In a perfect world, I wish every player would stay in school for four years before entering the NFL. But I get why so many do.
Some need the money to help their families in hardship situations. Many get bad advice from agents and family. Others, in very rare situations, have very little to gain by going back to school.
Last year I felt very strongly that two particular players had made mistakes by coming out early: USC wide receiver George Farmer and Texas A&M running back Trey Williams.
Farmer, who wasn't even a starter for the Trojans, went undrafted, signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys, was cut in training camp and was signed by the Seattle Seahawks, who put him on their practice squad and are trying to convert him to a cornerback. Williams went undrafted and spent short stints with five different teams as a rookie, getting just two late-season carries with the Indianapolis Colts.
This year I thought there were players who made very sound decisions by staying in school, including Alabama TE O.J. Howard, Washington State WR Gabe Marks, Indiana OL Dan Feeney, Clemson RB Wayne Gallman and Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly. All should see their draft stock rise for the 2017 draft.
The 2016 draft will have 96 underclassmen in it. Below is my list of seven who I believe would have greatly benefited by staying in school another year:
Dominique Alexander, OLB, Oklahoma
Alexander led the Sooners in tackles the last two seasons and has been a starter since the middle of his freshman season. This seems to be a situation where Alexander felt he needed the money to help financially support his young son, who will celebrate his first birthday shortly before this year's draft. Alexander is a really good football player but he could have used another year to add weight and work on his pass coverage.
No doubt Billings is the strongest man in this year's draft, and should prove it at the combine next month. He and Mark Henry are the only humans to lift more than 2,000 combined pounds in a single high school competition (805 squat, 500 bench, 705 deadlift). But simply put, Billings needs more experience. Give him credit, though; he plans on going back to Baylor part-time until he gets his degree. Maybe I'll be proven wrong on this one, but I don't see him going in the first round.
My feeling has always been that offensive linemen, more than any other position, need as much experience as possible in college before they're ready for the next level. In 2010, before arriving on the Auburn campus, Coleman was diagnosed with leukemia. He didn't play in a game until 2013, and only then as a backup to Greg Robinson (the No. 2 pick by St. Louis in 2014 who himself should have stayed in school). It's an incredible, inspiring story. He's 24 and by all accounts mature beyond those years; he is also automatically eligible for the 2016 draft because five years have elapsed since he entered college. But he lacks playing experience and could have used another year in school. Hard to blame him, though.
T.J. Green, S, Clemson
Green was a two-star recruit coming out of high school who only had two offers from Power Five schools (Clemson and Auburn). He spent his freshman season as a little-used wide receiver before switching to safety as a sophomore and only playing as a reserve. He was the Tigers' second-leading tackler this past season, but more than almost any other underclassmen who left early, he needs more experience.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
He entered Penn State as the No. 1 QB recruit in 2013 and flourished as a freshman under now Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But Hackenberg never came back around to show anything the last two years under James Franklin, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns as a sophomore and averaging fewer than 200 yards a game in 2015. I'm not saying he would have suddenly turned things around as a senior, but there certainly are a lot of questions surrounding him in this draft. He does have an ally in O'Brien, and the Texans do need a quarterback, so there's that.
Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
The Aggies had a tackle taken in the first round in each of the last three drafts. Many thought Ifedi would make it four consecutive years, but I don't believe he will. He was hurt some this year. He needs to improve his strength and get more experience as pass protector.
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Sanchez, who says he got a third-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, is a good player with a lot of experience (37 starts) and production (15 career interceptions), but he desperately needs to add strength and weight. It's tough to be a corner in the NFL at 180 pounds on a 5-11 frame. It's interesting that Sanchez got advice on his decision from Tony Jefferson, a former Sooners teammate. Jefferson went undrafted after leaving early in 2012.