Take Bret Bielema’s Suggestion for Undrafted Underclassmen Further

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Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema advocated for the NCAA allowing undrafted underclassmen to return to college without losing eligibility. You can check out his entire interview with Bo Mattingly here, in which he says he plans to reach out to other coaches for their support.

Razorbacks’ offensive lineman Denver Kirkland found himself among the 30 underclassmen left undrafted upon completion of last month’s NFL draft. Seventy-seven underclassmen heard their names called.

While 30-of-107 seems like a big number on its face, it’s scant in the big picture of college football. Some of those players may very likely land on squads as undrafted free agents, getting a shot to earn their way onto rosters.

Underclassmen going undrafted is hardly an epidemic warranting immediate attention. Still, Bielema may be onto something for those who pursue the NFL but have a change of heart, or fail to get the opportunities they anticipated.

The window underclassmen prospects have to evaluate their decision is woefully narrow, about two weeks after the college football season’s conclusion. Once a football underclassmen is in, he’s in.

The NBA and NCAA worked together this year to allow basketball underclassmen to test the waters, while keeping the door open for a return to college. The new rule’s impact has been immediately evident, with a number of underclassmen submitting their name for early draft entry, but not signing agents to maintain amateur status.

Villanova guard Kris Jenkins, hero of the Wildcats’ national championship run, was among the first to gauge his draft stock and opt for a return to college.

Basketball players have a window of about two months, compared to just two weeks for football players — and that’s in a sport with a draft that occurs the week after the completion of the pro season.

The NFL draft is an absurd three months after the conclusion of the pro season. For those organizations that fail to reach the Playoffs — and for college programs — the layoff between the season and draft is four months, or 1/3 of a calendar year.

Draft weekend falls a full two months after the Combine, allowing for on-campus pro days, countless interview and workout sessions, and more. All that time to stew spawns the over-analyzing that plagues draft season.

How much will a franchise’s brass really learn about a prospect in the two months between the Combine and the draft? Yes, pro days might have some value. But even then, most are completed by mid-March.

Idle time can hurt underclassmen — even those with favorable grades when evaluating their decision in January.

A name that springs to mind is linebacker Scooby Wright. The 2014 national Defensive Player of the Year was a top 10 vote-getter in the Heisman Trophy race that year. Some projected him as a first-round caliber talent, yet he fell just a few spots shy of going undrafted.

Would Wright have been selected earlier had the draft occurred closer to the end of the season? Had the draft concluded a few picks earlier than his selection to the Cleveland Browns, might have wanted to return to Arizona for his senior year instead of going the undrafted free agent route?

I use Wright solely to put a face to the situation, but the names are irrelevant. The more pertinent question: Why shouldn’t undrafted underclassmen have the opportunity to return to college?