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NFL implementing changes to address underclassmen issue

The NFL has identified the land-rush of underclassmen declaring for the draft as a problem, and set out this week to start addressing the problem at the college level.

Earlier in the week, college coaches received a memo from NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent, outlining a new set of guidelines that Alabama coach Nick Saban referenced at SEC Media Days on Thursday. Among them is a streamlined grading system, as well as limitations on the number of players per school who can put in for grades with the draft advisory board.

At the heart of the changes are staggering statistics stemming from the 2014 draft class -- of the record 107 who declared, 45 went undrafted. A majority of those 45 remain unsigned by NFL teams as undrafted free agents.

"We want the kid to make an informed decision," said Vincent. "Use our resources, make an informed decision. Each institution has those resources for every prospect and every head coach. The numbers and the facts speak for themselves."

Previously, there was no cap on the number of players who could apply for a draft grade from the board. The new limit is set at five per school, with schools allowed to ask for more, if the talent on hand warrants it.

Last year, 214 college players put in for grades.

The idea, from the league's perspective, is to have the college coaches share in the responsibility of guiding the player's future by advising on which athletes are and aren't ready for the NFL. Eight schools exceeded five requests last year -- LSU, Alabama, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina, Oregon, Stanford and Cal. LSU led the way with 11 requests (counting for 13 percent of the 85 allotted scholarships), while Alabama, Florida State and Miami had 10 apiece. Missouri, Oklahoma, Rutgers and Texas had five each.

The other change is in how players will be graded. In the past, there were five categories: As high as the first round; as high as the second round; as high as the third round; no potential to go in the first three rounds; and no potential to be drafted.

The league has cut that down to three categories -- first round, second round, and neither, which will equal the board advising the player to stay in school.

The reason for the adjustment there is based on the board's own struggle in categorizing players. Over the three-year period from 2012-14, the board was accurate on 73.7 percent of its first-round grades and 85.4 percent of its second-round grades, with most of the misses being slight ones. Conversely, the accuracy rate dropped to 52.9 percent on third-round grades, and nearly 53 percent of those receiving a third-round grade or lower went undrafted.

In 2014, the board assigned 35 players with an "as high as the third round" grade, and 21 of them entered the draft. Nine of the 21 went later than the third round, and three weren't drafted at all.

Given that, and with the draft becoming far more of a crapshoot after the first 64 picks, the league saw an area where it could be contributing to the problem, and decided that assigning anything but first- or second-round grades was leading to shaky decisions by players.

In the materials distributed to college athletes and coaches, the league noted that for players who do make an NFL roster, an average playing career lasts 4.74 years, and that only 1.6 percent of college football players make it to the pros. And as more underclassmen declare, fewer are being drafted. In 2012, 82 percent of early entrants were drafted. That number dipped to 70 percent in 2013, and 62 percent in May.

The flip side the league presented is in those who chose to stay, with the materials showing 12 players who received 4th-7th-round grades in 2013 going in the top two rounds in 2014, including first-rounders Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett.

In speaking to the media on Thursday, Saban supported many of the points the NFL is trying to make.

"All these players that went out for the draft, they went out for the draft late or didn't get drafted, they were potential draft picks next year," Saban said. "They're not in the draft next year. They're not playing college football either."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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