South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel headline a record number of underclassmen entering the NFL draft heading into Wednesday night's deadline.
At least 90 players who had college eligibility remaining are expected to enter the draft, shattering last year's record number of 73.
"It's a humongous number, so the first reaction is it makes you step back a little bit," said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout with the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. "What I'm hearing is that the agents always have to make the sales pitch to get these to come out. This year, what I've been told is the sales pitch is that all your money right now is coming from the second contract, so you need to come out early so you can get to that second contract a year earlier ... and apparently it's been pretty effective."
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released a mock draft Wednesday in which 23 of the 32 first-round picks were early entries. Kiper had Manziel going first overall and included Clowney, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins as top-five picks. Jeremiah's list of the top 50 draft prospects includes early entries in the top three spots: Clowney at No. 1, Watkins at No. 2 and Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 3.
"It's going to be a huge number of underclassmen that go high and have long careers," Jeremiah said. "And there are going to be some other guys who don't get drafted and will be in a tough spot and would have been better served to go back to school. It works both ways."
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of some of the early entries at each position.
QUARTERBACK: Manziel, Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater are all projected first-round picks. Although the 6-foot-1 Manziel lacks the size of Bortles and Bridgewater, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner played tougher competition in the Southeastern Conference. Jeremiah ranks Manziel as his No. 7 overall prospect, with Bridgewater 10th and Bortles 22nd. Kiper's mock draft has Bridgewater getting taken eighth. Wyoming's Brett Smith isn't regarded as highly as the other three quarterbacks, but he could get chosen later in the draft.
RUNNING BACK: Auburn's Tre Mason boosted his stock by rushing for 663 yards against Alabama, Missouri and Florida State over his final three games. Jeremiah rates Mason 47th overall and second among running backs, behind Ohio State senior Carlos Hyde. Other notable running backs to enter the draft include Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, LSU's Jeremy Hill, UCF's Storm Johnson and Florida State teammates Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.
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