NIL in college football is making a big impact on the NFL draft

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 25: The Los Angeles Rams get the 19th overall pick in during Day 1.
With college football players increasingly choosing to not leave school early because of NIL, the quality of players in the NFL draft is taking a hit. (John Smolek / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The shakeup in college football is having an impact on the NFL draft.

Now that college players can make money on their name, image and likeness, without losing their eligibility, there isn’t the same urgency to leave for the pros.

Many NFL evaluators say that has impacted the draft, which wrapped up Saturday, in some cases diluting the caliber of players available in the later rounds.

“It’s a real issue,” said a longtime NFL team personnel executive, noting the talent drop was more precipitous this year than in previous later rounds.

“People are being talked into staying in college, because you’re making reasonable money, and money that’s newly found, and you’ve got a chance to continue to get better,” CBS college football analyst Rick Neuheisel said. “Coaches can say, 'You could stay around and go up two rounds next year.’ That’s a lot, if you’re just talking dollars and cents, not to mention the fun of having another year of college.

“There’s not that pressure to be a breadwinner from families that are in that socioeconomic climate, because you are earning money.”

Noted quarterback evaluator Greg Cosell said it’s a trend that’s going to continue in years to come.

“The lesser kids who research where they’re going to be drafted, because you can research that, are far more likely to stay in college,” Cosell said. “What they’ll do is look for their best opportunity to make the most NIL money. Now you’re seeing kids transfer three times, four times, because it’s all about that NIL money.”

That has a reverberating effect on the draft.

Bear necessities

Chicago Bears No. 1 draft pick quarterback Caleb Williams listens to reporters during a news conference Friday.

Even though the Chicago Bears have spent decades wandering the quarterback desert, looking for their next Sid Luckman, there’s ample reason for optimism with No. 1 pick Caleb Williams.

First, the former USC star is tremendously talented, but he also has some exceptional receivers in Keenan Allen, D.J. Moore and No. 9 selection Rome Odunze.

The shelves are stocked, and that wasn’t the case when the Bears drafted Justin Fields.

In the fourth round Saturday, Chicago selected Iowa punter Tory Taylor. He told reporters that soon after he was drafted, he got a simple, direct text message from Williams:

“Hey, you’re not going to punt too much.”

Read more: Rams acknowledge Matthew Stafford has asked for more guarantees in contract

Arbor day

It's a pretty amazing culture that Jim Harbaugh built at Michigan, and it showed with so many teams drafting those Wolverines — including running back Blake Corum to the Rams, and linebacker Junior Colson to Harbaugh’s Chargers.

Beginning with quarterback J.J. McCarthy going to Minnesota with the 10th pick, nine former Michigan players were taken in the first five rounds.

Slump buster

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler throws during a drill at the scouting combine in March.

The New Orleans Saints ended the quarterback drought Saturday, by using the 150th pick on South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler.

There were 137 selections made between Denver taking Oregon’s Bo Nix and the Saints taking Rattler. That was the longest stretch between quarterbacks in draft history.

Funny, because the first half of the first round was all about that position. There were six quarterbacks drafted among the first 12 picks, tying the six-quarterback record set in 1983.

Rattler has an outstanding arm but played behind a porous offensive line last season and forced a lot of throws. That got him into trouble.

He becomes the fifth quarterback on the Saints roster, along with starter Derek Carr, and reserves Jake Haener, Kellen Mond and Nathan Peterman.

Read more: Rams 2024 NFL draft: Breaking down 10 picks, five defenders, four on offense, kicker

Nervous Nix

Neuheisel said Nix will need to prove he has the cool-under-pressure composure to succeed in the NFL.

“It’s nothing from an athletic standpoint that bothers me,” said Neuheisel, a former college head coach and NFL offensive coordinator. “I just see that when the house is burning there's a panic reflex.

“Whereas the great ones just kind of find their way out of trouble, it's like they're superheroes putting on a cape — Elway going to the far stretches of the sideline, throwing across the body and everybody's in wow mode — I see that in Nix, his escape mode is always backwards, and when he throws he throws quickly and sometimes it's, `Oh, no,' which can result in turnovers.”

Doubling up

Atlanta Falcons first-round pick Michael Penix Jr. speaks during a news conference Friday.

When it comes to head-scratching decisions, the Atlanta Falcons retired the trophy when they used the No. 8 pick on Washington quarterback Michael Penix. This after last month signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal worth $180 million.

The Falcons could have used help with their pass rush, receivers, offensive line, on and on…

The bright side for them, though, is they’re going to have answers at quarterback. Lots of teams are unable to say the same.

Happy returns

Especially when it comes to late-round selections and rookie free agents, the clearest path to making an NFL roster is often contributing on special teams.

The emphasis on that is even greater now that new kickoff rules are in place for the 2024 NFL season. The new alignment will put the coverage and return teams much closer together at the kick, curtailing those violent collisions when players have long runways before crashing into one another. Touchbacks have become the norm in recent years. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned last season.

So there’s even more of a premium on kick returners. Philadelphia got at least three excellent ones in cornerback Cooper DeJean (second round), Clemson running back Will Shipley (fourth) and Texas A&M receiver Ainias Smith (fifth).

Read more: Drafted by Bears 25 years ago, another QB from L.A. shares advice for Caleb Williams

Like Father, Like Son

The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., 26 years after taking his father in the third.

The elder Trotter is a member of the club’s Hall of Fame.

Wily Coyotes

A pair of Calabasas High teammates are headed to the NFL, and both are receivers. Alabama’s Jermaine Burton was picked in the third round by Cincinnati, and Florida State’s Johnny Wilson went in the sixth to Philadelphia.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.