Sometime during their high school years, five former Miami Hurricanes football players must have heard the anti-dropout slogan, “Don’t Be a Fool, Stay in School.”
They should have heeded that advice when it came to the NFL Draft.
Only one of the six Hurricanes underclassmen who turned pro after the 2011 college season — defensive end Olivier Vernon (Miami Dolphins) — justified the decision by being chosen during the draft’s first two days.
Three others — running back Lamar Miller (Dolphins/fourth round), guard Brandon Washington (Philadelphia/sixth) and wide receiver Tommy Streeter (Baltimore/sixth) — didn’t have their names called until Saturday’s final four rounds. And although they might catch on as rookie free agents, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and wide receiver Aldarius Johnson weren’t chosen at all.
This wasn’t just a blow to their egos. It potentially cost these players hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been earned in rookie contracts had they returned for one more year to improve their draft stock.
In particular, Miller, Streeter and Washington possess the kind of athletic talent to have commanded a first- or second-round selection in 2013. But they had too many perceived deficiencies to warrant a higher pick now.
“I was upset at first, but now I’m happy with where I’m at,” Miller admitted during a conference call with Dolphins media. “I’m going to make the best of it, play to the best of my ability and concentrate on that.”
Not as if he has a choice.
It’s the same scenario for some of the NFL-record 65 underclassmen who declared themselves draft-eligible in January. Many were wise to depart. Almost 60 percent of this year’s first-round picks (19 of 32) still had college eligibility remaining that was forsaken when turning pro.
But for every Andrew Luck, there’s a Darron Thomas.
After starting for Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Thomas entered the draft. He mentioned another underclass success story when initially discussing the move.
“I saw what Cam Newton did this year,” Thomas told ESPN in January. “He took his raw talent and made a spark. I can do those things, too."
Thomas should have first done them for another year at Oregon. He wasn’t one of the 253 picks whose names were called.
As long as the NFL continues milking the NCAA as its free farm system to develop talent, there will be these types of hits and misses.
There are plenty of redshirt sophomores and juniors who prove NFL-ready like Newton with Carolina in 2011. Conversely, sticking around too long can be a mistake. Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart was the likely No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft had he turned pro as a junior. Leinart returned for his senior campaign, which cost him millions of guaranteed dollars when he was selected at No. 10 by Arizona the following year.
Most underclassmen, though, exit college for what aren’t the most ideal reasons. Financial pressure, academic disinterest, disciplinary/legal problems and beefs with the coaching staff are the most common. Even though an insurance policy can mitigate some of the risk, there also is fear of an injury that can dash NFL dreams. Miller cited the physical pounding inherent with the running back position.
At a school where Willis McGahee suffered a horrific knee injury, such apprehension is understandable. Coincidentally, McGahee also turned pro early and was a surprise 2003 first-round pick by Buffalo while still rehabilitating.
A healthy Miller wasn’t so lucky in this draft.
Hoping to curtail underclassmen flops and disappointments, the league created a draft advisory board in 1994 to provide a projected selection round. This came about largely because 76 of the first 165 underclassmen to apply since 1990 had gone undrafted, which put both the NFL and NCAA in a bad light.
The board’s assessments aren’t always accurate. Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who turned pro despite receiving a second-round grade, was the 12th overall pick Thursday by Philadelphia. But, by and large, this cadre of personnel experts knows what it’s doing.
Hundreds of underclassmen use the service each year. Multiple media reports claim that none of Miami’s six early entries solicited that feedback before entering the draft.
After seeing how things turned out, it’s clear Miller, Streeter, Washington, Forston and Johnson either really disliked new Hurricanes head coach Al Golden, received some poor advice along the way (cough, agents and their runners, cough) or a combination of both.
Regardless, the joke isn’t on the "U." It’s on those who hurt themselves by leaving prematurely.