NFL teams doing lots of homework on underclassmen

Posted Mar 4, 2014

A record 98 underclassman have declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, breaking last year’s record of 73

A record 98 underclassmen declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, breaking last year’s record of 73.

The long list of redshirt sophomores and juniors who’ve declared have made this one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory.

Consider this, of the 26 prospects that have graded out to a 90 or above by ESPN, 15 are underclassmen.

“I think the dynamic has changed somewhat in the colleges,” Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “You know, you see, as you said, a lot more players coming out. I think there’s a tipping point though I don’t know if we’ve reached it yet or not, but I think at some point some of these guys that are coming out that are getting mid-round grades coming out are going to have second thoughts about that.”

The numbers say different, however. The amount of underclassmen declaring for the draft has increased each of the last six seasons.

The shear number of them in this year’s draft means coaches, scouts and front office personnel have been busy doing their homework over the last couple months. Teams don’t have a lot of data on underclassmen before they declare. It’s a process going through the film, interviewing the players, getting into their background and judging their character.

“I’ve said it, this is the best draft – I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and this is the deepest draft that I’ve ever seen,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “The juniors added into it make it a very talented group.

“But the one thing that we talk about with these juniors, or any of the underclassmen, the redshirt sophomores, we are very cautiously optimistic about their emotional and physical readiness for this.

“This is a huge jump. Even though it’s a more talented group, or the most talented group that I have seen, I am also worried that it’s probably the most immature group. We have to be prepared for more player development type of programs or maybe enhancing your player development to get the most out of these younger players.”

The Lions have dealt with character issue from past draft classes and are trying to stay clear of some of those mistakes moving forward.

“Any time you are talking about juniors (maturity) is a concern,” Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster said at the Combine. “Young players, players that may only be 21 or whatever.

“So we have to do our research and any of those guys that we draft, we have to feel good about, that they’re mature enough that they’ll be able to come in and handle playing on an NFL team, being in an NFL city, and being high profile.”

Like the Steelers, Titans and 29 other teams in the league, the Lions have been busy doing their research on a deep and talented underclassmen group.