Kiper: Top junior prospects by position

Mel's Top 25: Dec. 13

Mel Kiper's archive: reviews, notebooks

Tuesday, December 19

Underclassmen must weigh pros, cons

In less than a month, college football's top juniors and third-year sophomores will have to decide whether it is in their best interest to return for the 2001 campaign or make themselves eligible for the NFL draft in April.

I have always believed strongly that, depending upon the circumstances, the only time players should even consider bypassing another season at the college level is if they are practically guaranteed a spot in the first round. Going into early January, however, that is very difficult to determine.

I've seen players over the years drop into the draft's second day because they weren't able to duplicate the workout results they were expected to post.

Keep in mind, the NFL doesn't obtain measureables (a prospect's accurate height, weight, 40 times, vertical jump, bench press reps, etc.) until spring practice before the prospect's senior year. So if a player is leaving early, that information obviously isn't known until the combine or individual workouts.

In addition, juniors and third-year sophomores are not able to participate in any of the postseason all-star games that are basically used as pre-combine sessions.

This is why I tell juniors to make sure they are aware of their computer numbers. Not fantasy-world numbers, but as close to the exact measureables as they can determine. I've seen players over the years drop into the draft's second day (rounds four through seven) because they weren't able to duplicate the workout results they were expected to post.

I remember a cornerback from a major college program who told me he would have no problem running the 40 in the 4.4-4.5-second range on any surface. However, when the time came to run for the clock during combine/individual testing, the player was only able to deliver 40 times in the 4.65 range. So instead of going in the late first round -- as his college performance tended to indicate -- that player dropped all the way into the fourth round.

I also remember a quarterback from a major college program who struggled so much during his individual workout that he slipped all the way to the final round of the draft. Over the years, I've seen players appear to be first-round possibilities based on their game-day effort, only to cause doubts and concerns after their workout numbers were revealed. Folks, there is a very fine line between a first- and third-round draft choice or even a prospect who slips into the second day of the draft.

Again, this is why I stress to the players who ask that they had better know what their physical qualifications. If there are any doubts, returning to college should be the only option. And even if a prospect has workout numbers worthy of early-round status, other factors have to be evaluated.

How was the player's performance on the field that particular year? Are there any prior injury concerns? Is the draft strong or weak at his particular position?

As for a player's grade or projection, unless he is regarded as one of the draft's elite 10 players, there is really no guarantee he will be picked in the first round. Keep in mind: If 10-12 top juniors enter the draft, a player regarded as the 15th- or 20th-best player could possibly drop down the draft board, making the first round an uncertainty.

So for the top juniors or third-year sophomores who may be debating the issue, my advice would be this: Call on and utilize all the resources at your disposal.

Have your parents, family members or friends make as many calls on your behalf as is possible. Check and recheck with those whose opinions are worth trusting. Ask them where you can realistically expect to be picked on draft day. Have the head coach or any assistant coaches at your program research your chances. The NFL Advisory Board is also set up to provide assistance on where a player may project in the draft.

The bottom line is this: Garner as much information as is humanly possible. Also think about the worst-case scenario. Even if the first round looks like a strong possibility, realize that players often slide down the draft board for sometimes unexplainable reasons.

This is why I always ask players if they would regret their decision if they ended up dropping completely out of the first round -- or even into the third or fourth round. If so, would they be devastated by that result? Or does the player just want to move on to the next level, without any major concern where he is selected?

Several years ago, I remember speaking with a player from a major college program who asked me where I expected to project him on the draft board if he opted to leave early. I told him the second or third round if his workouts were up to the level expected. If not, the fourth round was a possibility.

His attitude was this: I just want to move on with my football career. I know I can get the job done at the next level, and even if I drop down to the third or fourth round, so be it. I can live with that result. As it turned out, the player was selected in the second round and was able to enjoy a very solid NFL career.

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