This week, there was a firestorm over something I wrote (and Darren Heitner tweeted)   regarding Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, as well as my tweet Monday confirming that Texas’ D’Onta Foreman would enter the ’17 draft. The tone of the tweets coming back was, ‘oh no, these players have spoken to agents, now they’re gonna lose their eligibility!!’

I thought this warranted a blog post. There’s a huge disconnect between what fans understand about the agent process and what’s actually true. There’s an even bigger disconnect (Grand Canyon-esque) about what fans understand about the early-entry process and what’s true.

I’ve preached ad nauseam about the agent selection process and it’s perceived ‘illegality’ (here’s a tweet and here’s a two-minute podcast on the subject), so today let’s talk about players leaving early for the draft.

Here’s how the average fan perceives of the process for early entry.

  1. Promising player arrives at university focused on graduating in four years and pursuing degree of his choice. Also plays football on weekends.
  2. Conniving agent lures star player into thinking about money, convinces him to desert his teammates and enter NFL draft before every ounce of his eligibility is exhausted.
  3. Player declares early; coaches, administrators and teammates scream and shed tears of rejection and betrayal.

Admittedly, that’s a oversimplification, but the whole situation is rather complex. Here’s a much more realistic take on it.

  1. Player is recognized as talented early in his football playing days and begins to dream of NFL stardom. Coaches, teammates and family members encourage and empower this dream as it takes shape over a decade.
  2. Often, player realizes NFL playing career could lift himself and his family out of poverty or negative financial situation, and again, family encourages this. Often, family members ask how long until he’s in the league.
  3. At times, player will father a child out of wedlock. This heightens the financial pressure.
  4. Coaches, media, opposing teams, his own performance, etc., confirm player’s impression that he’s an elite talent and ready for the NFL. Player also realizes the mortality of his playing career.
  5. Often, his coaching structure and/or key players around him graduate and he realizes his chances of repeating his success are lessened going forward.
  6. Usually, the player has discussed his mindset entering his third year out of high school with coaches and family, and teams support and understand his thought process (often, I have scouts tell them that schools encourage them to evaluate certain juniors that have made it known they’re leaving).

Somewhere during this process, agents enter the picture. But this isn’t an evil thing, and not even necessarily a bad thing. At any rate, hopefully, the young man has a responsible and loving support system around him that can help in the vetting process, and hopefully he plays for a progressive school that educates him and doesn’t try to shutter him from the outside world. Also, hopefully the parents are educated and attentive enough to be helpful (which is one reason we started our Two-Minute Drill series). By all accounts, Peppers and Foreman have that.

At no point does simply talking to agents invalidate a player’s eligibility. It’s important to understand this.

It’s also important to look at these young men not as strictly Saturday’s warriors. We all want to live our dreams, and everyone at their schools — especially their coaches and teammates — understands that.

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