Number of early NFL draft entrants hits nine-year low at 73

Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean is greeted by a large crowd of fans as he and his teammates return to the Georgia campus, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Athens, Ga., after defeating Alabama in the College Football Championship NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The NFL announced Friday that 73 underclassmen have been granted special eligibility for the draft, the fewest in the last nine years.

All-American linebacker Nakobe Dean was one of four players from national champion Georgia on the list, along with receiver George Pickens, safety Lewis Cine and defensive lineman Travon Walker.

Mississippi’s Matt Corral is one of only two quarterbacks on the list, and a contender to be one of the first quarterbacks selected in the draft scheduled for April 28-30 in Las Vegas.

Alabama, which lost to Georgia in the College Football Playoff title game, also had four underclassmen granted special eligibility for the draft, including All-America receiver Jameson Williams, who tore a ligament in his left knee in the championship game.

Fellow Crimson Tide receiver John Metchie, who injured his knee in the Southeastern Conference championship game, has also declared for the draft, along with Alabama tackle Evan Neal and linebacker Christian Harris.

Neal is expected to be one of the first offensive lineman drafted and a potential top-10 selection.
The number of players granted special eligibility was down from 98 in 2021 and 99 in 2020. A record 106 juniors entered the draft without completing degrees in 2018.

Before this year, the only time since 2014 the number of underclassmen entering the NFL draft with special eligibility fell below 95 was 2015 when the number was 74.

Another 27 players, including quarterbacks Sam Howell of North Carolina and Carson Strong of Nevada and Oregon All-America defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, are entering this season’s draft with eligibility remaining after finishing their degrees and notifying the NFL.

Thibodeaux was expected to be in contention to be the first overall selection in this year’s draft, though injuries limited him to 11 games.

The total number of players entering the draft early (100) is down from 128 last season.