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The NFL is changing the way college underclassmen enter the draft and it’s so much better

This is going to work out better for every player, team, and school.

One of the major issues surrounding the NFL draft and college football is how underclassmen receive horrible advice about whether or not they should enter the draft. Some young players, like LSU’s Leonard Fournette, are surefire locks to go in the first round and should absolutely enter the draft.

Others are told that they might be taken in the first three rounds and end up going undrafted, ultimately forgoing their college eligibility and striking out at the NFL.

Since the new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, the number of underclassmen submitting their names for the NFL has doubled from around 50 per year to 98 in 2014 and 96 in 2016. The number of players drafted hasn’t grown, which means that the number of underclassmen that could have benefit from staying in college is the number to watch.

The present system for underclassmen involves the NFL College Advisory Committee, which effectively tells players whether they’re considered a first round pick, a second round pick, or if they should stay in school. Roughly a third of players that are told to stay in school and still declare go undrafted.

There is a big hesitation in drafting underclassmen because they aren’t allowed at the big scouting events like the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine Game, which is where scouts really get to sit down and pull back the curtain on the draft prospects. The underclassmen will have had to forgo their eligibility to participate in the scouting combine, so there’s no going back to college.

The NFL and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) have teamed up to create a new way to collect information on underclassmen so they can make more educated decisions about entering the draft.

“Beginning in February, each NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school may designate a maximum of five underclassmen who may apply for special eligibility for the 2018 Draft to be permitted additional scouting,” according to a statement from the NFL. “Those players may be timed, tested and interviewed prior to their 2017 college seasons at the school’s senior pro day for 2017 draft-eligible players. FBS schools may request the ability to designate more than five players, subject to the determination of the NFL that the players are legitimate draft prospects.

“NFL clubs will also be permitted to inquire about and scout these players throughout the 2017 season as though they were seniors in their final season of college football eligibility. There is no limit to the number of underclassmen from an individual school that may petition for special eligibility for the draft.”

In other words, schools will submit the names of their top players for clearance so they can speak with scouts and show off their athleticism a season prior to their first year of eligibility. This way, the players will have a full year of going through the draft process so teams will have a far better idea of where these players are likely to go in the draft.

This is a far better model and it’s something that’s been pushed by college coaches like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

The Patriots typically select seniors in the draft because they like the college captains, but they have selected their fair share of underclassmen early in the draft, like DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo, and LB Dont’a Hightower.

I’m sure Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will be thrilled about having better access to good information at draft time.