The NFL draft is the best way for teams to bring young talent into the fold. As it stands, a player must have been out of high school for at least three years to be eligible to enter the draft. The rules don’t require that players attend college, although since college is the de-facto farm system for the pro game, nearly all players drafted come from college.
In many ways, the current requirements for eligibility are ridiculous. There’s really no good rationale for forcing players to go through three years of college to enter the draft. If the NFL is hoping it’s players will want to finish the degrees they started in their first three years of college, then the current requirement only works in rare instances.
The problem with that rationale is simple. Elite prospects are in college to display their talents for NFL franchises.
Although there’s not a big push to allow younger prospects to enter the draft, it’s something the NFL should be looking into. Allowing more players to enter the draft would increase the talent pool teams would be selecting from. Instead of teams hoping to land an elite talent from two college classes, teams could be picking from three or four classes.
Allowing younger players into the draft also makes the event that much more dangerous for teams. Juniors and seniors entering the draft bring plenty of game tape with them, but by picking up freshman or sophomores, teams could snag talent before competitors have the chance to pick them up. The uncertainty adds to the drama of the event.
As with any change to the rules, some teams would benefit from the change while other teams would have to adjust quickly.
The Raiders, for instance, would probably suffer from indecision in the draft. They already take more talent-based shots than any other team in the league, often resulting in busts. Other teams like the Patriots and Steelers have a penchant for picking winners and solid picks throughout the early rounds of the draft. These are teams that would be able to pick young players that could make a big impact on the field.
The NFL has been trying to turn the draft into a more fan friendly even over the past several years, and one way to do that is to open up the event to younger players that fans will recognize. As it stands, the casual fan won’t recognize many of the players picked in the later rounds of the draft. There’s just too many reasons for the league to open up the draft to not at least have an open discussion about that possibility.