At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a current topic.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: The top three players taken in the NBA Draft this year were freshmen. Could a football player make a similar impact in the NFL after only one season of college ball? Why or why not??
Sure, a college player could have a big impact in the NFL after just one season on campus. There always are exceptions to the rule in anything.
Who are some of the players in recent years who I think could have gone to the NFL after one year in college and thrived? Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson are two who come to mind. But it would take a rare talent to make such a big leap after such a short time on campus.
Players most likely to make such a quick leap would be skilled athletes like receivers and running backs. I think a defensive back also could make the leap. But I don't think there could be any lineman or linebacker who could make such a quick move to the NFL. Pro football takes too much strength development. And a quarterback also would be ill-equipped for a one-and-done move to the NFL. It wouldn't because I think a quarterback wouldn't be physically able to play the position. Rather, I think a quarterback would lack the intangibles and experience to handle the sophistication of the NFL.
Many will tell you the answer is absolutely not. The sport is too physically and mentally demanding. Only once-in-a-generation-type talents, probably running backs, could play in the NFL when they should be signing up for sophomore classes in college.
Actually, though, maybe not. There is an exception to the rule – Amobi Okoye.
Age is just a number for him. When he left Louisville, he was a sophomore in age but a senior by experience. The defensive lineman was drafted 10th by the Houston Texans at age 19. Could a 20-year-old take the pounding of an NFL season? The 6-foot-2, 302-pound Okoye did, starting 14 games and picking up 5.5 sacks. This is no fluke. Okoye is not only beyond his years physically. He is mentally, too. He tested into ninth grade as a 12-year-old, setting him on a path to be younger than all of his peers. Only by competing with opponents years ahead of him did Okoye make himself ready for the draft at age 19.
Play in the NFL before you can buy a six-pack? No problem. Play in the NFL without taking your lumps in college? Probably not. As a great man once said, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage."
I think it would be a very rare college football player who could succeed in the NFL after just one season of college ball. It's a lot different than in the NBA, where a players' sheer physical talent can set him apart. Physical talent obviously is important in the NFL, but in pro football you have people pounding on your body all game - a vast difference from the NBA.
There's no way a freshman lineman or quarterback could do it, and I have grave doubts about a linebacker. I think the player would have to be a running back, wide receiver or defensive back – and a gifted running back, receiver or defensive back at that.
I think it would be easiest for a running back. A wide receiver and a defensive back have more to worry about than a running back. A physically gifted running back could have a big impact as a 19-year-old – assuming the offensive line in front of him is at least adequate. For instance, I have no doubt Herschel Walker would've excelled in the NFL had he left Georgia after his freshman season. But there haven't been many (any?) like Herschel.
I like the NFL draft entry requirements, and unlike many others, I think you would see a flood of early entrants into the draft at all positions if those requirements were changed.
Even if the rules allowed college freshmen to enter the NFL Draft, you wouldn't see a rush of one-year players getting drafted early. In fact, it's tough to imagine many positions in which a player could make an instant impact in the NFL after just one year of college football. Quarterbacks need more seasoning. Linemen and linebackers need more time to build up their bodies to NFL standards. Considering the poor track record of recent NFL rookie receivers, it's tough to imagine a wide receiver doing much of anything in the NFL after just one year in college.
The only type of player who could be ready for the NFL after a single year in college is that once-in-a-generation running back who combines extraordinary talent with the physical maturity to withstand the pounding he's going to take at the pro level.
After their outstanding freshman seasons, did Herschel Walker and Adrian Peterson really have anything left to prove in college? They probably could have gone directly to the NFL after just one season. But they're the exceptions to the rule.