Should a Player Declare for the Draft?

In Juice's case... yes. Yes, you should. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If you aren't a top two round pick, probably not.

Yesterday, ATVS advised Jeremy Hill to go pro. While we haven't weighed in on their decisions, I'm pretty sure no one has a problem with Beckham or Landry declaring for the draft either. If you are a first round pick, you should never take any criticism for going pro. Football is a violent sport, careers are short, and these guys have earned that brass ring.

But there is a world's difference between being a potential first round pick and being a potential third round pick or later. While we're giving out advice, I'm asking that any player, at any school, who is projected to go in the third round or later should almost always come back to school. This isn't looking at what's best for LSU or the school, this is what's best for the player himself. If I had a friend who was good enough to be a potential draft pick, I'd give this same advice: getting taken in the third round or later is a massive career obstacle to overcome. A player should do everything to avoid getting taken in the third round or later, even if it means trying your luck next year.

79 players declared for the NFL draft year, forgoing next season's eligibility. Seventy-nine. There's only so many picks in the first three rounds, guys. How did they do?

1st round

15

2nd round

11

3rd round

10

Picks 100+

18

Undrafted

25

25 guys clearly made a mistake. 18 guys most likely made a mistake, and will spend the next two or three years on the fringes of the NFL in all likelihood. Only 26 of the 75 guys landed in the safety of the first two rounds and guaranteed money in their rookie deal.

But I can hear you saying already: with the new cap, it's best to start your clock early and just get to your second deal as soon as you can. That's advice that sounds good, but it ignores a rather important thing: players taken in the 3rd round or later aren't likely to ever see a second contract.

The NFL is a brutal league run by even more ruthless businessmen. This is not a developmental league. If you can't play right away, very few teams are going to wait for you to develop. They will cast you on the slagheap and draft a newer model next year.

Now, teams likely won't give up on a top two round pick that early because they have something invested there. Not just guaranteed money, but also the draft pick. Top two round picks are valuable. Third round or later? The team has nothing invested in you. Picks lose value exponentially as the draft progresses, and teams simply don't place a premium on a third round pick. If you blow that pick, it's not a good thing, but it's an easily absorbed loss. The team moves on rather quickly.

The new rookie cap came into existence for the first time in the 2011 draft. Those players have now played three years, so we can see how teams treated their third round picks. The results aren't pretty.

All Pro

2

Starter

9

Backup

13

Fringe/out of league

9

Two guys have made a Pro Bowl. Two. That's how many guys can reasonably expect that big second contract. Another nine guys are their team's primary starter at the position they were drafted, so they also have a good chance at a second deal, but their odds of a huge windfall vary wildly. But let's call one-third of the third round picks a success. This is the best case scenario.

Nine guys are already out of the league or already intimately familiar with their practice squad. Their careers are essentially already over, and not only did they not get a second deal, they didn't earn their entire first deal. Another 13 guys are backups with very little chance of getting a second contract. A victory at this point would be getting a veteran minimum deal for one more year.

A player taken in the third round has just about as good of a chance as failing to make it to the end of his rookie deal as he is to earn a second contract. Approximately two-thirds of third round picks will not earn a second contract.

Entering the draft to be a third round pick is a terrible financial decision. The fact that there are multiple LSU players who weren't even 1st team All-SEC players considering turning pro is mind boggling. This isn't about LSU, this is about the players themselves. Leaving early when you weren't a top tier college player is a great way to be unemployed in two years.

Players do get their draft grade to guide them in their decision, but it's unconscionable that players are forced to make the biggest decision of their football careers without any sort of personal professional assistance. A player needs a quality agent to help them make this decision and come up with a plan for their career.

But hiring an agent makes a player immediately ineligible to continue his college career. That forces players to make a huge professional decision almost half-blind. It deprives players of good counsel all in the name of preserving some unattainable ideal.

The NCAA is failing kids at an important junction of their career. Every bit of advice they will receive is laced with self-serving bias. I'm sure Miles tries to give his players the best advice he can, but he is clearly motivated to encourage players to stay in school. How can a player truly trust his coach to give him the best advice when what is best for the player may not be what's best for the player?

Every player's situation is different. Sometimes it really is worth the risk to go out early. It shouldn't be a hard and fast rule about the third round. I think Paul is right about Hill and the longevity of running backs. But I am imploring any player at any school who is thinking about going pro early... if you are projected as a third round pick or later, your pro career is already in jeopardy. If you think you can improve your draft stock by coming back a year, you should seriously consider doing so.

Not because it helps your team. Not because the fans love you so much. Because you owe it to yourself to give your pro career the best chance for success.

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