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30 players who left early for the NFL didn't get drafted. Stop judging them.

Auburn's Barber left early and signed a UDFA deal. Now he has a chance to provide for his family.
Auburn's Barber left early and signed a UDFA deal. Now he has a chance to provide for his family.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Every year at the conclusion of the NFL Draft, we hear from columnists and commentators about how so many players left college early to declare for the draft and did not get picked.

This year, 30 of the 107 underclassmen who declared went undrafted. That is a really tiny fraction of all underclassmen. Figure about 4,500 scholarship juniors or redshirt sophomores across Division I football, and it's 0.7 percent of them making perhaps a bad decision.

Emphasis on perhaps. I find the outrage about early entrants who go undrafted fake or lacking in understanding. There are many instances in which a player coming out early and going undrafted is still a smart choice in hindsight.

Sometimes it's not the player's choice.

Sometimes a player is coming out because he knows he'll be ineligible for his final season, either because he is failing his fall classes or cannot pass his spring course load.

I had a coach tell me a player was leaving early (he went undrafted) because he had "run out of classes he could pass." This was not at an especially prestigious university. It underscores the unfairness of the current system, which forces most players to do something (academics) that is wholly unrelated to their chosen careers (football), an obstacle not faced in other major American sports like baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, tennis and so on.

Or what if he has quietly been dismissed for failing drug tests or other behavioral issues?

Some players do not have the option to return, yet are lumped in with those who are presumed to have the option of staying.

"But the degree," they say.

In-state tuition for a year of public school is often about $15,000. Plenty of players can afford that after their playing careers are over, as many schools honor scholarships for players with remaining eligibility. Even if they didn't, undrafted free agents routinely receive signing bonuses of $10,000 or more. NFL practice squad players make more than $6,000 per week.

Some are just ready to stop getting their heads beat in for free.

Football is a violent game. Some who declare early and go undrafted might be correctly valuing their labor on the market. If I am going to sustain injuries and possibly shorten my lifespan, I want to get paid money to do so.

With the NFL's rookie wage scale, the mega bucks are made on a player's second contract, not the first. So the sooner a player enters the work force, the sooner he can get to that second deal.

And if a player is younger when he is angling for that second deal, he is likely to receive more money, as NFL teams value youth. This is especially true for older players who might have failed a grade or two before college. Some early entries are 23 years old. They don't want to be trying for that second contract when they're two years away from turning 30.

And what if a player realizes he is already maxed out as an athlete?

In that case, returning to college is not going to help his draft stock. It will hurt his career earnings. He is wasting a year of not being paid, when he could instead make $100,000 as a practice squad player.

Others may hurt their draft stock by coming back.

Or what if a player realizes there is a good chance he would lose playing time to a more talented underclassman if he were to come back? What if he has a disagreement with his coaching staff? What if a scheme change will result in lost playing time?

Or what if a player realizes that next year's draft class at his position is way more loaded and that his only chance of getting drafted is to leave right now?

Some players need liquid income to help their families.

Auburn running back Peyton Barber entered early to provide for his homeless mother. He went undrafted, but now has an UDFA contract with the Buccaneers and a chance to make a lasting pro career.

How many of these players are making poor choices? Some, but not nearly all, as commentators seem to assume.

And we don't hear this paternalistic, faux-outrage bullshit in sports like baseball or hockey.

In baseball, a player can be committed to a college out of high school and then get drafted. They actually have more information to work with, and nobody is yelling on Twitter about the terrible decisions they make when they opt for a signing bonus of pennies to go play in the minors. The reason is because people are not fans of high school baseball players like they are college football teams, but the criticism of athletes taking agency for themselves is still striking to me when compared across sports.


I wrote about how picking a scheme that doesn't showcase talent for a specific position can cost a recruit money.

Maryland landed five-star defensive end recruit Joshua Kaindoh, who tried to fake out everyone by not including the Terrapins in his top-four earlier in April. Kaindoh wants to be a doctor after his football career is over.

Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA dominated the NFL Draft. That'll help with recruiting.

Blue-chip prospects were the story of the first round. They account for just 8 percent of D1 signees, but were 70 percent of the first-round picks.

LSU landed a four-star QB Monday. So did Alabama!

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