- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Greg Robinson decided to leave college for all the usual reasons.

He played for a national championship at Auburn, is generally regarded as a top-five pick and wants to help his family financially. For the 6-foot-5, 332-pound offensive tackle, the decision to give up his final two seasons of college eligibility made sense.

For some of the other 101 early entrants in this year’s draft, whether they’re ready or not, it’s a choice fraught with risk.

“I can guarantee you 30 of them (underclassmen) will not make a roster and if you’re lucky enough to end up on a practice squad, they won’t get credit for the season and your development as a player is going to be arrested,” longtime NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said. “Some won’t even make the roster or a practice squad and then they won’t have any college eligibility left, and in many cases they won’t have a degree.”

The current crop of early entrants includes many players fans are counting on to become franchise cornerstones: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Sammy Watkins. All come with questions, some about their maturity.

The list is also rife with smaller-school stars such as Willie Snead, Brett Smith and Pierre Warren, who could go anywhere or not at all on draft weekend.

This was not the landscape the NFL envisioned when it opened the door to players who had been out of high school for at least three years.

From the inaugural underclassmen class of 1995 through 2010, the list of non-seniors declaring for the draft remained essentially steady, with 31 to 54 declaring each year. The number topped 50 just six times during that span.

Over the last four years, when the new collective bargaining agreement and rookie wage scale went into effect, things have changed dramatically. A record-breaking 56 underclassmen declared for the draft in 2011. A year later, it was 65. Last year, it was 73 and now it has jumped to 98, plus four players who have graduated but have eligibility remaining - enough to fill more than three full rounds.

Those who work closely with college football players insist it’s no coincidence.

Like NBA draft prospects, football players are increasingly being advised to make the jump sooner so they get that second, richer contract at an earlier age.

“If you’re a good player, even second- and third-round draft choices are good football players. You’ve got to get through four years before you get to free agency and three years before you start to talk about a contract extension,” agent Tom Condon said, noting he routinely urges players to think long and hard about staying in school. “So I think that is a motivating factor.”

Because the average NFL playing career lasts less than four years, many players never get that second contract - a fact many of them never consider.

Indiana University coach Kevin Wilson makes sure his players get that information. While Wilson has one underclassman in this year’s draft, receiver Cody Latimer, he worked alongside a large group of young college stars at Oklahoma who found themselves debating whether to stay or go, including Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson.

Wilson also wants his players to know something else.

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