There are many reasons for underclassmen to declare early for the NFL Draft. A high grade from scouts, a lackluster draft class at your position, a disagreement with the coaching staff, and a need at home are some of the more prevalent reasons that it happens.
While I don’t know all the variables that each of these players left school early, I’ve used their on the field play, their next year’s college team, and the positional value in this class to sort the decisions into four catagories.
No Good Reason
George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Atkinson has flashed over the past two seasons at Notre Dame, with his career game against Oklahoma really putting him on the map his junior year. However, he was filled with inconsistency this season, and the hopes were that he’d be the full time bell-cow in 2014. Leaving early, especially in this junior running back class, may push him to the bottom or out of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
North Carolina has produced solid juniors in the past, but Bodine simply is not one of them. He was actually benched during the season at one point and was consistently moved to guard when he struggled at center. He’s not a draftable center from the games I watched.
Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson
Leaving Clemson with a handful of other juniors, Breeland may have the best chance to be drafted of this group. However, leaving school at this point limits him to the later rounds in scouts’ eyes, and will give him an uphill battle to stay in the league. Had he stayed in college, he may have earned a Top 100 grade.
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
It was an obvious trend that California Bears juniors just wanted out of the program. Despite being one of the worst teams from the major conferences, they had four declarations. Regardless of the reasoning, it won’t do anything positive for their NFL future. Jackson is a long shot to be drafted.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Lyerla was the first official junior to declare for the draft, after he quit on his team mid-season and decided to get ready for the NFL. He proceeded to get arrest for cocaine possession, and I’ve heard that many teams won’t even touch him. He’s remarkably talented, so I wouldn’t be shocked if some team takes a flier on him, but he certainly went about the NFL process the complete wrong way.
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Similar to Kameron Jackson above, leaving early won’t do anything to help Moala. He’s a long shot to be drafted, so I hope leaving the California program was necessary enough, because it likely crippled his NFL hopes.
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Leaving school likely because he’s already broken plenty of records at Ball State and his quarterback are leaving, I would still have strongly advised Snead to stay in school another year. Despite having to work with a new quarterback, he could’ve gotten to improve as a route runner and fine-tune the little parts of his game. Scouts wouldn’t have forgotten a successful 2013 season. But now, Snead may be completely forgotten about in this deep receiver class.
Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State
Reportedly leaving to support his family, Warren would be a massive shock to be drafted, and may not be able to last in the NFL more than a few years. Finishing his college career and getting a degree would’ve been the route I would have told him to take.
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
LSU has been dubbed “Leave School U” by myself, as they’ve seen 18 players declare for the draft in the past two years alone. While some made a wise decision, Turner did not. He may get drafted late, but guards are rarely wise to declare for the draft because it’s not a luxury position.
Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
Impressive on film after just one season at Colorado State, Bibbs is one of my favorite late round running backs in this class. However, leaving after one season, in this deep class, is a huge mistake for a guy with NFL starter potential.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Bryant is certainly talented, and played 2nd fiddle to Watkins this year. Combine that with his quarterback leaving, and there’s some merit to leaving early. But in this class, staying at Clemson and with Chad Morris would have been much wiser.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
After passing on the draft as a redshirt sophomore, Coleman struggled mightily this year, only having a handful of good games. With his quarterback returning next year, staying another year and further developing would have been wise.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
The former SEC Freshman of the Year when he was at Georgia, the transfer down Crowell chose to only play 2 years at the FCS level. Remarkably talented, but scouts want to see the maturity and development. Leaving school early doesn’t convey that well.
Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky
I actually liked what I saw from the All-Sun Belt stand out safety on film, but leaving early from Western Kentucky isn’t usually a wise move. For Dowling, it not stunts his growth a bit, and may cause him to fall nearly undrafted.
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Ferguson is very talented, and may end up as a Top 100 pick regardless. But staying in school another year could have easily pushed him into the Top 15 discussion for 2015.
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Usually Stanford players stay as long as they can in college, thanks to a well-run program and their head coach David Shaw. But both Fleming and David Yankey left from their offensive line. Yankey may end up in the late first round at best, while Fleming seems more like a mid to late round tackle.
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
A transfer from Penn State, Fortt never caught on at California after flashing as a young Nittany Lion before. He was one of three California Bears who made a mistake declaring early.
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Leaving school after a down 2013 season that ruled him academically ineligible, Franklin unwisely opted to enter the 2014 draft.
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Likely jumping ship after having four coaches in under a year at USC, Grimble enters a tight end class that will push him to the mid rounds, where as if he stayed a year, the first round could have been an option.
Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina
Reportedly he didn’t even ask for feedback from the advisory committee, which is a mistake right off the bat. Hampton likely is still drafted, but not nearly as high as he may think.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
After recruiting LSU players to stay in school, Hill flipped his own script and opted to enter. He was impressive at times this year, but I don’t feel he’s a Top 100 pick in this draft.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
After a positive year in the Indiana offense, the well-built Latimer entered the draft. Another year at Indiana and in that offense could have vaulted him up to a 1st round grade. Now, he’s a mid-rounder in this deep class.
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Similar to Grimble leaving early, Martin likely jumped ship after the bombardment of new head coaches. But Martin simply isn’t worth a Top 100 pick, and may go undrafted.
Terrance Mitchell, CB/S, Oregon
Reportedly not meshing with the current coaching staff, Mitchell has NFL talent but may not be NFL ready quite yet. We have him as a projected late round safety.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
He likely had his sights set on declaring before the season, but a down year and a lack of production should have made him return for his senior year.
Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
Battling an ankle injury all year, Muema struggled through his junior year. Already at 500+ career carries, he must have felt leaving now would keep him fresh for the NFL. But he may not be drafted or last more than a year in the league based on this class.
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
A well-rounded, strong blocking tight end, Murphy was limited this year by a wrist injury. Already 24 years old, his age is likely why he came out. Murphy is unlikely to be a Top 100 pick.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Jumping ship after a poor Florida season, Purifoy may not realize that he’s not a lock for the first few rounds. He certainly possesses NFL talent, but another year could have made him more developed, potentially 1st round cornerback
Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
I like Reaves on film as a late round running back, and he could be a zone blocking runner teams look for late. But he won’t be a Top 100 pick, and there’s no guarantee he gets drafted in this deep class.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Built thin and winning primarily as a deep receiver, Richardson’s struggles against press coverage and a lack of physicality at the catch point will hurt him in this deep class. He’ll struggle to be a Top 100 pick.
Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Still very raw as a cornerback, team’s will view him as a late round project to develop. But in an NFL where head coaches only get 3 years to prove their worth, they may pass on a 2-3 year developmental guy.
Richard Rodgers, TE California
With awesome receiving ability, Rodgers has already drawn the coveted Jimmy Graham-comparison this year. But he simply lacks polish and, barring he blows up at the Combine, won’t be a Top 100 pick.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Seastrunk likely had his sights set on the NFL since he was a high school senior, but at Baylor, he didn’t get to show NFL teams he can handle a workload, especially in power run situations. He may be passed over by more complete runners in this class, despite his upside.
Terrance West, RB, Towson
West was arguably the best FCS player in the country this year, and he’s shown the NFL what he can do at that level. But leaving early from a small school is rarely something I condone as a good idea.
James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
Playing a backup role this year, the powerful runner could have been the feature weapon after Devonte Freeman declared. Now, he’s a mid-to-late rounder in this deep class.
Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama
Talent-wise, Sunseri didn’t make a terrible decision to leave early. But another year as a Saban defensive leader could have made him a top safety prospect.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
With a draftable grade and NFL upside to last in the NFL, Stewart will likely make a roster next year. But he had flashed the potential to be a 2015 first round type receiver had he stayed.
Understandable Based On Circumstance
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt
-Boyd was kicked out of school, and opted to enter the draft because he ran out of eligibility. There wasn’t another reasonable option for him.
Carl Bradford, DE/OLB, Arizona State
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
-Ellington is a remarkably fast receiver who lacks the polish to play running back or receiver in the NFL yet. However, by staying in school, his grade likely wouldn’t have improved much.
Mike Flacco, TE, New Haven
-Flacco, Joe’s little brother, is already 26 years old.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
-Hubbard would have been wise to stay in school, but since he can play in the 2014 Senior Bowl, it gives him a chance to impress NFL scouts the way most juniors can not.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
-Mauled by injuries throughout his career, leaving early while the Missouri program was on top wasn’t the worst decision. I would have rather he stayed, but I understand the decision.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
-The former Notre Dame stud as a freshman, he transferred to USF who refused to use him correctly. Despite his dip in production, he may go in the Top 50 picks.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama
Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
-We don’t think he’s a top defensive tackle prospect, but he took advantage of Jadeveon Clowney next to him all season and made the most of it.
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
-Ideally, a junior from Wyoming should always return. But after the success he had and the NFL flashes he showed, along with his head coaching leaving, Smith moving on early is a sound decision.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
George Uko, DL, USC
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
-Rumors are that his touches would have dropped further had he stayed, and I’ve even heard he may have been asked to play cornerback next year (he was a top cornerback recruit out of high school).
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
David Yankey, OL, Stanford
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington