Alabama coach Nick Saban warned against all but the top-ranked players leaving early for the NFL draft, saying “the person that loses in that is the player.”
Saban watched seven of his underclassmen declare for this month’s NFL draft, the most in his tenure at the school. However, Saban said Saturday that players who are selected in later rounds — or not at all — might be leaving money on the table and helping NFL teams save on salaries.
“Now, we have guys that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades, fifth-round grades that are going out of the draft. And the person that loses in that is the player,” Saban said after Alabama’s spring game. “If you’re a third-round draft pick, and we had one here last year — I’m not going to say any names — goes and starts for his team, so he’s making third-round money, which is not that great. He’d be the first guy taken at his position this year, probably, and make $15-18 million more.
“So, the agent makes out, the club makes out, and now they’ve got a guy that’s going to play for that kind of money for three more years, all right? And everybody out there’s saying, ‘Well, get to your next contract.’ Well, there’s obviously 50 percent of these guys never getting to a next contract. And that doesn’t mean all the rest of them got to one, either.”
Harrison was one of five Alabama underclassman to enter the 2018 draft — tying the previous Alabama record — along with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive tackle Daron Payne and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who were all first-round picks, and running back Bo Scarbrough, who went in the seventh round.
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Saban said the increased willingness to turn pro early has affected his recruiting process to include discussion of life after football.
“So, it’s the culture and it’s the trend, and I’ve actually changed how I talk to recruits now,” Saban said. “I tell every recruit that I talk to the reason that you’re going to college is to prepare yourself for the day you can’t play football. I think we have a lot of people way back in high school, all right, that look at college as a conduit to get to the NFL. And look, I am 100 percent NFL. I’m 100 percent guys having careers, all right? But people have to be smart about the business decisions they make relative to the NFL because it is all business.
“When people make emotional decisions, they’re going to have to suffer some really difficult consequences for themselves in the future. Because you don’t have to go out for the draft early. You can come back and play. We’ve had six or seven guys here that had second- or third-round grades that became top-15 and first-round draft picks and made a significant amount of money doing that, so there’s some really good examples of guys that did it that way.”
There will be 103 underclassmen eligible to be selected in this year’s draft, the second most ever behind the record 106 last year, when only 69 underclassmen ended up drafted.
“Not just our players — there’s a significant amount of players that are not making good business decisions about what they do,” Saban said. “And yeah, it affects our team, but our team turns over more quickly. We just have to have more better young guys that can go out there and learn how to play and provide depth for the team. And it’s not going to be an excuse for what kind of quality we put on the field. We’ve just got to do a better job of coaching because you’ve got to do a better job of developing young players because they’re going to have to play more quickly.”