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Near-record 103 underclassmen enter NFL draft

Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who led the Tigers to the national championship, is among 103 underclassmen to make themselves eligible for the NFL draft. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)
Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who led the Tigers to the national championship, is among 103 underclassmen to make themselves eligible for the NFL draft. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)
By Ralph D. Russo Associated Press

NEW YORK – For the second straight year, more than 100 players are giving up college eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

The league on Friday released a list of 95 underclassmen who have been granted early entry to draft, along with the names of eight other players, including Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who are draft-eligible by completing their college degrees.

Last year 96 underclassmen declared for the draft and 11 others became eligible by finishing their degrees. Of those 96 underclassmen, 66 were drafted (69 percent). In 2015, 71 percent of 74 underclassmen were drafted.

The record for underclassmen declaring for the draft is 98 in 2014.

Gil Brandt, former vice president of personnel for the Dallas Cowboys who is an analyst for the NFL Network, said more young players, with guidance from agents, are rushing to the league to position themselves better for a second contract.

Draft picks receive four-year contracts and the value of those contracts is basically determined by where a player is drafted since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. That agreement curtailed rookie salaries.

“What’s taken place is that agents, they want to get guys as soon as they can because if you can get an underclassmen, when his contract comes up he’s one year younger,” Brandt said.

“The story is, in that 95, there’s probably 25 or 30 that really should have come out. The others they probably would have been doing a lot better by staying a year in school.”

This year’s draft will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia. The Cleveland Browns have the first pick. Texas A&M junior defensive end Myles Garrett could be the first player picked overall.

Ohio State has six players among this year’s 103 early entrants, including All-Americans Curtis Samuel and Malik Hooker.

Watson was one of four players from the national champion Tigers to enter the draft early after graduating, joining receivers Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and running back Wayne Gallman.

Among the other notable underclassmen entering the draft are star running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford. Junior quarterbacks DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Trubisky of North Carolina are expected to challenge Watson to be the first quarterback drafted.

Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans are the other quarterbacks entering the draft early.

Brandt said quarterbacks who are short on college playing experience have often had difficult times transitioning to the NFL. He cited Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who was at Mississippi State for four years and became as a starter as a sophomore, as a player who benefited from a long college career.

Watson and Kaaya started since they were freshman, and Mahomes also saw extensive playing time as a freshman before two seasons as a starter. Kizer started for his final two seasons at Notre Dame. Trubisky’s only season as a starter at North Carolina was last year. Evans was a junior college transfer who played only one season at Virginia Tech.

“History tells us that the quarterbacks what have 30 (college) starts do much better than the guys who have 12 or 13 starts,” Brandt said.

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