With NFL team scouting departments hard at work putting their initial draft boards together, there are once again a few more names from the junior ranks in the pool of talent. A record high 56 to be exact. More underclassmen than ever declared themselves eligible for the 2011 NFL draft surpassing last year's previous high of 53, which to most came as a surprise.
That's because 2010 was the final league year of the soon to expire CBA. Knowing underclassmen had to declare by January 15th combined with the prospect of no timetable or road map for 2011, the general consensus among NFL talent evaluators was most juniors considering the draft would ultimately return to school for their senior seasons and avoid the uncertainty.
"My first thought was when there was talk of possible labor issues that it might hold guys back," said Bills Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak. "But that has not proven to be the case."
The number of junior eligibles in the draft has increased almost every year. The most recent time it did not was in 2009 when only 46 declared, including Bills second-round pick Jairus Byrd. But prior to the 53 that declared in 2010, another 53 had declared in 2008 with previous highs of 52 in 2006 and 51 in 2005.
The increase in juniors only ramps up the time crunch for NFL scouting departments to get their reports and grades done on the underclassmen and then delve into the nuts and bolts of those players as people.
For Modrak and his staff they've adjusted to the rise in underclassmen in recent years. At this point it's simply part of the process.
"It really doesn't change anything we're doing on our end," he said. "We don't do the juniors until after they declare. All it really was for us was an anticipation of numbers in terms of how many underclassmen. It won't change the way we approach it. Whether it's 30, 40 or 50 (underclassmen), that's what it is."
Modrak believes the only part of the catch-up process on the underclassmen that his staff needs to be wary of is to not devote an inordinate amount of attention to them in their preparation.
"You have to be careful to balance it so you don't pull too much attention away from the seniors," Modrak said. "You still do your due diligence on them, but you do have to make sure you have the space and time to do the proper work on the juniors. It's not that hard. Your initial look on them is pretty fluid and now we're starting to do more on background."
Once underclassmen are officially declared part of the draft pool by the league NFL clubs can speak with them by phone or make them one of their 60 personal interviews at the NFL Combine in late February.
"We don't spend a whole lot of time on the phone with guys at this point," said Modrak. "Right now we're setting up interviews for the Combine and we're doing a lot of juniors in those interviews. We'll go back into the schools and visit with them there too. We make sure there will be ways that we get what we need from all of them in the allotted amount of time prior to the draft."