I charged our esteemed writers with the task of writing an argument for a college underclassman turning professional in an uncertain NFL climate. With a possible lockout occurring in 2011, is it really wise for a college player – who does have remaining eligibility – to make a jump to the pros?
The topic is all too relevant as we enter the final weeks of the NFL season. It was not that long ago – November of 2010 – that NFLPA officials went on the record with the certainty of the NFL lockout. There is plenty of smoke surrounding the idea that we will not have an NFL season in 2011.
It is fair and proper for a college junior to sit down and contemplate the enormity of this decision. Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer made things difficult for any junior squarely on the fence with equally compelling arguments.
Loyal Homer crafted an argument carefully centered on the virtues of making gobs and gobs of money. He rightly pointed out that a rookie pay scale will likely be a part of the league structure when it does resurface should a strike take place, so the 2011 draft is the final opportunity for players to get unrestricted amounts of money. Loyal Homer also points out the value of getting money before possible injury disrupts a player’s ability to haul in a big payday.
The only problem with those two arguments is that the money for players picked outside the top 10 likely will not be vastly different between 2011 and 2012. Further, Sam Bradford and others have now proven that getting injured during a final college season after passing up on the NFL draft is not a draft stock killer.
Bleacher Fan convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that that injuries don’t matter, and extra playing time does. Rookies struggle to get reps in the pros right after they are drafted unless they are in the top 20-30 overall picks. Those reps are invaluable opportunities for experience, and with uncertainty surrounding the notion of securing professional reps in 2011, securing SOME reps is the smarter course of action.
Each college kids’ situation is different. There are some that come from really destitute family situations where the money would be life changing, not just for the player but for the whole of his extended family. There is no 100 percent right or wrong answer. But for kids on the fringe that are likely not top 10 picks (which, by the way, is the VAST majority of players), the money will likely not be that different in 2011 compared to 2012 – even with a rookie pay scale. So if the money is equal, then what is the most valuable factor in making this decision?
That factor is consistent playing time to gain experience and reduce the size of the learning curve between the college and professional game. A kid that thinks they can take the paycheck from a high draft pick, and then just sit and not get game experience or game action for a year – and then adjust to the pro game a year after NO playing time – is fooling themselves.
Not a perfect apples to apples example, but years ago Mike Williams – a standout receiver from Southern Cal… along with Ohio State’s infamous Maurice Clarrett – challenged the rules of early entry into the NFL draft. They lost, and were forced to sit out of football for a year. Neither player – when they finally reached the pros – was worth anything because of the amount of time they were away from the game, regular body maintenance, and general organized focus on their craft. Being around a college program for another year is far better than nothing, and they will have longer pro careers for making the investment in college now.
Oh, and they’ll have a college degree, too. Nothing wrong with that.