Under normal circumstances, the decisions would be simple. The talent-rich junior class of Alabama football players would surely lose its core to the NFL draft next spring.
But of course, this year is different. Circumstances are far from normal.
With impending labor strife threatening the 2011 NFL season, the decisions are complicated for players like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones (pictured), Marcell Dareus, Mark Barron and Dont’a Hightower. The possible lockout could turn into a blessing for college football fans who would normally lose its top rising stars to the league.
In light of the trouble, Tide coach Nick Saban is altering his typical message to draft-eligible juniors.
Most years, he suggests leaving school if players are projected first-round picks. But with a threat of quiet Sundays next fall, Saban’s tune is changing to everyone who isn’t a top-15 pick.
“Every guy is different. We try to help the guys. We try to help the families. We’ve been on home visits with everybody and talked to their families as much as them. We try to get as much good information as we can for them from various NFL teams as to where they might get picked in the draft.
“This year is different. With the labor situation and the strike coming up, it could really affect how much a guy could develop this year if there is no mini-camp, there is no training camp. It will be much more difficult for guys to learn the system and make an impact.”
Depending on the draft projection, each of the five Alabama juniors could have a shot at being taken in the first half of the opening round in the April draft.
Juniors have until Jan. 18, 2011 to put their names in the draft.
“But at the end of the day, it comes down to what’s in the player’s heart for what he wants to do,” Saban said. “There’s a tremendous value for kids staying in school and getting an education.”
With the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl game against Michigan State still looming, none of the potential early draft entrants were interested in talking about the possibility of going pro.
“I don’t worry about this,” Dareus said. “I worry about our last game — focus in, get a W. I don’t look at the rankings. I don’t look at the big board.”
Ingram has faced the questions since winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and he avoids them even better than he does linebackers.
“My main focus right now is playing a great bowl game and finishing out this season strong and get a 10-win season,” he said Thursday. “After the bowl game, I’ll sit down with coach and my family and we’ll make a decision.”
Quarterback Greg McElroy isn’t facing any such decision as a fifth-year senior.
He does, however, bring a unique perspective to the table being the son of a Dallas Cowboys executive.
McElroy just isn’t buying into the doomsday predictions facing the next NFL season.
“First of all, I think the NFL labor agreement will be taken care of long before the draft or anything of that nature. I think when it comes down to it, we have to realize that the players just don’t have as much bargaining power and not as set financially as the owners so they don’t have as much leverage in the negotiations. So I think eventually, the sides will reach a compromise.”
Until that comes, there will be a little extra intrigue for those juniors weighing their options at another season in Tuscaloosa or rolling the dice on an early entry to the NFL.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.