The NFL Draft early entry deadline passed Monday (Jan. 18), a process that started earlier than ever given the steady stream of opt-outs and was unusual in that players were granted an additional year of eligibility. The NFL Draft community will debate these prospects ad nauseam in the next few months — even without an NFL Combine — and we’ll chime in when our expertise calls for it. But these choices also greatly impact college football. Consider the 2020 national champions; DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Alex Leatherwood all returning for a senior season was bigger than any win on the recruiting trail for Alabama.
At most schools, those guys are automatic three-and-outs. But at the Alabamas, Clemsons and Ohio States of the world — programs with strong cultures and a proven ability to not only develop players but help them reach that final level of evolution, and an even better draft grade — they’re toss-ups.
Those two are considered big winners of the NFL Draft early entry deadline, but they’re not alone. And there are a handful of losers, too.