NORMAN — Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson and receiver Kenny Stills each insist they're focused solely on the Sooners' upcoming showdown with Texas A&M.
Regardless, the two juniors are on the clock; like draft-eligible underclassmen nationwide, Jefferson and Stills have until Jan. 15 — eleven days after the Cotton Bowl — to decide if they'll enter April's NFL Draft or return for their senior seasons.
The two acknowledged they've filed for NFL Draft Advisory Board evaluations, which show players where they're likely to be drafted.
The looming decisions require a slew of important considerations; chief among them are their projected round, its financial rewards and an honest assessment of how both might improve with another college season.
“It's a big money drop from first-to-second (round) and second-to-third, so I've done my investigation on that part,” Jefferson said. “I don't think if anyone's a first-round pick, they'd pass that up.”
ESPN.com currently ranks Jefferson as the fifth-best 2013 safety prospect, and he could even sneak into the first round, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr.
That's where potential earnings become important. For example, David Wilson and Brian Quick were taken by the Giants and Rams with last year's 32nd and 33rd picks, respectively.
Wilson, as a first-round selection, signed a rookie contract ensuring about $1.5 million more than Quick's guaranteed total. That gap becomes far wider between mid-first and mid-second round picks, etc.
Still, one prevailing notion — that another college season could result in a costly injury — has scared countless draft-eligible underclassmen into bolting early.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, though, implores his NFL-curious underclassmen to consider the money they could lose by failing to “maximize your window.”
“What everyone doesn't get is if you give that up, it doesn't ever come back,” said Stoops, who relentlessly educates players on how necessities like taxes, agency fees, a car and a house can quickly swallow impressive-looking contracts.
Plus, considering the NFL's salary structure, it's easy to see why lower-round selections' NFL careers are frequently short-lived.
“Who are the guys ... that are easy to let go of after three years? The third and the fourth, fifth, sixth rounders,” Stoops said. “They don't have as much invested, and now they have to play you twice as much on your second contract. ‘Why don't I just get another kid out of college and pay him the same thing?'
“If you have the ability to be a first-rounder, and you go in the second, you've lost ... a significant amount of money to never get back if you could've had it, and finished your degree.”
Jefferson and Stills each said graduation isn't a factor, because they're both one more semester from earning degrees.
The two friends' 2013 draft projections, though, are quite different; Stills admits his ceiling probably isn't as high.
He'd be the 14th-best receiver available this year, according to ESPN.com's current prospect rankings.
“Tony's a guy that, he's an All-American,” Stills said. “His opportunities may be a little bigger than mine ... It's hard for us to compare what we're doing.”
Stills said his parents are handling all of his NFL-related business right now. His father, Ken Stills, was an NFL safety for six seasons.
“Zero,” Stills responded when asked what percentage of his decision would be based on the advisory board's projection.
“What they have to say is cool, but I can evaluate myself. My dad's been there. I've got a lot of people that know a lot of things.”
Stoops, his assistants and NFL-curious juniors will sit down after the Cotton Bowl and assess each individual situation. He said it's tough to sway a player who's already dead set on leaving.
“They generally went where they said they were gonna go,” Stoops said. “They generally didn't play long and generally didn't make much money because of where they were picked.”