Every draft has numbers of players go unclaimed by NFL teams. That’s normal. But the 2014 draft was marked by some 98 underclassmen leaving school early for the draft and 36 of those players going undrafted.
In the wake of the non-picks, the lingering question is why so many younger players jumped in the pool when the NFL did not consider them draft-ready, either developmentally or simply based on insufficient talent.
“I don’t get it,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. in a post-draft conference call. “They’re not getting good advice or they’re not listening to good advice. Something’s gone awry here.”
Bears general manager Phil Emery operates from a philosophy of focusing heavily on upside in young players. That would suggest an interest in underclassmen.
But the Bears were among the teams that did not invest heavily in players with less than four college seasons of experience. Only two of the Bears’ eight draft picks spent less than four seasons, including redshirting, playing college football.
Defensive tackle and No. 2 pick Ego Ferguson left LSU early expressly to help his injured mother financially. Running back and fourth-rounder Ka’Deem Carey left Arizona after three seasons but had 3,800 rushing yards over his last two.
On the other side, Pat O’Donnell punted three seasons for Cincinnati, then used his remaining eligibility to play at Miami to be closer to his father who was fighting cancer. Defensive tackle Will Sutton chose to return to Arizona State despite a junior season with 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss.
“It was shocking to see 102 underclassmen come out. Shocking,” Kiper said. “Some of these names when they said they were coming out, you said, ‘Why? What are you doing?’
“Some of these kids were projected earlier and went undrafted or late, whatever. But some of them weren’t projected high at all and still came out. People were saying, ‘oh, you want to get to that next [NFL] contract.’ Well, you’ve to make a team, be a football player to get that next contract. You’ve got to earn a job; it’s not guaranteed.”
“If you just do OK in college, how can you be considered a highly rated pro prospect? Some of these kids were just OK. Some were underachievers, didn’t put up the numbers expected. Add another year, be thankful you have another year and go back.”