A record 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft in 2014. It was the fourth consecutive year that the number of underclassmen entering the draft has reached a new high and a trend that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Florida contributed three underclassmen of their own — Ronald Powell, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson — but only Powell heard his name called during the seven rounds of the draft. In total, 36 underclassmen that decided to forego their final year of eligibility in college would go undrafted last weekend begging the question, why they decided to leave school early at all?
It doesn’t start in college. Any college fan would tell you that recruiting is the lifeblood of college football and followers of recruiting have seen this attitude change coming. No longer are high school seniors committing to schools by saying, “I’ll spend the next four-to-five years at school X.” Even as 17 and 18-year olds in high school, these young men are already planning on fast tracking through college to make some real money in the NFL. It’s now chic to commit to a school and say, “I’ll be spending the next three-to-four years at school X.”
It may be a change in culture at the high school level but the NFL itself has also aided in the growing number of underclassmen declaring for the draft. When the NFL and NFL Players Union agreed to a new CBA some four years ago and implemented a rookie salary cap, the incentive changed from getting drafted to getting to your second contract and a real payday. The quickest way to get to that second contract would be to get through your rookie contract quickly and being a year younger when you’re negotiating that second contract doesn’t hurt either.
called. Normally, Will Muschamp wouldn’t be in favor of a player leaving early unless he knew that player would be selected in the first three round but after two ACL surgeries and watching his close friend Dominique Easley lose his senior season after just three games, the decision to leave was essentially a no-brainer for Powell and one that his former coaches supported fully.
Juniors Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy also declared early for the draft. It would seem that Purifoy had made up his mind during the season, telling ESPN’s Joe Schad immediately after the game Florida State that he would intended on leaving school early.
Purifoy has a long history of minor injuries that forced him to miss game time and several run ins with the law during his three years in Gainesville. There was the arrest for marijuana possession that was eventually throw out but NFL teams won’t care that the case was dropped, asking instead why you put yourself in a position to have the charges brought up at all. The cornerback was suspended for the season opener last year and there is another incident from March where Purifoy was allegedly not arrested for another incident involving possession of marijuana after offering to cooperate as an informant. The report from the Gainesville Sun alleges that Purifoy reneged on that agreement, resulting in an arrest warrant that was quickly quashed.
In just a paragraph, you can see why Purifoy did not hear his name called by one of the 32 NFL organizations. Not to mention Purifoy entered his junior campaign projected to be a top-20 pick in the draft by ESPN analyst Todd McShay before an underwhelming campaign from the player and the team coupled with a pre-draft process that Purifoy stumbled through, when he actually decided to show up.
Roberson, however, was different. This is a player who does not have the red flags of off field arrests on his record. Roberson does have medical red flags. There was the neck injury that ended his freshman season prematurely and he only played in five contests as a junior, although his absence in Columbia, South Carolina is not believed to be due to injury.
Roberson ran slow at the combine and again at Florida’s pro day. He was projected to be a mid-round pick but when teams start passing on a player where that player is projected to be selected questions arise. Especially when a team that is repeatedly passing on you has your former defensive coordinator on staff (Dan Quinn, Seattle).
Quinn said all the right things about every player he was asked about when speaking to the media in Gainesville but his actions speak louder than his words. Quinn and the Seahawks were ready to draft Dominique Easley — ACL surgeries and all — in the first round of the draft. When Easley was taken by the Patriots, the Seahawks packed up their draft warm room, traded their pick and out of the first round completely. The Seahawks had plenty of opportunities to take either Purifoy or Roberson during the draft lats weekend and the former coach passing up on his players was another red flag attached to both individuals.
The record for underclassmen entering the draft has been set and broken in four consecutive seasons and doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Next season, the Gators need to only worry about a couple of players — mainly Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard — possibly leaving early but there could be 100 or more juniors declaring next season.
The decision is risky. Jadeveon Clowney — the No. 1 overall selection in the draft — will sign an estimated $22 million dollar deal but undrafted free agents will sign for a tiny fraction of that and with little-to-nothing guaranteed.
For a player like Clowney, the juice is worth the squeeze. However, as two Gators and 34 other young men found out last weekend, sometimes there is no juice to squeeze.