On Tuesday, speaking to the Houston Quarterback Club, Texas A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher had this to say about college players leaving early for the NFL draft.
“If you’re not going in the first two rounds, don’t even think about it,” Fisher said.
There were no riots, no cattle stampedes in the Texas hills, no spirited debate on the morning sports network programming devoted to spirited debate. Yet Fisher’s comments were an even more blunt evaluation of the issue that Nick Saban’s thoughtful, nuanced answer about when players should go and when they shouldn’t, the answer that spawned a thousand hot takes in early April.
That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that commentators were picking on Saban. His comments came before the draft and were thus raw meat for the NFL media, hungry for draft content. Second, Saban is the most powerful voice in the college game, thanks to his combination of success, seniority and common sense. That’s not a knock on Fisher, although it is also true that his statement probably came in one of his patented 300-word-in-30-seconds bursts and might have flown past some people.
Saban also wasn’t the only coach who caught some heat. Also on Tuesday, Eric Dickerson, the former Rams running back and an all-time great, went on a Twitter tirade against Washington State coach Mike Leach. Dickerson accused Leach of “talking down” WSU running back James Williams, who left school early and went undrafted.
Without knowing all the details, there are two points worth making. First, “talking down” a player out of spite is not going to be beneficial to a college coach. Neither is “talking up” a player who leaves before he is ready. Once a player decides to leave, the best thing for the college coach (and program) is to be drafted as highly as possible and to have NFL success. But you can’t do it by hedging on your evaluation when talking to NFL coaches, scouts and general managers. If you sugar-coat a player’s limitations, that icing is going to wash away in training camp and the truth will make itself apparent. When that happens, the NFL evaluators will remember it the next time they are considering drafting a player from your school. Honesty is the best policy and, really, the only policy.
As things turned out, Saban was right about how the 2019 draft would turn out for the Alabama players involved. But I don’t know that he feels “vindicated” by that. He probably knew he was right all along. But there is no need to be too harsh on linebacker Mack Wilson or defensive back Deionte Thompson.
Last year at this time, a flurry of 2019 mock drafts — which always emerge a day or two after the previous draft is complete — had Wilson and Thompson projected as first-rounders. It’s the same this year, so if there is any lesson to be learned, it’s not to set expectations too high immediately. But it serves no point to wish anything but success for Alabama’s drafted players — all of them — at this point.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.
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