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Underclassmen Draft Declarations Impacting the 2020 and 2021 Classes

Underclassmen Draft Declarations Impacting the 2020 and 2021 Classes

Now that the regular season has ended in the NFL, NFL Draft season is in full swing. Every week we have more big name college underclassmen making their declarations for the 2020 NFL Draft.

While a large number of underclassmen are making the popular decision to forego their remaining eligibility and chase their dreams with their draft declarations, this year we’ve seen a surprising number of top talents decide to return to school.

The 2020 NFL Draft class is loaded with talent across the board even with the recent slew of high-profile names deciding to return to school. For more information on which players have decided the best course is the NFL Draft and which ones are in for one more year of college life, make sure to bookmark the 2020 Underclassmen Draft Declarations Tracker here at Pro Football Network.

A number of the players who have made the decision to return to the college ranks for another season would have been high selections in the 2020 NFL Draft. Have these prospects made the correct choice for their football careers? What do their decisions mean for next year’s NFL Draft class?

DeVonta Smith & Tylan Wallace

The 2020 NFL Draft class is chock full of talent at a number of positions. The position with the most talent in this year’s class may just be the wide receiver class. The top-end talent in this year’s class could be historically great. That talent could have been even greater, were it not for the lack of two underclassmen draft declarations. Did they make the right choice?

One of the knocks on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is that he throws to an NFL-caliber wide receiver corps, including the ultra-talented DeVonta Smith. Smith may have been one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, so the decision to forgo the draft and return to Alabama — especially sans Tua — may be a surprise to some, but in this case Smith made the smart choice.

Smith, while a great receiver in his own right, would have likely been lost in the wash with the sheer amount of talent at the position. Prospects like Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Smith’s Crimson Tide teammate Jerry Jeudy are firmly entrenched as the top prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. With the decision to return to Alabama, Smith gives himself a chance to vault to the top of a potentially weaker class.

But Smith will have some company in the 2021 NFL Draft class, as another high-profile receiver decided to return to school in Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace. Wallace has a weaker case to be at the top of this year’s class than Smith, so the decision to forgo the draft this year is 100% in Wallace’s best interests. With another year of development under his belt, and up against a weaker draft pool, this decision could net Wallace millions over his career.

Creed Humphrey & Alex Leatherwood

In keeping with the theme of Alabama underclassmen declaring intent to forgo the NFL Draft is Crimson Tide lineman Alex Leatherwood. Much like his wide receiver counterpart Devonta Smith, Leatherwood’s decision to come back for one more season is a good one.

While Leatherwood is one of the better linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft class, he’s not likely to be the first or even second offensive lineman selected. That distinction will likely go to Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs — both highly-coveted left tackles. With Leatherwood declaring his intent to skip the draft this season, he gives himself a chance to firmly plant his flag as the top offensive lineman in 2021. A decision that could move him from the lower portions of the first round to the top-10.

Not every underclassmen draft declaration is the best thing for their career; however, as that may be the case for Oklahoma Sooners center Creed Humphrey. While centers are not as highly valued as their left and right tackle counterparts, Humphrey would likely have been the first center off the board had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft and a likely top-15 selection.

Should Humphrey struggle in his return to the Sooners, or worse, suffer an injury, his draft declaration could be costly. Underclassmen who are already at the top of their position run the risk of jeopardizing their future by going back to school. While the decision may be the best for Humphrey personally, the decision could wreak havoc on his career if things don’t go well.

Paulson Adebo & Shaun Wade

It’s clear that Humphrey is taking a risk by coming back to college and not joining his fellow underclassmen declaring for the draft. The situation is a little less cut-and-dry for Stanford Cardinal cornerback Paulson Adebo. Adebo would have been one of the top prospects at his position had the underclassman declared for the draft. Adebo would not have been the first cornerback off the board — that honor is likely to go to Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah — but he would have been a likely first-round pick.

With Okudah a likely top-10 selection, that’s the ceiling for Adebo in the 2021 class. However, it’s not a sure-fire guarantee that Adebo will be the top prospect at the position, even with a stellar final season in the college ranks. Adebo will have some competition at the position from another underclassman who declared his intent to skip the draft, Shaun Wade.

Unlike Adebo, it’s clear that Wade made the right decision in returning to college for another season. Returning to the Buckeyes gives Wade the opportunity to make it back-to-back years the Buckeyes place the top cornerback in the draft. It’s going to be a fun season watching Adebo and Wade compete for the top of the position.

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