College underclassmen – those with remaining college eligibility – who are looking to enter the 2017 NFL Draft were required file papers to state their intentions by the league’s January 17th. The league published its full list of underclassmen on January 20th. (See the list here)
Approximately ninety-five student-athletes have given up that final year of NCAA eligibility embark on a journey to make it to the NFL – the ultimate goal of almost every football player. For some, it is a no-brainer. They are elite players who will likely reap millions from going pro whether they did it this year or next. However, with the threat of injury so high in college, it is in their best interests to jump while their stock is high.
For others, this is the apex of their football careers. They leave behind the amateur world hoping to cash in on their talents. The NFL draft and post-draft camps will determine their fates. If successful, they will realize their dreams at the ripe age of 21 or 22. For others, it will be the harsh reality of someone telling them for probably the first time in their careers that they "are not good enough" and the players will face a crossroads of giving up on competitive football or testing the waters through some other alternative means to the “promised land” of the NFL. That road is far from the glamor of the NFL or even major college football.
In 2016, there were approximately 107 underclass men who declared for the NFL draft. Of those, 30 went undrafted. Some of those, such as former Rutgers’ linebacker Steve Longa, managed to land as an undrafted free agent on a team’s practice squad. Others, were out of football for the first time in their young adult lives since returning to the NCAA was no longer an option.
The NFL Draft process is as much about mental toughness as it is physical skill. The film is all in at this point. Players leave behind their college resumes and have to perform in front of a new cast of observers and evaluators. College all-star games, the NFL Combine and pro days, and then loads of interviews with team personal for the lucky ones. Some, will impress and vault up the perceived rankings. Others, will tank and hope that they did enough in college that talent evaluators look past their testing scores and give them a chance.
Then, it is a matter of sitting by the phone in April/May and hoping your phone rings.