The early entrant process for this year’s NFL Draft closed last weekend and a near-record 96 underclassmen declared themselves eligible. That fell just two short of the all-time mark of 98, set in 2014.
All told, there are 107 players who will forgo their remaining eligibility for a shot at pro football, including 11 underclassmen who have graduated and therefore not considered early entrants (headlined by Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo). Peering over the data of how recent underclassmen have fared in the NFL Draft, nearly a third of them should be prepared for not having their names called on April 28-30 in Chicago.
Here’s the breakdown since 2010:
- 2010 – 53 declared, 17 taken in the first round, 44 total drafted
- 2011 – 56 declared, 14 first round, 38 drafted
- 2012 – 65 declared, 19 first round, 44 drafted
- 2013 – 73 declared, 14 first round, 53 drafted
- 2014 – 98 declared, 16 first round, 62 drafted
- 2015 – 74 declared, 18 first round, 50 drafted
This year probably should be no different, with underclassmen accounting for about half of the first-round draft choices, including probable top pick Joey Bosa of Ohio State and the first two quarterbacks taken in Cal’s Jared Goff and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch.
These defections also will have profound influence on the 2016 college football seasons. Several teams are devastated by the losses of underclassmen while others are buoyed by the draft-eligible juniors returning to campus.
Now we take a peek at the top five winners and losers:
1. Ohio State (total losses – 9): The Buckeyes were one shocking upset loss away from being able to defend their national title, and now they’re looking at a pretty daunting reloading project, even for Urban Meyer. Besides the departure of Bosa, Ohio State will also have to account for eight key losses, including running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Cardale Jones. In all, the Buckeyes could have a total 14 players drafted, with only six starters returning on offense and defense.
2. Clemson (7): Dabo Swinney’s gang made a sensational run to the national championship game, falling just short against Alabama in a thriller. Now the Tigers face a massive rebuild, particularly on defense, with six early departures including defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd and three quarters of their starting secondary.
3. UCLA (6): The Bruins began the 2015 season with playoff aspirations but went off the rails quickly with the early-season injury to linebacker Myles Jack, who declared back in October instead of staying in school. More defections have followed, especially on offense, with UCLA losing two of its starting linemen, as well as running back Paul Perkins and tight end Thomas Duarte. Quarterback Josh Rosen, who had a promising freshman season in ’15, will have to grow up fast.
4. Notre Dame (4): The Irish also had national championship hopes for 2015 and came up just short with a pair of close losses to Clemson and Stanford. But Notre Dame now has lost its top receiver and running back – Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise – as well as linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was a top-10 pick before suffering a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl game.
5. Cal (2): The Bears didn’t lose a lot in terms of quantity but sustained a huge loss in quality. Cal not only has to replace Goff, but also the top six receivers from 2015, including the defection of Kenny Lawler, who led the team in receptions and touchdowns last season. And coach Sonny Dykes will have to rebuild the “Bear Raid” offense from scratch, as he lost offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to Middle Tennessee State as well.
Other teams with major losses: Florida (5), Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss, Mississippi State (3 each).
1. Michigan: Jim Harbaugh appears to just win at everything. Not only is he poised to haul in a top-5 recruiting class, he also persuaded his top juniors to come back for one more season. The Wolverines lost only defensive end Willie Henry, but got tight end Jake Butt, cornerback Jourdan Lewis and defensive end Chris Wormley to all return to a team now favored to win the Big Ten East and contend for a playoff spot in 2016.
2. Alabama: The defending national champions did lose Heisman winner Derrick Henry and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, but Nick Saban got six key draft-eligible juniors back, including tight end O.J. Howard, who nearly beat Clemson in the title game by himself.
3. LSU: The Tigers suffered devastating losses following the 2013 and ’14 seasons, losing a combined 18 underclassmen who declared early for the draft. This year, despite turmoil surrounding coach Les Miles’ job status, only two juniors are leaving early while half a dozen are coming back, including cornerback Tre’Davious White and linebacker Kendell Beckwith.
4. Tennessee: The Vols rallied in the second half of the 2015 season and now are poised to take command of the SEC East in 2016. Butch Jones lost only wide receiver Marquez North as an underclassman to the draft, but got three key draft-eligible players returning in cornerback Cameron Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and running back Alvin Kamara.
5. USC: The Trojans did lose linebacker Su’a Cravens, a projected first-round pick, but otherwise suffered no other early defections. It’s particularly helpful that tackle Zach Banner is returning to anchor an offensive line that will be tested next season, starting with the opener against Alabama.