NFL: 53 non-seniors taking chances in draft
NEW YORK — The expected heavy influx of non-seniors applying for this year's NFL Draft did not happen despite looming labor unrest in the league.
Although a record-tying 53 players declared for early entry, that number released Tuesday by the NFL was short of most projections.
"I think that the colleges have really done a good job of telling these young men how it is to their advantage to stay in school," said NFL Draft consultant Gil Brandt, who helped build the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. "I thought there would be more and I was surprised."
Six All-Americans did apply for the draft: defensive backs Eric Berry of Tennessee and Joe Haden of Florida; defensive end Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech; tight end Aaron Hernandez of Florida; linebacker Rolando McClain of Alabama; and wide receiver Golden Tate of Notre Dame.
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, also declared for April's draft, along with Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead; Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen; Southern California running back Joe McKnight; Cal running back Jahvid Best; Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap; and Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman.
Fresno State tailback Ryan Mathews, the nation's leading rusher, applied. So did tackles Bryan Bulaga of Iowa and Anthony Davis of Rutgers, who are projected to go high in the draft.
The 53 players match the previous high in 2008; last year, 46 declared.
"I think this is a normal amount of players that applied," player agent Peter Schaffer said. "I think a lot of players made informed and educated decisions. There still will be some players who made mistake and stayed or who made a mistake and came out.
"I still think at the end of the day, given the uncertain nature of the NFL in terms of non-guaranteed contracts after the first round of the draft, the foundation of education and development of a player in college is better for the long-term success of the player."
With the NFL and the players union in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement and the potential for a rookie wage scale being implemented, more juniors were expected to declare for this year's draft.
"I tell a lot of them that it's short-term gain for long-term loss if you come out early," Brandt said. "I look at so many of these guys who stay and then wind up like Brian Cushing and Michael Oher, and look at the great rookie years they had."
Linebacker Cushing played four seasons at USC, then became Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Houston Texans. Oher, an offensive tackle at Ole Miss, became an instant starter with the Baltimore Ravens after spending the full four seasons in college.
"I had the father of a quarterback call me three times to ask about coming out," Brandt added. "I try to tell them the same thing, especially at that position: 'It's beneficial to get that extra year (in school).
"The agents are all whispering in their ears about labor (unrest) and the rookie wage scale. They've been telling them about a rookie wage scale since 1985. We haven't seen it yet."
But Tom Condon, whose clients include Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, notes that the rookie wage scale is being discussed by the NFL and the union.
"I think the league has stated publicly that they didn't have to come out because there won't be a wage scale," Condon said of the non-seniors. "But a wage scale was in the league's proposals to the union in their negotiations.
"And obviously there is certainly the potential for a work stoppage in 2011" without a new collective bargaining agreement.
Yet the projections of as many as 100 players seeking early entry to the draft didn't occur.
"I think players and the families of players look at it as, 'I am going to get money and a lot of it, and what is in my best interest, ' " Brandt said. 'And when they sit down and talk to an advisor like Cleve Bryant at Texas, where they do a very good job of informing the players, they find he has been honest with them and it kind of stems the 'leave and get the money' approach.
"If you are good enough, you will get it anyway. This way, you get to enjoy your senior year and get that diploma."