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As subclasses flood NFL draft, landing spots dry up

Clifton Duck can watch the NFL Draft this weekend for a bit, like he has in previous years. But maybe not. “It’s everyone’s dream to go to the TV draft,” he said. “But it’s a long, uncontrolled process, and you can’t figure out what’s going on.”

For Duck, the dream of playing in the NFL has so far eluded him. Despite his height of 5-10, 170 pounds, Duck had been named all-conference defensive back at Appalachian State each of his three seasons. But when the team’s coach left to take charge of the Louisville program, taking a number of staff with him, Duck figured he would step into the 2019 draft.

Duck didn’t ask for much advice on his professional potential, mostly betting on himself to impress NFL staff. “Whatever team or camp I went to, I knew I was going to produce,” he said.

Duck, like a growing number of subclasses leaving college early, was not drafted. He signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in May 2019 and had a solid camp, including an interception and 62-yard throwback in a preseason game against the Giants. Yet he was cut.

He returned home to his parents in Charlotte, NC, and since then Duck has been taking online classes at Appalachian State to complete his communications degree (he has a short semester), training, coaching at his old high school and night shift at CarMax. The 2020 Canadian Football League season has been canceled, but he was contacted by a local scout for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, so he is now preparing for their July training camp. If this goes well, who knows? For Duck, the NFL dream is still alive.

“You go back to square one and keep doing the job.”

In the 31 years since the NFL began allowing subclasses to declare themselves for the draft, the number of those who do so each year has grown more than threefold, while available jobs have not. have not been.

In 1990, 28 underclassmen entered the draft, and some conceded: five were in the top 10 picks. Ten, however, have not been drafted.

As of 2014, the total number of subclasses that entered early and had not graduated started to approach or exceed 100. More subclasses are being recruited, but those that do not ‘were not drafted also surged, topping 20 in most years. This year, 98 non-graduating subclasses have declared themselves for the draft.

As the NCAA tackled the wave of early NBA Draft entrants with a 2018 rule change that allows players to return to college before a deadline if they haven’t signed with an agent, the college football does not contemplate such a change.

Unlike basketball, where undrafted players can hope to catch up with the G-League or professional teams in Europe and China, or baseball, which has 120 minor-league clubs, in football the options are slim.

“There is no alternative. There’s no option where I can go and play in Lithuania, ”Alabama coach Nick Saban told The Athletic in 2018.

There are only 53 active players per NFL team. There will be 259 spots in this year’s draft, including compensatory picks, and 98 subclasses were added to the pool by declaring early. An NCAA study of the 2019 draft showed that only 6.8% of eligible Football Bowl Subdivision players had been selected.

“The NFL is a private entity with a successful business model,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall, who has also worked for NFL teams. “If a young man has to go out early, he better make sure he’s done due diligence. If you are declaring, then understand what the ramifications are. You have to live with this decision.

The NFL declined to comment for this article, but referred to the “College Player Development” section of its website, where the mission of the league’s college advisory committee is described. “The board evaluates up to five subclasses from each school, although additional player evaluations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” the website says. “Limiting the number of players the committee assesses allows scouts to focus on players who have realistic luck and provide more accurate projections.”

Many players do not seek the advice of the committee or ignore it. Axios reported that during the 2016 and 2017 projects, 80 subclasses that the committee advised to stay in school still reported early.

As the number of early entrants has grown, so have discussions about the changes – but there are few signs of consensus. The NCAA did not respond to requests for comment.

Saban and former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who now coaches the Jacksonville Jaguars, have discussed some of these proposals with NFL officials, but are negotiating a solution between two bureaucracies like the NCAA. and the NFL will likely be a frosty process.

A popular proposition is that the NFL adopt a system similar to the NBA model. Underclassmen who don’t sign with an agent can attend a combined pre-draft – this year in June – and receive feedback, maintaining their college eligibility if they withdraw from the NBA Draft by July. But in football, subclasses are due to show up for the NFL Draft in January, ahead of the Reconnaissance Combine, which is traditionally held in the spring.

Rick Neuheisel, CBS Sports commentator and former college coach, argued that even after the draft, any player who is not chosen should be able to return to school.

“Why are we making them walk the plank?” He asked.

Other suggestions include expanding the NFL practice teams, creating a development league like G-League basketball, or distributing advisory board ratings earlier.

But the solutions are also complicated. Colleges reportedly prepared in the spring for a roster that did not include early entrants, and a new recruiting class to fill gaps in the roster was reportedly signed in February; the management of the list of colleges would be blurred.

It is too late for any of these proposals to be of any use to James Williams. He gained 3,090 versatile yards in three years as a running back in Washington State, and declared after his junior year in 2018. Williams’ position coach had left before this season, and Williams did not is not as well connected with the replacement; a freshman began to eat into Williams’ playing time. He and his girlfriend had a baby in December.

The college advisory board advised him to stay in school, telling him he lacked size and speed for the pros, but he believed the program focused on Washington state passing and competition at his post would be obstacles.

“If I went back, how much better would I have been?” He asked. “I felt like I would go and try my luck.”

On day three of the draft, with the final three rounds being selected, there was a party for him at a restaurant in the Los Angeles area.

“But as they got to the last 20 picks, I started to panic,” he said.

Williams was not drafted. What followed was a free agent contract with Kansas City and trials with Washington, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England and Detroit, where he played in an exhibition game.

But he did not stay. Williams therefore signed a contract with the CFL Blue Bombers. In the meantime, he lives with his fiancee’s parents in Lewiston, Idaho, training high school students and working as a personal trainer; she lacks a semester of a degree in humanities.

“My life has been devoted to football for 21 years, but I don’t want to rely solely on football,” said Williams. “If that doesn’t work, it’s a message to find something else that excites me.”

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