Story Courtesy of GoHeels.com
36 of a record 96 early underclassmen declarations went undrafted in last May’s 2014 NFL draft. That’s likely a big reason why the number of underclassmen declarations for the 2015 draft dropped significantly, as more players have begun to understand the risks of leaving school early.
Today, the NFL officially released the list of the 74 underclassmen prospects who made the decision to forego another year playing in the collegiate ranks in order to chase their dreams of playing in the pros.
It’s a group that’s headlined by the top two quarterbacks in the 2015 class: Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. At this point in the process, the two heralded signal-callers look to be the top two contenders for the No. 1 overall pick. However, there are still plenty of other star underclassmen who will likely hear their name called in the top half of the first round as well.
Missouri’s Shane Ray, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. lead a strong group of explosive edge-rushers, while Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon are the top prospects of what is shaping up to be the best and deepest running back group we’ve seen emerge from the collegiate ranks in at least a decade.
Though the number of underclassmen declarations may have gone down from 2014, early entrants will likely still dominate the first three rounds of the 2015 draft, just as they did last year.
Here’s a look at the official list of all 74 underclassmen who made the decision to declare early.
When it comes to evaluating whether or not a collegiate football player has what it takes to succeed at the NFL level, no other position endures anywhere near the level of complete dissection and scrutiny as a quarterback does. The thorough examination is understandable considering just how important a role quarterbacks play in today’s pass-happy NFL.
The term “face of a franchise” gets trotted out every year around NFL draft time, as a select few young talented signal-callers get put under the media microscope to be dissected and critiqued. Physical attributes such as size, athleticism and arm strength as well as mental traits such as intelligence, intangibles, instincts for the game, maturity and leadership skills are all apart of a lengthy checklist of a quarterback’s scouting report. However, one of the go-to points of emphasis that the draft gurus and experts always love to harp on is whether or not a quarterback can get it done in “the big game.”
How does he perform when the pressure’s ratcheted up, when the spotlight’s shining and when the stakes are at their highest?
Well, if big game exploits are going to be how we judge a college quarterback prospect’s true worth these days, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones has surely just built himself up a nice little molehill of intrigue.
All it took was three games for Jones to evolve from forgotten-about third-stringer into one of college football’s most polarizing players. His tale of unproven understudy stepping into the starring role was the main storyline of the sport’s much-hyped inaugural playoff bash.
It took an unfortunate injury for the former 4-star recruit to finally get his opportunity to prove himself. Once he finally had that chance, though, he thrived and showed what he was fully capable of. When Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year JT Barrett went down with an ankle injury against archival Michigan in the season finale, many Buckeyes fans likely recoiled with fear and wondered if the loss of Barrett meant a blown opportunity at a national title.
Luckily, Jones proved to be the season-rescuing savior the team desperately needed.
Once simply known as the infamous goofball freshman who made a gaffe by tweeting out his displeasure for having to go to classes, Jones managed to repair his reputation and build a new legacy during his short but highly successful time as the Buckeyes’ starter.
When he was handed the reigns of Urban Meyer’s offense, the 6’5’’, 250-pound redshirt sophomore showed the college football world how lethal he could truly be. He started by leading Ohio State to a commanding 59-0 blowout victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game—a win which catapulted the team into college football’s new four-team playoff. In postseason play, Jones managed to beat No. 1-ranked Alabama and No. 2-ranked Oregon in consecutive games, leading the offense to 42 points in both games, while compiling an impressive individual stat line of 832 total yards and six total touchdowns.
The fact that a third-string quarterback was unexpectedly thrown into the fire at the most important time of the season and managed to outplay each of the 2014 Heisman Trophy finalists—Melvin Gordon, Amari Cooper and Marcus Mariota—in succession, all while leading his team to a Big Ten title and a national championship is truly one of the most remarkable feats in college football history.
Jones’ surprisingly spectacular showing had some wondering if he would capitalize on the momentum he built for himself and declare for the 2015 NFL draft, joining a mediocre quarterback class that lacks depth past Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.
The breakout star signal-caller came to the realization, however, that another year in Columbus would help better prepare him for the pros. He opted to forego a chance to declare early for the draft and instead return to Ohio State, a decision he announced during a press conference in his hometown of Cleveland.
In recent years, we’ve seen many of the top young quarterback prospects get labeled as entitled or selfish.
Cam Newton, the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft, drew the ire of analyst Nolan Nawrocki.
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”
Nawrocki also had similar criticisms of Johnny Manziel, who he said “carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance seeking out the bright lights of Hollywood.”
Geno Smith got put through the wringer and became the media’s favorite punching bag during the lead up to the 2013 draft. Even after the event ended, the Smith smear campaign still continued, as anonymous scouts piled on about the quarterback’s supposed immaturity. “He’s going to have a tough time in New York. Right now, he’s coming off as a spoiled, pampered brat,” said one anonymous scout, who wouldn’t put his name on the criticism.
Even Robert Griffin, who was widely viewed as a humble, hard-working player during his Heisman campaign in 2012, wasn’t immune to criticism from the anonymous scouts, who accused him of “having a bit of a selfish streak.”
Jameis Winston, the most talented quarterback prospect in the 2015 draft class, will likely be the next quarterback to deal with the media’s microscope treatment, as there have already been many Winston detractors who have accused him of being entitled.
The new growing trend of scouts and analysts annually trying to degrade a talented top quarterback prospect by calling him selfish or entitled is concerning, yet it’s not all that surprising. It’s simply a reflection of society’s current criticism of the so-called “millennial generation.” Millennials are routinely labeled as spoiled, entitled and selfish, even though often times those criticisms are misguided.
The fact that a player like Jones, who has reformed himself and matured into a championship-winning team leader, can be criticized for simply announcing that he’s going to return to school to better prepare himself for the future—a decision that is pretty much the exact opposite of selfish—is just further proof of the “build ’em up, tear ’em down” mindset of the media.
Looking to the future, it’s now up to young players like Jones to help change the narrative with his own actions.
The gifted yet raw QB isn’t assured a starting job in Columbus next fall, but if he does win the right to lead the Buckeyes during their title defense, he’ll surely have the spotlight shining on him.
With that spotlight will come the same amount of scrutiny, debate and criticism that many other recent star quarterbacks have faced. As we witnessed during the last month of the season, though, bright lights and pressure certainly don’t seem to phase Cardale Jones.