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The NFL’s draft eligibility rule makes sense, but Trevor Lawrence should be a rare exception

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explains how in special cases, the NFL could tweak its rule that only permits players who are three years out of high school to enter the draft.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The best player on the field in the College Football Playoff National Championship between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the victorious Clemson Tigers was the Tigers’ true freshman quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. His team was 10-of-15 on third down and he committed no turnovers. At the end of the game, Lawrence used his 6’6 frame to rush down Alabama’s throat. He ended with 27 yards on the ground, mostly on that last drive.

Without any hesitation I can say if Lawrence were eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, he’d be the first pick. He’s possibly the best true freshman to ever play quarterback.

The joint rule between the NFL and the NFL Players Association states that no one is eligible for the draft until they’ve been out of high school for three years. Contrary to public thought, the NCAA isn’t in charge of this rule. This rule has even been challenged in court. We all remember the battle Maurice Clarett fought in 2004 over this rule. In a lower court it was ruled the NFL was violating antitrust laws, but that ruling was overturned in appeal and never brought before the court again. This rule is set in stone.

3 reasons the eligibility rule is (generally) good

Many dislike this rule because they feel once you’re 18, you’re an adult and free to seek employment like any other profession. But I’ve been in 100 percent agreement with the decision of the NFL and the NFLPA in making sure a player waits the full three seasons before entering the draft. There are multiple reasons I agree with the rule.

1. Body maturity

You hear the phrase often and while it oversimplifies it, it’s true: “It’s a grown man sport.”

Professional football is exceptionally violent on your body. It’s even worse than you’d ever imagine. Unless you’ve been on the sidelines for a NFL game, you have no idea. Even then, you hear the sounds and can feel the violence — but until you’ve been hit, you don’t know.

This sport requires bodies that have started to mature. You’ve had years of weightlifting to strength your body. You’ve built up those calluses. Your body can withstand some of the beating it’s going to get.

2. Mental maturity

This game is tough. I mentioned above about the violence. The violence makes the mental part even tougher. Before a practice or a game, you have to sit in your locker and prepare for two or three hours of physical combat. You’ve got to understand how to get yourself to that level. You also need the mental maturity to battle some of the ups and downs of the game.

In college, you’re often the best player on your team, or one of the better players at your position. I played in the Pac-10. I faced one or two NFL-caliber defensive ends. In the NFL, I faced ... drum roll ... all NFL-caliber defensive ends. You’re going to get beaten. That’s part of the gig in the NFL. How do you respond when you get beaten? It’s easier to work through that when you’re older, when you started to form coping mechanisms to handle the stress and anxiety of playing.

We know there are some people who mature at a sooner age and I get that, but I understand why the NFL is limiting the exposure for these issues for 18-year-olds.

3. Your rookie season is a freaking grind and it can easily “ruin” you

Just look at this timeline of my senior season in college to my rookie season in the NFL.

August 2007 to Dec 31. 2007: Training camp, college football season plus bowl game on Dec. 31
Jan. 2, 2008 to mid-February: NFL Combine training and prep
Mid-February: Three-day combine. It’s taxing.
Mid-February to March: Train for two pro days
Mid-March to end of April: Continue to train and wait for the draft (had some downtime here)
April 26-27: The draft
Mid-May: Fly to Charlotte for the offseason program
July: Offseason program over, now train for five weeks before the season
August 2008 to January 2009: Training camp and the NFL season
January 2009: Time to finally take a break from football and training

That’s freaking grueling. Just non-stop football for almost a year and a half. You need to be physically and mentally ready for it.

There should be exceptions to the rule, though — and it’d be easy

Now, with all that being said, there are some unique cases where I think the NFL should make exceptions for specific players to enter the draft early. The only player I’ve seen in person who could have gone from college to the NFL early is Adrian Peterson. He was ready. He could have done it. I think Trevor Lawrence can do it also.

For the NFL to make this happen it needs to form a committee, panel, or just get the owners together to determine if someone like Lawrence could make it in the NFL. It feels simple enough. Players could submit their name to the committee and get feedback on the possibility of being drafted in the first round. Clearly, only players in the top of the class would be allowed to enter the draft.

This is a move that would generate goodwill from the public and ensure a player like Lawrence could be able to start his career quicker than he normally would be allowed.