More Juniors Than Ever Declare for NFL Draft, and That's a Good Thing

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2013

KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 10: Tyler Bray #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks to pass the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the game at Neyland Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tuesday marked the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. Logan Thomas made the biggest individual news of the day when, as College Football Talk reported, he elected to return to the Hokies for another year in Blacksburg.

However, the real news came in the form of the 74 total underclassmen who elected to enter the NFL draft. As shown on the CBS Sports Underclassmen Tracker, the list ranges from expected entrants to less-than-heralded players coming off of mediocre seasons. While folks hem and haw over draft stock, ultimately, these guys are making smart plays for their professional football futures.

Here at Your Best 11, we've talked about some of the more intangible benefits of returning to school when discussing both Tajh Boyd and Taylor Lewan's decisions. Those stories, along with a guy like Andrew Luck, are great stories.

Stories are nice, but in the grand scheme of things, this is about real life, not stories. In real life, guys have NFL dreams. In real life, guys have bills to pay. In real life, guys have kids to feed. In real life, guys get injured. Hell, in real life guys,' coaches get fired, and they have to learn new systems for their senior years.

So while draftniks and idealists are talking about legacy and hoping for the best in terms of their college teams' futures, these guys are looking at real-life choices. It is not about the "draft stock" anymore; rather, it is about being "drafted" at all.

More and more guys are realizing what folks have been trying to tell athletes for years: NFL careers are short. They are fleeting sprints of success for most guys, not the marathons that we've seen out of guys like Ray Lewis or Brett Favre.

Many people thought that the obvious decision, after knowing this piece of information, would be for guys to stay in school. Make their college careers last longer. Get their degrees.

Wrong. The move is to chase that dream while they can. You see, if the career is shorter at the NFL, then taking more hits for free in college just does not make sense. Go chase that dream now instead of absorbing more wear and tear on your body and then trying to run down that goal.

Players' bodies can only take so much, and whether those hits come at the collegiate or NFL level is of little consequence; in the end, they count the same. Minimize your college hits to maximize what your body can give you at the next level. Makes sense.

There is also another factor, besides the sheer physical beating, that comes into the play—the NFL's new rookie wage scale. Mike Detillier from NFL Draft Report explained just this to USA Today earlier this week:

"More and more you are going to see middle-round juniors entering the draft because of the new pay scale from the new CBA," Detillier said. "As a third or fourth round pick, you can make between $350,000 to $500,000 with a signing bonus. And it's not worth it financially to stay another year in college to go up a round because the money is about the same. LSU is just one of the first real test cases where you had an extremely talented junior class. There will be others like this from other schools in the future."

Essentially, it is okay to be a mid-round draft pick because staying in school and risking injury to try to climb into the first two rounds is no longer worth it. Start your NFL career earlier, and you are one step closer to the actual point where you can make real money: the second contract.

Good for these guys, go get paid. Get a year closer to that second deal, and get all of the NFL coaching and experience that you can. Your college and that degree? Cam Newton, as USA Today shows us, is reminding everyone that your college will be there. LSU, Georgia, Florida State, UCLA and the rest of them existed long before anyone's college football career, and they will be there when the kids have the time and desire to go back.

For now, though, it's a wise decision to get that money. A wise decision to leap through that small window that exists for an NFL career and make the most of it all.