The list of underclassmen that declare for the draft each year just seems to be increasing and setting records on a yearly basis. For the 2014 NFL Draft a record 96 underclassmen have declared as of the January 15th deadline.
View the list of underclassmen who have declared here.
In 2013, 73 underclassmen declared, in which only 17 went undrafted. We expected that number to grow this year as it will be hard to find room for 96 selections.
Out of these 96 players, there are some names that make a lot of sense to declare. Obvious names include Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Evans, among many others.
However, there are some big question marks for a few of these early entrants. Here are a few players who should have stayed in school for at least another season:
Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
The decision was likely easy for Beckham considering his value could have slipped without a veteran quarterback throwing to him in Baton Rouge for the 2014 season. Still, Beckham has a long way to go in terms of being a productive NFL receiver. His routes are still rounded off too much, he tends to take his eye off of the ball and despite an exceptional freshman debut, he really didn’t make the impact he shoud have at LSU. Still, I understand the decision to leave, but he could have used another year to further develop his skills in hopes of being a day one or early day two selection. Right now I would be surprised if he was selected in the Top 100.
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Bigelow offers a lot of potential, but what running back doesn’t? He has shown signs of explosiveness, an ability to catch the ball out of the back field and decent vision. But running backs are already easy to find in the NFL, and to be honest, unless you’re a surefire first round back, leaving early is risky.
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
In a draft that features several very talented receiver, many of them in which are underclassmen, Ellington is taking a big chance. Right now, he’s a day three pick as a Dexter McCluster type player for the Chiefs. Shifty, versatile and fast, Ellington possesses good skills with the ball in his hands, but as a 5’9 receiver, getting drafted early after already lacking production and consistency in the NCAA will be hard in the first four rounds.
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
I’ve always liked Grimble’s upside as a blocking tight end and he certainly has not disappointed in that area. But as a pass catcher, he definitely has opportunity. What Grimble can do is run after the catch, but creating separation has been an issue for him and he could benefit from another year. USC has talented tight ends on the roster, however, and Grimble may have been worried about his role in 2014 with the Trojans.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Before you freak out, understand that Kouandjio is still a first round pick and could go Top 15. But towards the end of the season he seemed to run out of gas, while playing at a lower level than he had in the first eight games. He was exposed heavily against Auburn and Oklahoma and could use another year to refine his technique. Not to mention, had he stayed another year, he may have been a surefire top five pick. Still, I don’t blame him for shooting as he’s nearly a lock for the first round.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Much like his mentor Tandon Doss did, Latimer is choosing to leave for the NFL prematurely. Doss has done a decent job in Baltimore after being selected in the fourth round, which is right around where Latimer could go with a good off-season of workouts. Latimer fits in as a possession receiver who is limited in the role he could play early in an NFL offense. He’s a project receiver with good upside, but not enough upside to dart for the NFL early.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Much like Kouandjio, Roby is a lock for a first/second round pick. However, the one dimensional Roby was exposed heavily in 2013 on an Ohio State secondary that was one of the worst in the nation. His coverage skills are lacking, being burned multiple times and struggling heavily in zone coverage as well. As a defender against the run, you may not find one better in the NCAA in the last two seasons, but in a passing league, you have to cover and Roby went from being a potential Top 10 selection to being lucky to be a Top 50 selection at the moment.
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
I actually like Smith as a runner, but like Bigelow, I don’t care to see running backs leave early, especially ones that lacked production against mediocre defenses and struggled to prove much. Smith doesn’t offer much help out of the back field as a pass catcher, although he’s shown an ability to improve. In terms of pass protection, that may be where he shines. But Smith struggles to play as physical as he could be and lacks the vision that you want to see from an NFL running back.
Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama
Pagan has played extensively in three years with Alabama and has done a very solid job as a 34 defensive end playing the five technique. Still, his inconsistent play against better tackles and his lack of a presence late in games leaves me wondering why he’s leaving early. I can understand that a need for 34 defensive ends is higher than ever with more teams switching up their defenses, but Pagan right now looks like a 100-150 selection, whereas with another year he is talented enough to shoot himself up into the late first/early second.
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
I certainly understand Smith’s desire to leave. The Wyoming football program isn’t exactly something to be excited to come back to on a yearly basis. To be honest, Smith is very talented and he’s one of my biggest sleepers to sneak into the second or third round. But he has some work to do. His footwork leaves more to be desired, he’s run primarily out of a shotgun spread for three seasons, and he still holds onto the ball longer than I’d like to see. There’s a lot of opportunity here for Smith as his decision making against better defenses left me facepalming at times. While his ability to evade the rush and extend plays is special, he won’t get away with it much at the next level. I’d love to see Smith succeed and leaving early doesn’t seem like the best move in my eyes.