As you know, there was a major announcement Monday that FBS schools will designate up to five underclassmen that NFL teams can scout essentially a full year before they can become eligible.
Presumably, this means a number of redshirt freshmen and true sophomores will become eligible for NFL evaluation this spring in anticipation of these players potentially entering the ’18 draft. Perhaps this means players already three years out of high school will be designated as ‘underclassmen.’ It’s also unclear if it will be made public which teams receive these designations.
Setting aside the questions that remain regarding the new policy, here are a few thoughts on how it might change the business of football.
- My guess is that it will become harder for fringe players to get recognized as legitimate NFL prospects. Why? Increasingly, NFL teams see draft picks after the fourth round as disposable, and this is because they only see the top 100 or so draftees as real difference-makers. These are the guys that win ballgames for you, and in an era where coaches only get two, maybe three years to prove themselves, it’s a win-now world.
- The players designated as underclassmen to watch will automatically be seen as sexier and more desirable to NFL teams. Obviously, that makes a lot of sense for the players from Florida State, Alabama and the like, but there will be other ‘middle class’ teams that designate their own players, and I expect those athletes to get more acclaim, even by scouts. It’s human nature.
- As the agent middle class starts to dissolve (given the tighter margins dictated by the NFLPA), you’re going to see a polarization of the draft. The top 30 or so agencies will strictly recruit the underclassmen designates and the very best seniors, while the other 60 percent of the agent world will try to pick up the scraps. That’s not a lot different from how things work today, but I see it hardening and becoming even more cut and dried. The big firms that have overhead and who are willing to make the investment that recruiting players entails will just have no choice.
- Maybe I’m looking at this as a glass that’s half-full, but this could be an opportunity for those smaller agents and agencies. Younger, less-established contract advisors will have to work harder to find these off-the-grid players, and will have to promote them more aggressively, but there’s a higher ceiling for these players now, I think. So maybe, just maybe, this can be a good thing for players trying to break into the biz.