DUI arrest, it might be in Blackmon’s best interest to give himself one year of separation before trying to enter the NFL.
There is much speculation that quarterback Matt Barkley of USC will enter the 2012 NFL draft.
That speculation is grounded in good reason. Despite USC’s two-year probation, Barkley has been a standout at quarterback. He hasn’t been showcased in any bowl games, but he seems to be OK with that.
Sure, he’s lost some of the limelight to Andrew Luck, but Barkley is posting great numbers in his own right. In 2010 he threw for 2,791 yards on 377 attempts (7.4 yards per attempt) and 26 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. This year, he’s on pace for bigger and better numbers.
In a draft that is saturated with excellent quarterback prospects, Barkley may benefit from taking advantage of his final year of NCAA eligibility, though. Giving himself an extra year of consistently good statistics and showcasing himself in a bowl game may give Barkley an edge in the 2013 draft that he will be lacking if he commits to 2012.
Word on the street is that Trent Richardson, the jaw-dropping running back at Alabama who watched teammate Mark Ingram win last year’s Heisman Trophy, is thinking of throwing in his lot for the NFL draft as a junior.
He’s likely be one of the first to be selected—almost certainly within the top 10.
This year, Richardson is the one under consideration for a Heisman Trophy. He has evolved into a team leader, and now that he’s moved away from Ingram’s shadow he’s established himself as one of the best running backs in the NCAA.
If anything keeps him in school, it might be his desire to ear Academic All-America honors. He won’t know if he has managed to achieve that goal until after he must declare for the 2012 draft.
If Richardson decides to make sure this particular dream comes true, he may choose to wait until 2013.
In the case of South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor, staying in school for a senior year might mean that he is picked much higher in the NFL.
Because he’s too small to play his current position (defensive end) in the NFL, but has not demonstrated that he has the ability to play a role more suited to his build—linebacker, or perhaps tight end.
An extra year in the NCAA will give him time to either bulk up to a weight that will give him the extra impact he needs at DE or to pick up a new position that will garner him greater notice from the professional teams.
In the 2012 draft, despite his excellent college numbers, he’ll face the problem of prospective teams not quite knowing what to do with him. If he holds out and waits until 2013, he could have many more doors opened for him.
One of the biggest defensive names in his class, Arizona State University linebacker Vontaze Burfict could make a huge splash in this year’s draft.
On paper he looks great. Last year, he was named the Pac-10 Defensive MVP when he posted 90 tackles (54 solo), two forced fumbles and three pass breakups.
In reality, if Burfict throws in his lot for the NFL draft this year he might remain available as somewhat lesser defensive players are selected before him.
His peers see him as a dirty player. He trash-talks and he seemingly plays for the injury.
His coaches—who benched him in the midst of his excellent 2010 year for drawing too many personal foul penalties—see him as walking a thin line regarding his rage.
Although he has the raw physical talent to make it in the NFL, his personality flaws may hold him back. Bringing him into any locker room is going to be asking for eventual drama and potentially more penalty flags than Burfict is worth.
Couple that with a mediocre 2011 season thus far, and it seems like Burfict’s once highly anticipated stock may drop well before the 2012 draft ever takes place.
Unlike many of his sophomore and junior peers who may be better off staying in school for one more year for academic reasons, Burfict may want to spend one more year working on get a hold on his anger. At the same time, perhaps he can repolish his stats on the field.
That coincides with recent reports that Burfict is thinking of returning to school for his senior year. Chances seem good that Burfict is a top-10 draft pick—for 2013.