Declaring Early for the NFL Draft – What to Know

By Justin VanFulpen

This time of the year in college football, the mock drafts start coming out and people start talking about what players will declare early. But just because some on the internet is saying that this player should declare early or someone close to the player telling him that he should leave school early might not know all the facts.  Remember 80% of an NFL grade is made up on film.

1. In the past NFL Scouts weren’t allowed to scout underclassmen, but the rule has changed allowing the school to give scouts a list of 5 possible players that could declare that they were allowed to get info on. Scouts do look at the guys that they know for sure will be coming out early, but their main focus is the senior prospects. The underclassmen that aren’t general accepted as a 1st round pick there is rarely any work done on them during the season.

2. Underclassmen aren’t allowed at post season all-star games. 7 years ago with the NFLPA started the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl they were going to challenge the NFL rule and did allow one underclassmen in the game. That caused the NFL teams not to send a single scout to that all-star game. Because of that the NFLPA has only allowed seniors in their all-star game for then on. As we saw in the 2013 NFL Draft All-Star games are a big part of the process where OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan went from a late first rounder all the way up to the number one overall pick because of his play at the Senior Bowl.

3. NFL Combine – First official time NFL scouts can talk to underclassmen. Just because a prospect has declared early doesn’t automatically get him an invite to the NFL combine. So if a prospect is not invited then really the first time a scout get to talk with a prospect is at his school Pro Day.

4. NFL Draft Advisory Board – The board is composed of general managers and personnel directors from a number of NFL teams, along with the directors of the NFL’s two scouting combines, BLESTO and National. A prospect can ask for their assessment on where he is projected to get drafted. The board will return their assessment of the prospect with three possible grades – first round, second round, or neither, which means that the board advises the player to stay in school. The school can get a hold of the NFL Draft Advisory Board or the prospect can contact the NFL Player Personnel Department directly.

5. The 2018 NFL Draft included 106 underclassmen who entered the draft early, 69 players were drafted, leaving 37 who went undrafted (35% not drafted) The 2017 NFL Draft included 95 underclassmen who entered the draft early, 67 underclassmen were drafted, leaving 28 (30%) not drafted. The 2016 NFL Draft 30 of 96 underclassmen were not chosen (31%).

Every prospects situation is different when thinking about declaring early for the NFL Draft but each prospect should get as much information as possible in regards to leaving school early for the NFL Draft.  Just because someone (agent, family member, teammate, etc.) is telling you that you as a prospect should declare early make sure you get all the facts.

NFL Draft: Mid-Season Scouting

By Justin VanFulpen

In the College Football season and the NFL Draft process we are coming up on the midway point.  NFL Scouts have been to training camp to look at the prospects that had spring grades from National or BLETSO and they have watched film on prospects from the first couple of weeks, seen players live both in practice and games and will keep doing that as we get to the end of the season.  If you are a college football player what is going on now is the following:

If you were not graded in the spring as a draftable or free-agent prospect by the two scouting services (BLETSO & National) you need to dominate or keep dominating so you can get on the scouts radar because scouts aren’t looking to add guys they are looking to eliminate them as a prospect for their team.

All-Star Games (Senior Bowl, East West Shrine, NFLPA) – Their first round of invites have all gone out by now. Some coaches keep them and don’t give them to their players until later in the season but if you didn’t get an invite yet you still can but that tells you what they NFL thinks of you right now. Meaning they don’t see you as a draftable prospect at this time.

Scouting – Right now the area scout from all 32 teams has been to your school or seen you on film. They aren’t the decision maker for their team if they are going to draft you or sign you their job in the gather information and have an opinion for their boss the General Manager or Director of College Scouting.  But if they don’t think you can play at the next level less likely that any of the higher up will do any work on your film.

Scheme Fit – Teams are looking for players that fit the scheme that they are running on offense and defense so you could be a good player but if you don’t fit the scheme or have the size that they are looking for in that scheme you most likely will be eliminated for their draft board.

Background Checks – Scouts are looking to find out all the information they can for anyone that knows you from the strength coaches to people on campus to see if there is any trouble in your pass or if you are a good person.

Coaches – If the NFL thinks there is an NFL prospect at the school it has talked to at least one of the coaches on the staff and most likely the head coach to see if the coach or coaches would recommend their player or just their overall thoughts on the player.

The season is not over the process is still going but it is closer to the end then the beginning.

The NFL Draft is not made up just from the Power 5 Conferences

By Justin VanFulpen

A lot of people believe that the NFL Draft is made up of the Power 5 college football conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC & Pac-12) in college football but that is not totally the case.  If we take a look at the past 5 NFL Draft we see that there are a good amount of draft picks that come from other levels of college football.

2017 NFL Draft (256 picks):

63 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (24.6%)

22 of those 43 Non-FBS

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen, Wyoming – 1st round 7th overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert – 2nd round 49th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2017 NFL Draft (253 picks):

43 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (16.9%)

15 of those 43 Non-FBS

Tennessee Titans WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan – 1st round 5th overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Chicago Bears TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland – 2nd round 45th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2016 NFL Draft (253 picks):

57 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (22.5%)

20 of those 57 Non-FBS

Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State -1st round 2nd overall was earliest Non-Power 5 and Non-FBS pick.

2015 NFL Draft (256 picks):

56 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (21.8%)

20 of those 56 Non-FBS

Baltimore Ravens WR Breshad Perriman, UCF – 1st round 26th overall pick was the earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

San Francisco 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt, Samford – 2nd round 46th overall pick was the earliest Non-FBS pick.

2014 NFL Draft (256 picks):

84 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (32.8%)

24 of those 84 Non-FBS

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, UCF – 1st round 3 pick overall was the earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois – 2nd round 62nd overall was the earliest Non-FBS pick.

2013 NFL Draft (254 picks):

88 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (34.6%)

29 of those 88 Non-FBS

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan – 1st round 1st overall pick was the earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Atlanta Falcons CB Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana – 2nd round 60th overall was the earliest Non-FBS pick.

2012 NFL Draft (253 picks):

69 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (27.2%)

22 of those 69 Non-FBS

Kansas City Chiefs DT Dontari Poe, Memphis – 1st round 11th overall pick was the earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

St. Louis Rams WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State – – 2nd round 33rd overall was the earliest Non-FBS pick.   (In 2012 Appalachian State was non FBS – they have moved to the FBS now)

So in the past 5 NFL Draft we see there was at least 1 first round pick from a Non-5 Power conference and in 2013 the first overall pick came from a Non-5 Power conference.  In the past 4 NFL draft ever year there has been a 2nd round pick that was from a Non-FBS school.

So just remember if you are in a Power 5 conference there are other guys looking to get drafted just as high as you are and if you are not in a Power 5 conference it doesn’t matter if you can play football the NFL will find you.

How do College Football All-Star Game Invites work?

By Justin VanFulpen

The question always comes up from coaches, players, parents, agents, etc. – How does a player get invited to play in a game?   I had an opportunity to be in charge of the personnel for all-star games and like all the other people in the all-star game business we are looking for the best player that will have an opportunity to get drafted.  All-Star Games are talking to NFL scouts to see who they want to see in an all-star game, also they are hearing from agents, coaches who are recommending players both early and late in the invite process.

All-Star games are also looking at the spring grades from BLETSO and National to give them an idea of who as a whole the NFL likes as seniors when they speak with scouts.  One of the big reasons that spring grades as so important when it comes to all-star games and the NFL combine.

Since the life blood of an all-star game is sponsorship and most sponsors are looking to get close to NFL players or be able to say that they are involved with NFL prospects without having to spend the top dollars to be an official NFL sponsor.

But what I always tell people asking that question that communication is key with the personnel directors of the game or their staff.  Sometimes players will miss out on an opportunity to play in an all-star game because they don’t get back with an all-star game to let them know they are interested in playing in the game because they are waiting to get an invite to a “bigger” game.

Communicate with all the all-star games (Senior BowlEast West ShrineNFLPA, etc) and it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them via social media, email, phone, etc to get in front of them if you are not on their radar or even if you are it will strength your chance for an invite.

Since the Senior Bowl is by the far the number one all-star game they have the lead when it comes to what prospects go where.  If a player gets invited to the Senior Bowl most of the time they are pulling out of whatever all-star game they are in and going to that game.  Since that is the case and invites are kept close to the vest it causes all the other all-star games to continuously change their roster.

All-Star games start sending out invites in mid to late October and each game does it different as far as inviting players.  Some email the player directly other will send the invite to the school and have the coaches give it to the players.

My advice to players is accept the invite when you get it and get it back to the game if then you get invited to a “bigger” game,  just communicate with the game you had already accepted and just let them know in a timely manner so they can invite someone else.

Why College Football All-Star Games Matter

By Justin VanFulpen

One of the biggest things in the pre-draft process is the different all-star games.  I have had the opportunity to be involved with 6 College Football all-star games.  Five Texas vs. the Nation games and as well as the Player All-Star Classic in 2012, mainly working with the player personnel but also having other duties.

At the NFL Combine in 2016, former NFL GM Ray Farmer said about All-Star Games.

“I put more stock in that then combine stuff, the reason I do that, it’s ball… All-Star Games matter because it is good on good.”  

College football all-star games are about giving players an opportunity to show their skills in front of NFL scouts. In this environment where player come from all levels of competition the NFL scouts are evaluating not only the one-on-one and team practices but how fast can a player picks up the offense or defense that is being installed since everything is done within that game week.

Small school prospects that get into one of the major all-star games have a great ability to help themselves in the draft process because it shows scouts that the level of competition is not too high for them since that will be one of the biggest questions mark for that prospect to answer.

We saw this years Senior Bowl were QB Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen both played in the game and both helped their stock and both end up in the top 10 in the NFL Draft.

Three year at the Senior Bowl QB Carson Wentz from North Dakota State who end up as the number two pick overall by the Philadelphia Eagles raise his draft stock from his week of practice at the Senior Bowl.  OT Eric Fisher from Central Michigan in 2013 went from a late first round pick to the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft after his week at the Senior Bowl.

Players who are Seniors can get an idea of what the NFL think about them based on what all-star game the get invited to and not getting invited to a game says a lot because the directors of all-star games are talking with scouts to see who they want to see in a game. True going to the Senior Bowl doesn’t mean you are getting drafted in the first round but it can help your draft stock if you have a good week at any of the all-star games.

All-Star games are the second most import thing in the draft evaluation process after the prospects season film evaluation.

Breakdown of what NFL Draft Grades are made up of per NFL Scouts

By Justin VanFulpen

Film (80%) – Your level of competition and how you played against the best level of competition you faced that year.  Each NFL team will view around 3 full games of your current season normally against who is the best competition. This also includes if a prospect plays in any of the college football all-star games.

Athletic Numbers (10%) – Height, Weight, Speed.  Teams are looking at the film first and then see if the prospect checks off the box in the athletic numbers per the position.

Injury History/Off Field/Football IQ (10%) –  Any major injuries, anything major off the field, love of the game, film study.  Scouts are check social media, talking to high school coaches, strength coaches, academic advisors, current coaches as they try to find out as much information on the prospect on and off the field.

Why “Spring Grades” are Important to NFL Prospects

By Justin VanFulpen

When NFL scouts from the two scouting services BLETSO and National go into a school to do their junior evaluation they are looking to grade the NFL draft prospects for the next year’s draft but also to eliminate players as guys who can’t play in the NFL.  The scouts give those players “reject” grades so scout in the fall don’t have to spend time on players who are deemed not NFL players.

The scouting services grade over 13,000 senior college football players each year at all levels of football and normally there are around 600 with draft able or free-agent grades.  True do players with “reject” grades get draft? Yes but it is few and far between.

BLETSO and National have their spring meeting to go over grades around Labor Day time in May to be able to help set the scouts schedule for training camps visits in the summer.  Prospects are not told what their spring grade is by the two scouting services, but normally in the summer the grades get out and agents, financial advisors, media members and all-star games get their hands on them.

Spring grades are important for a number of reasons:

1. It is a road map for NFL scouts in the fall to where they should spend their most time.

2. National Scouting runs the NFL Combine so if a player has a good spring grade he is more likely to get invited then if he doesn’t.

3. All-Star games try to get their hands on these grades and use them when they start to invite players to their games.

True as a Senior what you do on the field is most import to your final NFL draft grade, but it doesn’t hurt to start with a good spring grade going into your Senior season.