2022 NFL Draft: Five college stars who left NIL paydays on the table, then slipped big in the draft
After every draft in every professional sport that uses a collegiate power system, it’s easy to look back with the 20-20 view of hindsight and identify early entrants who would have benefited from staying in college another season. . The same goes for the 2022 NFL Draft, except this season there’s an added wrinkle to the equation due to how name, image and likeness are changing college sports.
While backstage deals and sack giveaways have long been part of college football’s seedy underbelly, the amount of money available to star players is now rapidly increasing as we enter a new world for the sport. The NFL is no longer the only place to legally make money playing football, as the NCAA takes a hands-off approach to controlling NIL play.
Playing college football around this time will be more lucrative for some players than moving on and fighting for a spot on the NFL roster. While early-round draft picks at the pro level still live in a unique financial stratosphere, the lack of guaranteed money available for late-round draft picks should give some college juniors something to think about when they reflect on decisions about their future.
For most young football players, reaching the NFL is the ultimate dream, and reaching that goal can transcend a simple financial equation. But for some juniors in the 2022 draft class, it looks like the benefits of playing one last college season might have outweighed the benefits of moving on. Here are five juniors in the 2022 draft class who might have been able to make money through NIL, but will now be fighting for their proverbial NFL lives instead.
The players below are ranked in the order things went wrong for them during the draft versus pre-draft expectations and hopes.
1. Justyn Ross, Clemson WR
Ross ranked 17th in receivers and 123rd in players overall in the CBS Sports NFL Draft, which should have resulted in a mid-round pick. Instead, Ross became one of the biggest rebuffs in the draft. Ultimately, it’s hard to hit Ross to stay in the draft. The projections were there, he was at Clemson for four years and the knee injury that forced him to miss the 2020 season because of a medical redshirt probably only increased his sense of urgency to take the path the fastest available to the NFL.
His 46 catches for 514 yards as the star weapon in a Clemson passing offense last season suggested the 6-foot-4 target had recovered well enough from the injury to have a great pro career. In the end, he still could. But in hindsight, he could also have played one more season of college football. For as skeptical of the new frontier of college football as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the Tigers have a fledgling NIL infrastructure, and Ross would surely have been a major beneficiary had he opted for a dramatic comeback.
2. Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M TE
Signed with Buffalo as an undrafted free agent
Wydermyer established himself as one of college football’s best tight ends during a three-year run at Texas A&M, and it was surprising to see him go undrafted. With Texas A&M’s strong donor base and unwavering willingness to commit any resources necessary for success on the ground, you have to believe he could have leveraged a NIL deal with the Aggies that would bring more comfort. financial than seeking a spot on the NFL roster.
3. Sincere McCormick, UTSA RB
Signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent
It will always make sense for the few elite running backs who are selected in the first or second round to make the jump to the NFL. After all, Najee Harris landed more than $13 million guaranteed when he signed with the Steelers after being selected 24th overall last year. But running backs at risk of sliding into the late rounds or into undrafted territory might be better off returning to a program where they’re in line for big NIL money.
McCormick is a prime example. He was an absolute stalwart at UTSA and would have been one of the most coveted players on the transfer portal had he chosen to transfer to a Power Five school instead of staying in the NFL Draft. The NIL opportunities available to him in a major college program — or maybe even at UTSA — would surely have been more lucrative financially than fighting for a spot on the roster as an undrafted free agent.
The long-standing line of thought with college running backs was that they should leave after their junior season if they were likely going to be drafted, regardless of position, so they could make some money while they still had tread on their tires. The longevity of running backs in the NFL is notoriously short, and the idea was that the stars of the position should capitalize on good health. It’s shocking that McCormick wasn’t drafted, and his case should be a cautionary tale for other star junior running backs of the NIL era. For many great college backs, there may be more guaranteed money available in college now than on the fringes of NFL life.
4. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan Headquarters
Signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent
Eleby ranked 10th quarterback in the CBS Sports NFL Draft Prospect Rankings after a stellar three-year college career in West Michigan, but he will now be fighting for a spot on the pro roster. After throwing for 41 touchdowns and just eight interceptions over the past two seasons with the Broncos, power conference teams with roaring NIL engines would likely have lined up for Eleby in the transfer gate. He could have made a great six-figure one-year hire for a freshman coach or a coach in the hot seat.
5. Sam Howell, North Carolina QB
No. 1 in Round 5 (No. 144 overall) to Washington Commanders
After setting North Carolina program records for career passing yards and touchdowns in three seasons, it’s understandable that Howell is ready for the next chapter of his career. But he would also have been arguably the most recognizable player in the ACC had he returned for his senior season. As the Tar Heels’ historically great quarterback, Howell surely could have landed a seven-figure NIL deal had he chosen to play out his senior season.
Salary data for quarterbacks selected in the fourth round (Ian Book in 2021) and fifth round (Jake Fromm in 2020) in the latter two drafts suggests Howell is unlikely to be guaranteed $1 million on his contract. recruit. It’s not like Howell made a bad choice, but if he had a burning desire to play another season of college football, it probably could have been a reasonable financial decision if his side had pushed the envelope of its NULL value.