With a record 98 underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft this year, plus another four who had earned degrees but still had college eligibility, the 2014 NFL Draft will be flooded with youth like no draft ever has. And Alabama coach Nick Saban believes both the NFL and college football might be better off if only players with a third-round grade or better get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Saban spoke with former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage on SiriusXM NFL radio, who suggested that the league consider allowing underclassmen to compete in a combine before having to decide whether to turn pro early, which would deliver a reality check for prospects with unrealistic expectations. Saban took it a step further, advocating what would be a radical change to the annual event in Indianapolis.
"The way it's going right now, I don't think the NFL really wants all these guys coming out for the draft. They know they can develop better in college if they stay and play more, unless they're going to be high draft picks," Saban said. "It's difficult for them to develop players the way they practice now, so if a player's not a high pick, it's much more difficult for them to develop as an NFL player. I even made the point that if we're not going to do something like (an underclassman combine), maybe if a guy doesn't have at least a top-three-round grade, you don't even invite him to the combine."
Given that well over 300 players are invited to the combine each year, and only about 100 are worthy of a third-round grade or better from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Saban's idea would represent a massive cut in the number of prospects evaluated at the combine.
"More guys go down at the combine than go up, because they're not as fast," Saban added. "And they don't have a very good feel in comparison to all the other competition in the draft at their position. And when they come to that realization, it's too late, the way we do it now."
Saban's guideline for early-entry decisions is to support underclassmen with a first-round grade, but to advise those without a first-round grade to return to school. This year, the Crimson Tide lost juniors Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Cyrus Kouandjio, potential first-round picks, but also lost mid-round prospects such as Jeoffrey Pagan and Adrian Hubbard, as well as late-round hopeful Vinnie Sunseri.