TAMPA, Fla. >> Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney are hopeful that new rules regarding how NFL teams can evaluate underclassmen will provide players better information on whether to go pro.
The American Football Coaches Association and the NFL reached an agreement last year that allows underclassmen who are returning for another season of college football to participate in pro days at their schools. That will allow scouts and coaches to begin the evaluation process earlier. Each school is allowed to have five underclassmen participate, though it can request to have more.
The change should give the NFL’s college advisory committee more information and allow it to provide better feedback when underclassmen request evaluations.
“I think the philosophy here is the more information that the NFL can get on players, the more accurate they can be in evaluation,” Saban said. “And I think that players are trying to make a business decision after three years in school, business decision being, where will I get drafted relative to if I stayed in school, where could I develop and get drafted a year from now and have a better opportunity for myself.
“Because once you enter the draft, you can’t improve your draft status. But if you stay in college you can improve your draft status dramatically.”
Swinney gave Saban credit for spearheading the change, arranging a conference call with about five coaches last year.
For the second straight season, Alabama and Clemson are playing in the College Football Playoff national championship game. Both teams are loaded with underclassmen that could leave behind college eligibility and declare for the NFL draft in April. The deadline to declare for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 16.
Swinney has already said he expects quarterback Deshaun Watson, receiver Mike Williams and running back Wayne Gallman to give up their final season eligibility and enter the draft as juniors. Among the Alabama players who will be considering early draft entry are offensive tackle Cam Robinson and receiver ArDarius Stewart.
Underclassmen can request an evaluation from the advisory committee. The committee changed its rating system last year to potential first-round pick, potential second-round pick or neither, essentially recommending the player stay in school. The number of underclassmen entering the draft had been steadily rising in recent years and hit a record 98 in 2015. Last year that number dropped to 74 and coaches are hoping the new scouting rules can decrease it further.
“It was frustrating when you have a young man that gets a second-round grade and he doesn’t get drafted, or it’s frustrating when you have a guy that gets a seventh-round grade and comes out and goes in the second round,” Swinney said. “The consistency in the evaluation was an area of concern for us as coaches.”