Draft King Analysis|
January 20, 2016
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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With the deadline for draft-eligible underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft having passed, and the Top 28 order now set, things are becoming clearer as far as the players and teams go. Of course, as always, there are surprises.
Perhaps the most unexpected decision was LSU CB Tre'Davious White opting to return to LSU for the 2016 season. He was a borderline first-round prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft, at least in my estimation. It's a calculated risk, and the decision will White the chance for him to potentially elevate himself into the Top 10 of the 2017 NFL Draft.
It's very unlikely that White would have been able to leapfrog Vernon Hargreaves or Jalen Ramsey in the defensive back pecking order. And, if nothing else, Hargreaves finding success after going back to Florida for 2015 showed the value that an extra year of experience can provide for cornerback prospects.
But it was another Florida cornerback who grabbed big headlines yesterday, as Gators CB Jalen Tabor noted the huge money that the SEC reportedly pulled in for 2014-2015, a whopping $527.4 million, and then compared modern college football with slavery.
The direct quote from his Twitter post: "The SEC Made 527.4 Million in Total Revenue and Players Ain't Get A Penny. Modern Form Of Slavery"
In my estimation, there is a vast incongruence between a voluntarily athletic venture and slavery. It's unfair to the millions of people through the years who have been subjected to real-life slavery. But, while Tabor's method of complaining about the incredibly misaligned rules for "revenue" college athletics was off-base, the source of that unhappiness was on target.
Tabor is a true sophomore who started for the University of Florida last year. He proved himself against top-level competition, earning All-SEC honors. But because Tabor isn't at least three years removed from his high school graduation, he wasn't allowed to apply for early entry into the NFL.
Collusion is a powerful thing, and neither the NFL nor the NCAA want the "three years removed" rule to change. For the NFL, it keeps its de facto free minor league system in place. For major college football teams, the obvious appeal is the knowledge that a player will likely be around for at least three years after signing.
Maurice Clarett tried fighting the policy in court, and after winning an initial ruling, he lost on appeal, and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case. And it seems unlikely that another challenge would end with different results, particularly the slow wheels of justice make it an unenticing option for players who want to go pro now, not after years of litigation.
The only thing that will change things is a viable alternative. Several attempts have been made at launching competing leagues in the past, including the short-lived XFL in 2001, and one only has to look to the USFL in the early-mid 1980s to see the impact that competition can have. With the USFL offering lucrative deals to top college stars like Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, etc., the 1984 NFL Draft ended up depleted of top talent.
Seriously, if you're not old enough to remember this, look at the 1984 NFL Draft and compare it with the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft, which included USFL and CFL players. The regular draft was rather lackluster, particularly compared with the supplemental draft, where three of the first four players selected eventually ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame. That includes the late Reggie White, who was one of the best players to ever take the field.
It wasn't just underclassmen who benefited, as college seniors suddenly found themselves in position to be able to negotiate between teams in multiple leagues to find the deal that is best for them. Imagine that. And that was just one year removed from Denver giving top pick John Elway a then-outrageous 6-year contract worth $12.7 million to lure him away from baseball. It seemed the tables were turning in favor of younger players.
The gravy train didn't last, however. While the USFL had deep pockets, it didn't have the long-term money to outspend the NFL for players indefinitely. By the end of 1984, the USFL was dealing with bankrupt teams and an insufficient cash flow. The USFL won a high-profile lawsuit against the NFL, but the jury only awarded one dollar in damages, trebled under U.S. anti-trust laws to three dollars.
Without the anticipated big lawsuit money, and with an attempted heads-up battle in the fall of 1985 with the NFL failing, the USFL was soon dead. Eventually the NFL ended up having to pay the USFL attorney fees, which totaled to $5.5 million, so they didn't get out of it unscathed.
The events of the mid-1980s eventually led to the 1987 NFL player strike, and ultimately the institution of the modern form of free agency that went into effect in 1993 and is still mostly in place today. And as tilted as the system in place for college players is, with assistant coaches commanding seven-figure salaries while players aren't allowed to even profit from their own likeness, it used to be even worse.
Is it unfair and inequitable? For sure. But it's not slavery.
My hope is to have an updated mock online by Friday. College players with remaining eligibility have 72 hours beyond the declaration deadline (this year 1/18/2016) to change their mind and return to school, and it's possible a few will do that.
But many of the elite prospects already have agents or have already done something to make themselves ineligible to go back, so odds are the volume on that will be low, as it usually is. Regardless, by Friday the full list will be known, and then the real fun will begin.
At this point, the popular opinion seems to be Cal QB Jared Goff outpacing Memphis QB Paxton Lynch and the rest of the field for the top QB slot, likely to be either the Browns at #2 or a team trading up to #1, potentially hoping to leapfrog Cleveland.
But, strangely, there isn't huge QB need for many of the teams in the top slots on the board. And that could impact what the Titans (who won't be looking for a QB with Marcus Mariota on board) do at #1, potentially have a cascading effect far down the line.
Think about it: San Diego at #3 signed Philip Rivers to a massive extension in late 2015, a five-year, $99 million deal with $55 million guaranteed. Dallas at #4 has Tony Romo, who also has a massive contract. But Romo will turn 36 before the draft -- and the Cowboys learned the hard way this year what happens in the modern NFL when you have a deficiency at backup quarterback and your starter is sidelined. So they might be in play for a quarterback.
To point, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly told KRLD-FM in Dallas that his team would consider using its top pick on a quarterback. You might be inclined to think that is intentional misdirection, but Jones has a long history of letting the cat out of the bag. And if he says the Cowboys are considering a QB at #4, I'm inclined to believe him.
But beyond that, Jacksonville at #5 has Blake Bortles and Baltimore at #6 has Joe Flacco, leaving both teams unlikely to use their respective picks on a QB. San Francisco at #7 is an enigma with Chip Kelly now on board, but if you're the Titans at #1, you're going to demand a king's ransom to drop down that far. Beyond that, it might be entirely impractical for even the most QB-starved of teams to cobble together enough picks/players to make a trade happen.
One more wrinkle to this: much of the ascent of Goff up mock draft boards is fueled by the perception that Goff is the more NFL-ready in comparison with Lynch. And there's an argument to be made for that. But where it gets complicated is Cleveland needing a guy who can start right away, unlike Dallas, which might see Lynch as having more long-term potential and thus prefer him over Goff.
At the same time, not everyone sees it as a Goff vs. Lynch battle. To point, Bucky Brooks, as of this writing, has Lynch at #4 behind Goff, North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz, and Michigan State QB Connor Cook. And it's not like Goff is without his detractors, with some wondering if he has the frame to handle an NFL-level beating.
In short: the long vetting process ahead might hold more meaning for the top QB prospects this year compared with most. As always, we shall see.
One evaluation that seems to be all over the place is where Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith will be drafted. His serious knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State turned him into a giant question mark, but prior to that he looked like a viable option for Dallas at #4 and a near-lock to go in the top dozen spots.
During his time in South Bend, Smith became one of the most dynamic players in college football, showing a remarkable ability to be effective at both OLB and ILB. The distinction there is not mild.
The smart play for draft analysts like me seems to be slotting Smith for a late-first round spot, at least at this point. Hopefully he will make a full recovery and have a long NFL career, though particularly if his prognosis is that he will miss all of 2016, his draft stock could slip. Remember: general managers on the hot seat don't like to trade down for future picks, and they certainly don't like to draft players who can't help them save their job.