For many underclassmen, NFL Draft is a humbling experience
Kevin Basped didn't spend draft day at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, or in the family room of his parents' Sacramento home glued to a TV. Instead, the All-WAC defensive end from Nevada who declared early for the 2010 NFL Draft stayed in his room and played
With a record 56 underclassmen in this week's draft -- from headliners like Heisman winner Cam Newton to head-scratchers like part-time Oregon starter Javes Lewis -- SI.com examined the individual outcomes of all 244 underclassmen who entered the draft between 2006 and 2010.
Of these 244 underclassmen:
69 (28%) were drafted in the first round.
22 (9%) have played in at least one Pro Bowl. (Fourteen of these 22 Pro Bowlers [64%] were first-round picks.)
60 (25%) went undrafted.
48 (20%) were drafted in rounds 4-7. (This figure, combined with the preceding statistic, means that 43% of draft-eligible underclassmen either went undrafted or were Day 2 picks.)
52 (21%) have never played in the NFL.
The on-field success of 2010 underclassmen like Sam Bradford has been well documented. But the journeys of players like Basped, Darius Marshall and Shawnbrey McNeal, who belong to this last group of 52 underclassmen who have yet to appear in an NFL regular-season game, haven't.
A wispy running back from SMU, McNeal endured what he called the "devastation" of sitting with his mother and closest relatives last April and watching pick after pick until, with the last selection of the seventh round, the confidence that led him to leave school early was crushed. "Not letting my mom hear my name get called that day, it was hard," he said. "Hard, hard, hard. To the point where I almost shut down. It was the biggest letdown of my life."
He signed a free-agent contract with the Chargers for $2,500 and lasted the entire preseason before being released. The Falcons picked him up and he spent the first half of the 2010 season on their practice squad, and the second half on the Redskins' practice squad. With its running back situation unsettled, Washington signed McNeal to a reserve/futures contract in January, giving him protection during a tumultuous offseason. He would never have said so a year ago, but today McNeal calls leaving SMU early "the best decision I've ever made."
"I know I can't go around and spend money like I was drafted in the first round," he says. "My pockets aren't as deep as theirs, so guys like me have to spend wisely and manage our money. The good thing is, that's where a lot of maturity can develop. And some of the things I learned from an early age, being raised by my mom in a little apartment in south Dallas, those skills will help me now."
Undrafted players this year will face an entirely different set of circumstances. Even if Monday's court ruling holds up and the lockout ends, undrafted free agents probably
"That's another reason I'm glad I came out," says Basped, who earned $50,000 playing for Omaha last fall after being cut by the Jets in training camp. "Not being able to go to [NFL] camps or even get a look, a lot of players aren't even going to get an opportunity to showcase what they can do." This year's undrafted players, Basped says, won't be as motivated to work out and stay physically ready for their chance.
NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis believes that the most important criteria for underclassmen to consider when deciding to make the jump is "emotional maturity."
"These guys are about to leave the cocoon," Davis said, "and they won't be able to get away with staying up all night playing video games anymore." As for the physical requirements, Davis said: "Obviously there's a reason high school players don't jump to the NFL the way they do in the NBA or in baseball."
McNeal appears to have both areas covered. The Redskins recently sent him an offseason workout program and told him "to use everything that's going on right now with the lockout as motivation."
Basped, meanwhile, is preparing for training camp with the Nighthawks, with a special focus on fighting training and "doing a lot of bag work to improve my hands." His ability to fend off blockers is the one skill that he feels regressed last season amid the inferior competition in the UFL. "No disrespect," Basped says, "but it's kind of like playing Utah State every week ... I just have to keep showing them that I belong in another league, not this one."
Darius Marshall would have been a sixth- or seventh-round choice, at best -- even if he hadn't failed a drug test for marijuana at the 2010 NFL Combine. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Marshall University, Marshall went undrafted and is currently working at a car wash in Huntington, W. Va., while waiting for a couple of CFL tryouts in May.
Marshall mentions his four year-old son as a big reason he entered the draft, but he admits that he could have used another year in college. "Another year would have made me wiser in making decisions, and knowing the consequences," he said last week.
Marshall's current situation is far different from the paths that Pro Bowlers Eric Berry and Maurkice Pouncey have taken since coming out early in 2010. But Berry and Pouncey are the exception, not the rule. Of the 99 underclassmen to come out in the last two drafts, three have been selected to the Pro Bowl. (Bills safety Jairus Byrd is the lone Pro Bowler among 2009 underclassmen. The crop of underclassmen in the 2006, 2007, and 2008 drafts have produced a combined 19 Pro Bowlers (see below).
Like Basped and McNeal, Marshall credits the NFL Draft Advisory Board with accurately predicting his draft position and says he has no regrets about leaving school early. His positive drug test was the result, he says, of "an immature move on my part, but at the same time ... it calmed my ego down and now I'm in a better situation as a person."
"Of course I wish I was out there on Sundays," he adds. "but I've grown up. This whole thing has made me grow up."
The statistics cited were provided by the NFL and are based on underclassmen who were granted what the league calls "special eligibility" for the draft. There were other players who "declared" for the draft; that number varies depending on source.
The NFL's official tally of 46 underclassmen who entered the 2009 draft, for example, does not include four players who were considered underclassmen but did not require special eligibility. (Austin Collie of BYU was 23 years old at the time and was therefore eligible.) These players were counted in our analysis as underclassmen who were drafted.