Underclassmen Woes

As we near the conclusion of the college bowl season, underclassmen across the country are submitting requests for grades to the college advisory committee of the NFL to rationalize whether they should forgo their senior season of college eligibility. Do not be surprised at the large number of underclassmen who opt for the NFL draft this upcoming April. Collegiate players and their families have always wrestled with the perplexing issue of coming out early or staying college to complete their degree requirements.

This issue has been compounded this year by a barrage of issues facing student-athletes and their families. With the world-wide economic environment affecting just about everyone, many student athletes will be even-more-so lured to the riches of the NFL to supplement the real issues of family members having been laid off or unable to seek gainful employment with a national unemployment rate of 10%.

I have graded tapes for the college advisory committee for some notable past NFL draftees: free agent DT Dewayne Robertson, Arizona Cardinals S Antrel Rolle, and Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams to name a few. I was not far off from where each one of these players was selected by his draft team except one: Dewayne Robertson. Although the grading scale ranges do depict actual slots, the grading scales use ranges of where a player may be selected (e.g. 1st Round, 2nd-3rd Round, 4th-5th Round, 6th-7th Round, Free Agent). Players receive a confidential score which is released to the player and the head coach of his school. After reviewing the grades, coaches typically do their ‘song and dance’ to persuade players that staying in school an extra year will be more profitable and rewarding for the player, when in actuality it usually means job security to the coach. 

In 2003, I graded Robertson when he was a junior coming out of the University of Kentucky, as no better than a 7th round player after watching his game tape from his performance against the Florida Gators. I was not overly happy with my initial grade, so I watched a couple more game tapes, and raised my grade to no higher than a 3rd round grade; not anywhere near a first round player.

Robertson was drafted with the #4 overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft by the New York Jets, and had not completed his degree requirements from his university. On April 24, 2008, Robertson was traded to the Denver Broncos and was subsequently signed to a five-year contract for $24 million. On February 16, 2009, the Denver Broncos released Robertson after just one season.

Let me repeat that again, Robertson was released after just one season with the Denver Broncos. AMAZING!

What about the #10 overall draft choice of the Detroit Lions in the 2005 NFL draft? Former University of Southern California (USC) WR Mike Williams. Oh, yeah! Remember him? He played two seasons with the Lions before short stints with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans in 2007, and has been unemployed in the NFL since July 31, 2008. It is astonishing how quickly life in the NFL can all come to an end for high profile underclassmen who wish to test their fate in the professional ranks.

Seventeen weeks of the NFL regular season have passed and Robertson never signed with an NFL team and did not play one down of the 2009 NFL preseason or regular season. I am sure while the money stopped coming in, the bills did not. It is realistically conceivable that a player of this magnitude could have at least $10,000 per month in bills and expenses, and with no steady income each week from playing in the NFL, it can easily dwindle away and amass to $120,000 in bills and expenses in one year, which quickly depletes the bank account. This is a classic example of how athletes go bankrupt year, after year, after year, after year, after…

I am sure Robertson still feels he can play professional football at a high level, and he may be correct, but there are many other athletes, who were not underclassmen when they entered the NFL, such as LB Derrick Brooks, WR Marvin Harrison, and RB Shaun Alexander, just to name a few, who felt the exact same way, and made ZERO DOLLARS ($0) for the 2009 season. I welcome anyone to challenge me that they where readily prepared not to play in the NFL during 2009 season.

Just six seasons after he was drafted in such a high profile draft slot, Robertson is out of work (in the NFL). I have never been one to follow the masses, but I never saw Robertson as a 1st round player as many others did, and it looks as though my initial assessment was correct.

I only hope the underclassmen across the country learn from this scenario in understanding the importance and value of an education and that leaving college early can mislead college athletes in making a decision that can eventually lead to a life of shoulda, coulda, woulda.

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