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Changes to the NFL Draft Advisory Board Input for Underclassmen are a Bad Idea

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Last week, word leaked that the NFL was making changes to the way underclassmen would receive input from the NFL Draft Advisory Board (from comments by Nick Saban on the topic).  Albert Breer confirmed that the league was altering how it would advise underclassmen in response to a record number of them entering (98) and with 36 going undrafted.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the NFL Draft Advisory Board and what went into the process. The NFL would provide evaluations to any underclassmen who requested it by the deadline, and provide the following input:

  • that they have the potential to be drafted as high as the first round
  • that they have the potential to be drafted as high as the second round
  • that they have the potential to be drafted as high as the third round
  • that they do not have the potential to be drafted in the first three rounds, but could be drafted
  • that they do not have the potential to be drafted

According to Breer, the league will change the detail of the evaluation it provides and “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.” In addition, the NFL will cap each school at five requests, unless the school requests more. “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.”

There are multiple potential problems with this. It does mention exceptions (eight teams had more than five players request evaluations), but it puts the coach as the gatekeeper here. Coaches normally have a vested interest in keeping players, and in close cases, can refuse to submit additional names. My guess is we will see coaches not want to exceed that.

More importantly, while purporting to provide information for players to make a better decision, they are doing just the opposite. The league incentivized the massive jump in underclassmen entering the draft when it changed the rookie wage scale rules, something I first hypothesized a couple of years ago. That ship has sailed unless the NFL is going to change the substantive rules on compensation. People respond to incentives.

Instead, the league is providing less information. Third round picks have a pretty good chance at being starters or at least contributors in the league. Names like NaVorro Bowman, Keenan Allen, Jurrell Casey, Stevan Ridley, and Tyrann Mathieu are among third rounders selected as underclassmen in recent drafts.

When the league created the NFL Draft Advisory Board, the purpose was to provide better information than what potential underclassmen were getting from agents, family members, or other outside sources.

“The point of it is to give them a realistic evaluation of their draft potential. Originally, twenty years ago, the American Football Coaches Association came to us with this request because they felt their players were sometimes making poor decisions entering the draft, not really getting very good input. The input they may have been getting was people who did not have much experience in evaluating players,” Joel Bussert, who coordinates the Board, told me in January.

Now, the cutoff on the input will be at second round, or return to school, when some (not all, but some) players will find that it is a good decision for them to leave if they are likely to be drafted. This evaluation smacks of playing to the college coaches, because rather than just providing a fair evaluation, the league is expressing an opinion that one should return to school if not likely to be drafted in the first two rounds.

Many of the underclassmen who went undrafted did not seek opinion, or ignored it. This will continue. Breer’s piece notes that nearly 53 percent of the players who got a third round grade or lower went undrafted. This is like me telling you that 95 percent of people under 6’4″ cannot dunk a basketball. How did those who were told they had the potential to be third rounders do? Don’t lump them with the not likely to be drafted guys.

According to Breer, 21 of 35 players given a third round grade this year declared (60%), so a fair amount of players sought the advice and returned to school, while other individuals made a decision to go pro. Of those 21, three of them were undrafted. These players are not identified, and I cannot confirm who they were. For what it’s worth, a commenter on my article that examined how the Draft Advisory Board did mention some names — Those players from South Carolina were involved in off-the-field incidents during the lead-up to the draft.

As I was told during my examination of what went into the initial draft grades, they do not cover character and how the player will do during the job interview process that is the months prior to the draft. If some players are falling because of things not on game tape, well, that is just reality.

Not giving more detailed grades doesn’t help that. In the world of unintended consequences, giving only 1st and 2nd round grades, or telling players to return to school, will have the effect that the initial rationale for creating the Board hoped to avoid: players getting advice from elsewhere.

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