By Adam Hoge-
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — The problem isn’t new, but it does seem to be getting out of control.
Last year, a record 73 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft. Twenty-three of them weren’t even drafted.
So what does that mean this year? Last year’s record-setting number was blown out of the water, as 98 underclassmen declared for the draft in a year many consider to be one of the deepest drafts ever.
The number of underclassmen declaring early has more than doubled in the last six years, but the number of underclassmen actually drafted in the last five drafts only increased by nine players.
Take a look at these percentages of underclassmen drafted, according to NFL.com:
2013: 50/73 (68.5 percent)
2012: 44/65 (67.7 percent)
2011: 43/56 (76.8 percent)
2010: 46/53 (86.8 percent)
2009: 41/46 (89.1 percent)
NFL teams are well aware of what is happening, but it’s unclear if the league can do anything about it. A league does its part by providing an advisory committee that gives underclassmen draft evaluations upon request before they have to make a decision. Unfortunately, many players don’t seem to be listening to the advice the NFL is giving them.
“There’s a tipping point,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday. “I don’t know if we’ve reached it yet or not, but I think at some point, some of these guys that are getting mid-round grades and coming out are going to have second thoughts about that. And we may see it start to go back the other way.”
Mayhew said he’s already talked to players who received mid-round grades and came out anyway.
There seems to be plenty of them. In fact, of the 98 underclassmen who declared early, 13 weren’t even invited to the NFL Combine. To put that in perspective, a total of 335 players were invited to Indianapolis. Only about 255 total players will even get drafted in May.
The University of California-Berkley is a startling example of the underclassmen problem. The Bears finished 1-11 last season but still had six players leave early for the draft. Four of those players weren’t even invited to the combine.
NFL teams are frustrated because the influx of underclassmen makes it harder to complete scouting evaluations. Underclassmen aren’t available to teams until the NFL Combine, and they aren’t scouted as closely during the college football season. Teams have access to seniors much earlier at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, and they are able to prioritize them during the year because they know they’ll be entering the draft. Only the top underclassmen are scouted hard by NFL teams during the season.
“Up until now you haven’t had any access to (the underclassmen), and you didn’t really (scout) them in the fall like you normally do the oncoming seniors, but as we get to know them, we’ll figure it out,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said.
Mayhew believes the issue will likely fix itself when college players start to see so many underclassmen go undrafted.
“It will self-correct if it’s an issue,” he said. “If these guys continue to come out and continue to get drafted and play, I think it will keep going in the same direction. With 98 guys coming out, that’s quite a few, and I think quite a few of them got mid-round or late grades. So we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Unfortunately, for a number of players, it won’t shake out well.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.