For some NFL Draft prospects, the chance to head to the pros, make money and fulfill a lifelong dream is too hard to pass up. Even if that means passing up on a valuable season or two of college football.
For every player who considers it, entering the draft early is an incredible decision. Players who choose to make the jump generally have the talent to make the jump, which sometimes means a high draft pick and big money to follow.
For others, though, going back to school for another all-important season would have been a better option. Not only does it give a player one more campaign to enhance and improve their skills at a high level, but another big season could actually improve their draft stock.
Unfortunately, once a decision is made and announced it’s impossible to go back given the current rules in place.
With that in mind, these five draft prospects may end up regretting not staying in school, even if they do get picked early. At the very least, they could have helped themselves even more.
Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, North Carolina
Is Mitch Trubisky the best quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft? Some suggest he is, and he could be a No. 1 overall pick. Others may prefer DeShone Kizer’s athleticism and size, and Clemson Deshaun Watson is obviously entering the draft with a ton of hype after his championship-winning performance over Alabama.
That’s not to say Trubisky doesn’t have the talent, though. He’s a big, strong-armed quarterback who threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2016, compared to just six interceptions.
The problem? Last season was his first as a starter in college football. This means that, relatively speaking, he’s entering the NFL with very little tape and minimal big-time experience. This could very well doom him to failure like it has for many others.
Ultimately, Trubisky could be the top quarterback in this draft. Then again, had he decided to return to UNC for one more season and put up one more great campaign, he could have erased any doubt. And especially in a draft that didn’t include Myles Garrett, perhaps Trubisky could have set himself up to be a consensus No. 1 overall pick.
Noah Brown, wide receiver, Ohio State
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown was extremely explosive at times for Ohio State during the 2016 season. He caught 32 passes for 402 yards and seven touchdowns. That included a four-touchdown performance on the road against then-No. 14 Oklahoma (watch this crazy grab here).
Brown flashed incredible ability, but here’s the problem: He only put up two games of 50-plus receiving yards. And outside of a touchdown against Nebraska, he didn’t find the end zone once in the final quarter of the season.
With Curtis Samuel, a college running back, arguably the better draft-ready wideout, Brown isn’t even the top receiver from his own team to declare for the NFL Draft. Not only that, but he has to try to stand out among players like Clemson’s Mike Williams, Washington’s John Ross, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, among others.
Brown could have gone back to Ohio State and been one of Urban Meyer’s premier offensive players next year — all but guaranteeing him a spot in the first round. In the 2017 draft, though, he’ll likely be a mid-round pick at best.
Joe Mixon, running back, Oklahoma
Joe Mixon was denied from attending the NFL Combine, and for good reason. A video was recently released of Mixon hitting a woman in a restaurant, knocking her out with a punch and breaking multiple bones in the process. The video was from an incident in 2014, but the timing of the release obviously made the NFL weary of Mixon. Again, for good reason.
He still decided to take the leap to the NFL, despite the fact that he could have gone back to Oklahoma for at least his redshirt junior season. He would have likely been the Sooners’ featured back as well, with Samaje Perine also declaring for the draft.
And who knows what that would have meant for his NFL future?
What he did was absolutely wrong, but the reality is that the more time he could have put between the tape and him entering the NFL, the more time he would have had to rehab his image in the eyes of NFL teams.
He also likely would have put up some monster stats for Oklahoma.
The smart move for Mixon would have been to stay with the Sooners. Instead, he’s trying to make headway with NFL teams as a man with a big-time red mark on his resume.
Derek Barnett, defensive end, Tennessee
Derek Barnett was one of the most ferocious pass-rushers, and defensive ends in general, in college football last year. So it makes sense that he declared for the 2017 NFL Draft. In 13 games, he notched 56 tackles (40 solo), 19 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
His sack total was the fifth-best in the nation for 2016.
Again, it makes sense that Barnett wanted to test his skills in the NFL. But one has to wonder what he could have done in his senior season at Tennessee. Not only that, but when discussing pass rushers in this draft, Texas A&M Myles Garrett really is the end-all, be-all. He’s almost certainly the top pick in this draft, and he’s without a doubt an elite edge defender.
That’s not to say Barnett can’t live up to those same expectations. But if he chose to go back to Tennessee for his senior season, put up another huge year and then entered the 2018 draft, perhaps he’d be in Garrett’s shoes as an elite, No. 1 pick-worthy edge rusher.
Most NFL teams don’t flinch when talking either a quarterback or a defensive end No. 1 overall. Barnett still projects to be a high draft pick, but he could have been the big dog in 2018.
Jabrill Peppers, defensive back, Michigan
Without a doubt, Jabrill Peppers is talented. He played defense, special teams, and offense for Michigan. And he was explosive, athletic and extremely fun to watch. He’s a football player through-and-through, but just what kind of football player is he?
He thinks he’s a safety and most NFL teams likely agree, considering he’s only 5-foot-11, 213 pounds. With that said, he’d be an interesting player on the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and there are even people out there who think he would be best in the NFL as an offensive player.
There are a lot of questions about Peppers, questions he would have been able to answer at least a bit more with one more year at Michigan. Not only could he have solidified himself as a superstar — he already was a Heisman candidate, though it didn’t seem to be a realistic bid — but Jim Harbaugh likely could have found a way to use him like an NFL team would have, thus helping him solidify his draft stock.
Peppers might still be a first-rounder, but he’s definitely a boom-or-bust candidate. One more year at Michigan would have likely helped him drop that label, but we’ll never know.